By Andrew Hood
For those who didn’t know him before last year’s Tour de France, David de la Fuente was just another Spanish journeyman who happily did the unglamorous work of a domestique with the occasional breakaway thrown in for good measure.
No one could have guessed that the son of a butcher would be one of the main protagonists, winning the most agressiver rider prize and giving climbing king Michael Rasmussen a run for his money in the hunt for the polka-dot best climber’s jersey.
De la Fuente gained his 15 minutes of fame last year in the Tour’s second stage, when the Saunier Duval-Prodir rider was part of the day’s main breakaway. He scooped up enough points to wear the King of the Mountain jersey only to lose it the next stage.
The Tour rookie might have melted back anonymously into the peloton, but de la Fuente just kept attacking.
The 26-year-old Spaniard jumped away in another breakaway in stage four and then surged back into the spotlight in the grueling mountains stage to Pla de Beret in his native Spain to recapture the King of the Mountains jersey.
De la Fuente went to the Tour as a worker, but left as an emerging star after winning most agressive rider, fourth in the young rider’s competition, and 55th overall.
On Sunday, he scored his first professional victory in the GP Llodio in northern Spain.
VeloNews caught up with de la Fuente earlier this season. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews.com: Last year, you weren’t expected to make the Tour, but at the last minute you were selected, how did that happen?
David de la Fuente: There was another rider set to go, but since he wasn’t in great form and I was riding pretty strong at the Tour de Suisse, they decided to take me instead. I had just come off seven races without a rest. It was a lot of pounding, but the more I race, the better I get. Sure, I like to rest, but it’s better for me to race to get the form.
VN.com: You certainly made the most of your Tour berth?
DF: It was an unexpected thing. When you don’t realize you’re going to the Tour until the week before, you really don’t know what to expect. Then, in the second stage of the Tour, you’re on the podium with the best climber’s jersey, later they would take it away, but it was all a surprise. I later took it back and I held for a long time. Already after that first breakaway I was the happiest guy in the world, so everything else was a bonus. The situation was more than a dream realized. Later on, it was even better.
VN.com: You regained the mountain jersey and held it into the Alps, did you believe you might be able to carry it into Paris?
DF: When I got back the jersey, I knew that going face-to-face against Rasmussen, who is a pure climber, was going to be very complicated. So my strategy was to look for the breakaways every chance I could and try to be ahead and gather up points. For the first two or three days, things went well, but as the race pushed toward the Alps, I knew it wouldn’t be possible. Rasmussen was behind me picking up points here and there, and when he made the big move in the Alps, he won all the points he could and it carried a lot of points, so I knew that was a huge exhibition.
VN.com: How would you describe your racing style?
DF: I am a little bit of all terrain. In a small group, I will sprint, but I don’t dare to do the sprints in a bunch. I don’t like them. I am kind of rider to attack and work, more of a rider for the team, for escapes. When I am in good shape, I can defend in the mountains, but I am not a pure climber. And even less in the time trial. I am not really anything special, but more of an all-rounder. More than anything else, I am an escape artist.
VN.com: How do you smell out a break?
DF: You have to have a lot of luck, then be strong. You have to have a nose as well. I am strong enough that I can try four, five, six times. You get caught four times, but that fifth try you can get away. I attack, attack and attack, and finally you can pull away. Everyone tries to escape and for some riders if you’re in a good breakaway, your Tour is a success.
VN.com: How many breakaways were you in last year’s Tour?
DF: In three good ones, but many more than that which were caught very early. Those efforts cost me a lot to protect the climber’s jersey. I would fight for points, then fade back because I wasn’t thinking about the classification. I was first up the Tourmalet, coming with that was a nice bonus, not bad at 5000 euros.
VN.com: How many grand tours had your raced before your surprise Tour selection?
DF: Two times at the Vuelta before. I finished my first Vuelta, but last year I crashed out with a broken collarbone. I am a good investment because I usually finish the races I start.
VN.com: How does your success in last year’s Tour change you as a racer?
DF: It gave me a lot of motivation, confidence, more of everything, giving you a chance to see where you might be able to arrive. To win the most combative jersey and almost win the climber’s jersey, that really fills you with confidence looking ahead to the future. You have to be strong to be in a breakaway. Now you know you can do it and you can be a little more confident. I have more confidence, so we’ll see how the stages go. Everything else will come along
VN.com: Your success must have been a big hit with everyone back in your town?
DF: It’s one thing if you’re in an escape at the Vuelta a España or at a smaller race, but to be in the Tour de France, it’s the biggest of the big. To be on the final podium on the Champs Elysees was a big hit. When I came home, there was a big reception for me like I was someone famous. Later, then we made a big dinner to celebrate and held a fiesta of three days with a dinner, visiting some children at a school, visiting some officials. I waited to come home a little while because I had a chance to make a little money in the post-Tour criteriums. It could be a chance of a lifetime so you have to take advantage of it.
VN.com: Do you come from a family with a cycling tradition?
DF: I live in the mountains near Santander. My parents are butchers and no one else in our family was really into cycling. It was only with the euphoria of (Pedro) Delgado that my dad bought me a bike for Christmas when I was seven years old. Since then, I was hooked on cycling. The bike is something that once it’s part of your life, you always need it more.
VN.com: How did you first get into racing?
DF: When I was young, I didn’t have much success. It was more like a hobby. I can’t complain, things went pretty well, and when I came here, things have gone pretty well too. I was on a small club team in my region and then I was the feeder teams with Saunier Duval. I am already eight or nine years with the Saunier Duval. I became pro with Vini Caldirola, which also has a connection to Saunier Duval, and now I am four years here with the team. So I am kind of part of the family to the team. Time flies and I believe that you should never leave things for tomorrow that you can do today.
VN.com: Following your Tour performance, has your position changed within the team?
DF: A little bit. I think I will have more opportunities to get away in the escapes to have more freedom. We have a lot of leaders on the team, but when I am in the break, they will respect that and let me have my chances. If I am not on the escape, I work for the team. That much won’t change.
VN.com: Looking at this season, what are you top goals for the year?
DF: The most important thing for me this year will be the Tour. Then after that, maybe the Vuelta, but right now it’s too early to think about these things. The season is just starting and the Vuelta is a long away. Before that, there are Pais Vasco, Valencia, the Ardennes, Asturias, Cataluyna, Euskal Bicicleta, then the Tour. I am normally a rider who makes a lot of races. Last year I had 100 days of competition. I did the Vuelta and Tour, plus a lot of racing before that. It’s not normal to do so many races. You need to be some time at home to be tranquil. You’re always stressed out when you’re not at home.
VN.com: After your successes last year, what can you expect this year in the Tour?
DF: This year, I’d like to arrive in good form in the Tour. This year I know for sure I will be going to the Tour, which is a big benefit. Last year I made the Tour selection by chance. This will help me make better preparation and maybe try to win a stage, because to repeat what happened last year in the Tour will be very difficult. I will be watched more, so it won’t be so easy to stick my nose into the wind.
VN.com: What do your goals now?
DF: Sometimes I am kind of pessimistic, but at the same time, it couldn’t all be just luck. I am 25 years old (26 in May) and I’ve worked hard to get to where I am. Every year I’ve been able to improve, so maybe not this year, but maybe in the future I can be among the leaders. My first year as a pro I almost won and this gives you more confidence and I believe that good things will come. I’ve never won as a professional. I’ve been second and third many times, so first of all I’d love to win a race. To win is very hard.