Joaquim Agostinho. A soldier's story.
I live right smack in the middle of a Portugese-American community. My wife is the proud granddaughter of hard-working Portugese emigrants, and I've been happily assimilated into a fantastic and very close Portugese family.
Soccer (Futbol) is embedded into the local sports culture in these parts... you see Sporting Lisbon stickers on cars, and green-white hooped replica shirts on the faithful of all ages. A nice bonus is RTP International on cable TV. In August, just when post-Tour withdrawl syndrome is at it's maximum, I can detox gradually by recording daily multi-hour live stage coverage of the Volta a Portugal - a perfect antidote for Post-Tour-TV hangover. Portugal's national tour has some great classic climbs. The annual summit moutain stages finishes of Torre (Sierra Estrela) or the circular road up to the summit church at Santa Maria de Graca have had battles that sometimes rival the other national tours.
Portugal's greatest cyclist was Joaquim Agostinho. Here in the states he's a 1970's footnote, a guy almost forgotten now. Not in Portugal though. There, and to many of my current neighbors of a certain age, the late, great Agostinho is a legend comparable to Fausto Coppi in Italy. He's been voted Portugal's 4th greatest athlete of all time, only behind Soccer star Eusebio, and Olympic Marathon champions Rosa Mota and Carlos Lopes. In Futbol crazy Portugal, that's saying something. There are several monuments to his memory.
Agostinho. "They don't make 'em like that anymore."
|The one Eddy feared...|
His beginnings in the sport came later than most pros.
|DiGribaldy happiest memory was|
of his work with Agostinho.
(photo courtesy: jeandegribaldy.com)
In 1968, he was discovered riding a stage race in Brazil by count Jean DiGribaldy, who had a penchant for discovering talents from distant lands and bringing them to his low budget French pro teams. Like he did with Sean Kelly. Agostinho learned the metier a-la-DiGri: Get paid little. Get fed less. Ride lots. The formula forged Agostinho into a leader for various, long-forgotten DiGribaldy teams like Frimatic, Hoover, Puch and SEM.
Agostinho was a bull of a man. Pierre Chany said he was "a man of average height, but with the build of a rhinocerous." He pedaled with the strength provided by a tree trunk thick torso. It let him climb and TT like the best. Warfare bred tenacity provided the rest.
In '69, he gave Merckx a scare in what was the first Tour for both of them. That's not an exaggeration. Merckx later admitted it was not Poulidor, Altig, Pingeon or Gimondi who worried him the most in that, his dominant, historic first Tour victory. It was Agostinho he was most concerned about, the only one he feared.
Then there's the famous story of the cattle. One year, a week or so before the Tour de France, rustlers had stolen his cattle from his farm back home in Torres Vedras. He spent that final tune up time before the Tour not resting and training, but instead gathering a posse and hiking around the arid hills recovering his prized lost livestock, his real priority in life. Not exactly the ideal preparation for the Tour. Didn't seem to faze Agostinho much. Like the soldier he was, he just got on with it, and did what he had to do. No complaints.
|Hinault on Agostinho|
"A great racer, very combative, a real warrior"
|Gluing tires helps prevent falls Ago...|
|Victory at Alpe d'Huez, 1979|
His other weakness was that he was a crasher. Or as Samuel Abt once perfectly put it it.. "a world champion faller among fallers."
The stories of Agostinho's falls are legendary. Don't try this at home. In the 1969 Tour a crash on a cinder track left him with a concussion and the kind of road rash you don't want to have to clean. He shrugged it off, started the next day and soldiered to an 8th place finish in Paris in his debut Tour.
In 1971 during that famous rainstorm crash on the col de Mente that lost Luis Ocana the Tour, it was Ago who plowed into Luis as he was trying to get up and back on his bike, taking the yellow jersey out of the Tour. Getting hit by a moose like Agostinhno moving at about 40mph would get your attention.
In the 1972 Vuelta d'Espana, he collided with a milestone trying to avoid overhanging branches. His heart momentarily stopped, he needed mouth-to-mouth to be revived, was taken away by ambulance, and ended up in a coma.
|Fatal fall in Volta Algarve, 1984|
Later that summer, the Sporting team did make it to the Tour, if without their intended, spiritual leader. Somewhat miraculously, and against all the smart money, the young Sporting rider Paulo Ferreira won the big early breakaway stage in the tour, the stage where Renault's Vincent Barteau took a Maillot Jaune he kept warmed up for his teammate Fignon for a week. I remember Paulo Ferreira breaking down in tears on the podium, dedicating his win to the memory of Joachim Agostinho.
RTP aired a documentary on the career of Joaquim Agostinho a few years ago. A link to the intro is here. Another great film segment on his career is here.
My Portugese may be a little weak, but I did clearly understand the narrator when he ended that RTP film with simple words to describe a simply magnificent and humble champion. Words that say it all.
Joaquim Agostinho. Soldier.