It is surely the simplest discipline in cycling. Someone walks into a velodrome and ride your bike as many miles as you can in just sixty minutes. They call it a record of the hour, because here we are not to break our horns much with the nominal matter. But this apparent opaque simplicity, in reality, one of the greatest tortures that have been invented in the world of sports. The hour record is a mental game, as well as a physical one, a certain period in which you cannot change your position, in which there are no descents, no slipstreams, or the possibility of loosening up for fear of missing a beat. The idea? Constant speed from start to finish. And that is what ends up torturing the mind. Loneliness, competing against anyone, that feeling that there is no possible escape … yes, La Hora is one of those few spaces where good runners break of really great champions.
Maybe that’s why all the bicycle myths (with the exception of Bernard Hinault) have ever attacked the record. Well Armstrong neither, but ahem. And Froome still nothing, it was going to be a matter of not missing his tasty little wag on the wood. Anyway. The pioneer, at least the only one who is known, was none other than Henri Desgrange, creator of the Tour. It happened in 1893, in the Parisian Buffalo, the velodrome of Bohemia and Montmartre, of Toulouse-Lautrec and Tristan Bernard and Hemingway and the Folies Bergères and Clovis Clerc. He traveled just over 35 kilometers on a bike that weighed a hundred pounds, by eye. On the handlebar, two glass bottles, each with a liter of milk. In case I get the bum, said the hearty Henri. After him… everyone. Anquetil, Coppi, Merckx, Indurain. También Rivière, Petit-Breton, Francesco Moser. Todos.
But A Colombian?
You are right. Just not just anyone, just a special one. Apache, no less. Or something like that.
They say it was 1952, and he was barely ten years old. The kids from school there in Barrio Manrique, in the heart of Medellín, are taken to the movies, which is a very helpful thing to paint their existence with colors. “Broken Arrow” is called the movie. One of them, pure sallow nerve, comes out excited. How brave the Apache chief, how loyal. Don’t fool me, they were right, and not those sly gringos. Yes, from now on call me after him. Call me Cochise. And with Cochise he stayed.
(Much later the such Martín Emilio Rodríguez legally changed his name so that the nickname became official. What use was the other to me, he said, if everyone calls me Cochise).
Cochise was always. Growing little by little. Long legs. Chest that houses formidable lungs. One hundred and eighty centimeters, seventy-two kilos in weight. Black hair, tendrils down the nape here and there. Pins that mark calendars. And, above all, that smile. The one that disarms. Pint of movie star. Only, life pushes, he got into doing other things. Butcher, delivery man. Cyclist. Hey, and it wasn’t bad. Furthermore, it was great. Best rider ever in Colombia? Can be. Pioneer, at least, in so many things.
In 1970 Cochise was a big star on velodromes. At least for the amateur velodromes, that professionalism would come later. Everyone was aware that only bad luck had prevented his record from being even greater, but the potential, the strength, were at his side. It was the best time in the 4000 meters, pursuit, on the track of Anoeta. It was 1965, World Cups. Only because of the direct duels … nothing … Fourth. It is brushed by Tiemen Groen for the semis and Preben Isaksson for the bronze. And in the Olympic Games in Mexico … well, more of the same. First round, he beats the competition record … only his rival does too. Cipriano Chemello, Italian. To the rúa. Fuck that bad luck, Cochise.
But hey, what a power … you can. So why not try the hour record? It’s a nice challenge, something that makes you go into history, thought Claudio Costa. Claudio had traveled to Colombia with a single idea in mind: to sign Cochise for his Germanvox-Wega. Hey, let me, I live here fucking great. Yes that is true, the weather has been great, and this red … you see, it is to repeat. So the convincing transalpine ends up convinced. He also remains in Colombia, as Cochise’s personal trainer.
But the Hour, we said.
Chosen place? The Agustín Melgar velodrome, in Mexico City The track had been very fast during the Olympic Games a couple of years before, and its altitude also benefited the performance of this attempt. The air was thinner, the wall that the cyclist collides with when going over forty kilometers per hour it was less dense, less… painful. Years later, Merckx will travel to the Aztec country for the same reason …
Cochise moves to the Mexican capital with the entire cohort that begins to accompany him for these situations. They arrive on September 21, 1970, and spend a couple of agonizing weeks, marked by rain, bad weather and some brutal training sessions that Costa considers essential to successfully tackle the record. In the end it was at 11:12 a.m., Wednesday, October 7, 1970. Martín Emilio Rodríguez starts his machine on the brilliant track of Agustín Melgar.
There it begins.
