Xavi Tondo: Anti-doping cyclist who died just as his career was starting to take off


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The Independent Online

The talented Catalan cyclist Xavi Tondo was killed in a freak domestic accident just when, at 32, he had started getting the recognition he deserved. For years Tondo had raced for low-level, low-budget squads in Portugal and Spain, where doping was widespread and the pay was often verging on the non-existent. It was a brutal schooling for Tondo and a largely futile one: good results were written off as due to drugs; bad ones led to the dole queue.

Despite being one of Spain's most outspoken anti-dopers – last February police broke up a drugs ring in Catalunya after Tondo had tipped them off about an email he had received offering doping products – Tondo found it virtually impossible to impress upon bigger teams that his results were a product of his talent, not chemicals. By the end of 2009 he was out of a job and preparing to sign on at his local unemployment office in Tarragona.

But at the last minute, a contract with the leading team Cervélo finally gave him the breakthrough he deserved. "It was only thanks to the biological passport" – a recently introduced anti-doping method that detects drugs through physiological irregularities – "that people began to believe in me," Tondo said. "At last I could prove I was racing clean."

His first high-profile win with his new team was a stage of the prestigious Paris-Nice race last year, which he won by a whisker ahead of the pack. When he crossed the line, he held up his hands with his 10 fingers stretched apart – "to show people that even if they'd never heard of me, this was actually my 10th victory."

Sixth place in the Tour of Spain last year effectively ensured a debut ride in the Tour de France this July with his next squad, Movistar, an event in which he had long dreamed of racing. When I saw him a few weeks ago in Belgium, he told me he had insisted that a guaranteed Tour participation be written into his contract.

One of the most dedicated professionals on the circuit – "he loved his sport like nobody else" was how the Spanish Tour de France winner Alberto Contador simply and aptly described him – Tondo was heading out to training for the Tour de France from his base in Sierra Nevada, Spain, when he died, crushed between his car and a garage door.

Alasdair Fotheringham

Xavier Tondo, cyclist: born Valls, Spain 5 November 1978; died Granada, Spain 23 May 2011.