Marino Lejarreta is one of Spain’s most beloved cyclists. Winner of the Vuelta in 1982 and three-time winner of the Classica de San Sebastian, Marino Lejarreta is on record as the only cyclist to complete in three Grand Tours in a single year—four times (1987, 1989, 1990 and 1991). “El Junco de Bérriz” retired from full-time racing in 1992. Known for his humility, honesty and passion for cycling, PELOTON sat down with him recently at his home to get his take on racing, winning and the current atmosphere in pro cycling.
Interview: Laura Messeguer
Illustration: Matthew Burton
Victories are just numbers, what remains is what you feel in each race. There have been many races in which I did not win or I had to work for a partner and look after them. Curiously enough, I did not like losing at anything, but when I got down from the bicycle, this feeling was gone. I was no longer worried about it.
On completing the triple, four times:
My friend José Luis Uribezubía, who had competed on the Kas team, told me his experience when he participated in the three big competitions in the same year, in 1971. He said it was quite impossible and he arrived exhausted at the Tour. I thought to myself, ‘If it is that hard, I have to try.’
On what completing the triple felt like:
The first year I competed in the Vuelta, Giro and the Tour with Caja Rural, I managed to finish tenth.
In the two following occasions, I finished fifth. It was a formula in which I fit perfectly well. There was a season in which I wanted to win the three of them, but I tumbled down at the end. One year I ended up in the first five spots in two of them. If I had gone after it I would have been able to succeed but I should have been more conservative when competing and that was very hard for me. I attacked with my heart and not so much with my head. I was guided by emotion and I sometimes attacked when I should not have and I was carried away by passion.
On the Giro d’Italia:
I saw it as the race for mountain climbers. I was captivated from my first participation. In terms of sports, it is the most beautiful race, much more beautiful than the Tour de France and Vuelta a España. The riders who participate in the Giro d’Italia are really cycling lovers. Most of the people you find at the Tour are there because they just like the show. Maybe I like Italy so much because the way in which they live for cycling and it is very similar to the Basque country.
On what cycling teaches:
Cycling has always been worth it. I learned to control myself, to know my limits, to sacrifice, to fight, to be self-sufficient, and to have a personality. A sport means improving in all senses.
On the evolution of cycling:
Cycling has evolved just like society has. Today’s cycling is the result of knowledge, of having acquired experience and of learning how to work to achieve our goals. We have evolved, there are better life conditions and our adaptation is absolutely logical. Many riders make the mistake of being stuck exactly where they retired.
On Lance Armstrong:
Armstrong is extremely materialistic. This materialist ambition makes him go search for the best results. His hypocrisy has been very harmful. A man is not brave for recognizing what he did wrong and criticizing the others, in addition to saying that the Tour de France cannot be won without being doped. It may be for him.
On working for teammates:
I liked it very much when there was an opportunity to work for my partners; I was less responsible and got excited when a victory was obtained as a result of teamwork.
On how to approach a life of racing:
Enjoy the competition and the sport because that will be more satisfactory than obtaining victories. The sport is not a profession, rather, it is a hobby. An emotion that must be lived and when you do so, it is worth it.