Maybe he was even tired. Of the road. To win on the road, go. Colombia had outgrown the Cochise. La Vuelta … private preserve. And that had a bittersweet beginning. He was almost a teenager in 1962, just released in his twenties, and how close … Ten seconds separate him from the first, Roberto Pajarito Buitrago, when the latter stage begins. If you think of champagne and idiotic photos for the solace of professional twitterers and pellets … forget it. Cochise attacks. All day. Until the end, Cochise attacks. Until the final entrance to the Bogota stadium of El Campín. One last arreón. What if…? Drama arrives, that twist that cannot be missed. Last curve, last corner of a Vuelta a Colombia that has covered 2,084 kilometers, a Tour of Colombia with only 250 meters left. Roberto Buitrago sticks out his elbow, he wants to impose himself in the final sprint to that boy who has been touching his balls all day. And it happens. Rear wheel slipping, bike slipping, it seems that magic is going to break, that sweet secret that keeps it vertical when a human being is on top. Buitrago widens his eyes. Don’t fuck with me. So many hours, so much sweat, and workouts, and tears… Don’t screw me. Injustice. But no, he manages to tame the lash. He will enter just two seconds from Martín Emilio. It is, without a doubt, the best finish ever in the Tour of Colombia. But what does that matter to Cochise. Because of misery.
Then … tyranny. Revenge. Already a year later Cochise returns with better preparation. Mature. Unapproachable. Nobody can contain his imposing physique, nothing can stop the ambition that consumes him inside. He has trained as he never did before, as he will never repeat. Concentration in altitude, series by the Alto del Boquerón, simulating going out to attack behind a motorcycle. Yes, like Wiggins much later, only with less flow. (You know what? Delete that. Cochise had plenty of flow).
Leader 10 of the 16 stages, he won up to 6 sets. The second in the general, Rubén Darío Gómez, puts him almost 34 minutes. Third Pablo Enrique Hernández, over forty. Imperial. After … dynasty. Between 1964 and 1967 he won another three Vueltas a Colombia. All except the one from 1965, when his friend Ñato Suárez, the one who accompanied him, prevailed, both kids with dreams, during the deliveries through that mythical Medellín of slopes and riders. Riders before riders existed. Sometimes he won by a sigh, other times he beat him the next for more than an hour. Thirty-nine stages, to abound in the matter.
And everything else.
Painful first strokes. Tear in her taut, brown thighs. It must set in motion the 56 tooth chainring set to a 15 only sprocket. Brutal, devastating development. There are about 15,000 spectators watching how the Colombian uses all the muscles of the body to achieve verticality in the first ten or fifteen revolutions. Arms pulling hard on the handlebars up, shoulders rocking this way and that, kidneys carrying tons. Twitchy face, clenched teeth, eyes bulging. In the end… he succeeds. He sits in the saddle, his chin almost brushing the handlebars, and takes a stance. That which he will have to keep for the remaining more than 59 minutes.
There the pain begins.
He wears a white jersey with the national flag on the chest and the word “Colombia” just above. His bike was specially made for him by Giacinto Benotto. That last name appeared on the jacket and the gorilla that Cochise walked through Mexico. Benotto was a friend of Claudio Costa, and covered part of the expenses incurred by the record. Beginning of the end, we will see.
Bloody battle. For strange, for anomalous. Cochise fights against himself, but he also has to beat the ghost rider who is not there, the one whose shadow can be seen there, although in reality the shadow does not exist, and they are only times, cold numbers, spaces that have been traveled and must be traveled. Faster. Faster. As if the lungs did not burn, as if one did not feel like throwing the bike away. Denying the certainty. Yes, it happens. Sometimes, just sometimes, but sometimes… sometimes I even think that, yes, I could die on there. Of pure pain. And even dying would be easier than continuing to pedal.
A handful of meters. Barely 40. But that brand of this Mogens Frey Jensen is already part of history. The one where Cochise Rodríguez has entered. Universal record of the hour in its amateur version. 47,563 meters.
Figures to engrave in gold within the Colombian cycle.
After that … two challenges. World Champion, at last, in Varese. Luigia Ganna Velodrome. Yes, the “my ass is burning.” Good answer, that journalists are sometimes nosy. You see, there is no glamor possible. And then … the Olympics. Munich. There Cochise wants to forget past troubles and take the gold close to El Dorado. But you won’t even be able to travel to Germany. Do you remember about Benotto? Yes, yes, the patron. Well, a Colombian journalist, one who signed as Édgar A. Senior, sAnd he told the IOC that, hey, this very amateur boy is not. That they pay him to practice his sport. And those of the IOC, very worthy, said that nanai, what is that to charge, what little shamelessness, is that nobody is going to think about children? Expelled from the Games. So gulf. You see, the IOC always so incorruptible. Cough, cough Wink, wink. Cochise will be very clear on this whole matter. “In Colombia more people die of envy than of cancer,” they say he said. That as a phrase, you will recognize me, it’s great …
Ah, how could I no longer be an amateur Cochise decided that, hey, better professional all over. And he came to Europe. To open the way. He was not the first Colombian to try his luck in these lands, mind you, Giovanni Jiménez arrived earlier. But he … he stood out more. Two stages in the Giro, a Baracchi with Gimondi, Grand Prix Cittá de Camaiore. And, above all, sensations. How gregarious so good for Felice, what a powerful guy. Always with a light blue jersey. Sometimes he put Salvarini on his chest, other times Bianchi, there will be few things with more style. But that is another story.
That was Cochise Rodríguez. The man who one day decided to reign.