Joan Llaneras is one of those oddball eccentrics who disappear into the woodwork and barely cause a stir for much of the racing season. That’s not until the big-time events roll around and they sprout out of the background like tulips in spring. Llaneras, 39, won the Olympic points race on Saturday. He plans to compete in the Madison and then hang up the bike for good.
Joan Llaneras is one of those oddball eccentrics who disappear into the woodwork and barely cause a stir for much of the racing season.
That’s not until the big-time events roll around and they sprout out of the background like tulips in spring.
Llaneras, 39, won the Olympic points race on Saturday. He plans to compete in the Madison and then hang up the bike for good.
“These are my last races of my career,” Llaneras said in training earlier this week. “The preparation has gone well. I am in good condition and I have the right attitude ready to do battle to medal. I want to medal in my final Games. Any color would be fine.”
Llaneras is a track version of the elusive Basque Spanish climber Roberto Laiseka, who would dissolve into the rugged hills of Spain’s Basque Country before delivering a bolt out of the blue with a one-off victory that would blow everyone out of the water.
Llaneras isn’t quite as elusive as the publicity-shy Laiseka, but he doesn’t actively search out the spotlight, either.
He speaks in whispers and keeps his eyes darting away from the lens.
“I’ve had a good preparation, as good as in other years. Despite my age, I am still motivated and I still feel strong,” he says. “I think my experience will help me. The races are long and racing with a cool head is key.”
A steady presence on the track circuit for nearly two decades, he specializes in the long-distance dogfights in the points race and Madison.
He’s won seven world titles — three in the Madison and four in the points race — and struck gold in Sydney 2000 with the points race and mined silver behind surprise winner Mikhail Ignatiev in Athens 2004.
Llaneras wasn’t expecting to race in Beijing, but a tragic turn of events fueled his ambition to continue racing.
He was hoping to retire in the world track cycling championships in 2007 that coincided with his home on Spain’s Mallorca island.
Isaac Gálvez — his world championship Madison partner 1999 and 2006 — died after colliding with a railing during a six-day event in Ghent in November, 2006.
The death of his close friend and racing partner sent Llaneras spinning into despair.
At Mallorca, he rode on emotion to lap the entire field in the points race and win his fourth career world title. He dedicated the victory to his fallen friend and has never publicly spoken about it since.
At Beijing, he is only hesitantly racing the Madison, teaming up with new partner Toni Tauler.
The pair has never raced together and Tauler was named as Llaneras’ partner after Spain’s other Madison rider broke his arm a month before the Olympics.
“The truth is Joan and I have never raced together. It was a last-minute arrangement, so we’re new partners,” said Tauler, who also rode the individual pursuit in Beijing, qualifying for the final eight but losing to Russia’s Alexey Markov in the first round. “Llaneras has a lot of experience. He knows what to do. It’s a disadvantage, to be sure, but we’ll try to make the best of it.”
Llaneras would like nothing more than to add the finishing touch to a long career in the Madison, and then disappear back into the woodwork.
Next time he won’t be coming back.