Word came from Spain yesterday that Jose Luis Rubiera had won stage 2 of the Tour of Muricia. It was the queen stage with big climbs and when it started snowing it turned into a mini-epic. You have to be happy for Chechu, Rubiera's nickname. In his final year of a storied career, the affable rider from Gijon in Northern Spain is a true class act and winning in difficult conditions just adds to the legend.
Less than two weeks ago, he was Levi Leipheimer's right-hand man on the big climbs and rainy, windy flats at the Amgen Tour of California. It was the Chechu of old, pacing his team leader to yet another major stage race win. For me, it was one of the feel-good stories of the race and it was great to see Rubiera riding again at such a high level.
Chechu has amassed an impressive record throughout his professional career. He rode nineteen grand tours and finished top ten in four of those tours. He won several stages of the Tour de France as a member of the US Postal Service/Discovery Channel team time trial squad and also won two individual stages of the Giro d'Italia. Of course, he was by Lance Armstrong's side from 2001-2005 for the Texan's last five Tour victories.
He rode strongly in all, but the 2002 event. I once asked him what happened in 2002 and he replied that he had tried to do Lance's pre-Tour training program and it had burned him out. "Lance is like a motor bike of 1000cc and I am a 250cc or even less. We can't do the same training, we can't," noted the modest Spaniard.
But, Chechu will retire at the end of this year and join his wife, who is a lawyer, in Gijon. He has a degree in industrial engineering which he received while racing as a professional many times cracking his books in his hotel room after an exhausting six hours in the saddle.
I will miss his infectious smile; his positive attitude and his professionalism. The guy is truly one of the gentlemen of the sport and a class act. To be winning mountain stages and paving the way for your team leader to win a big stage race is truly the best way to exit stage left. We will all miss you. Buena suerte, amigo.