To many cycling fans, the name Xavier Tondo may seem familiar only because of his recent anti-doping activity wherein he alerted authorities in Spain to the existence of a doping ring. While it shows the quality of his character, his sporting results were just starting to mature. I always thought of him as a man who earned his reputation by fighting in the trenches, working hard with limited support of small teams, and only in the past few seasons has he made it to the big leagues.
The affable Catalan climbing specialist started his career riding for small squads in Spain and Portugal, with a few notable wins including stage wins in the Vuelta a Avila, Tour of Qinghai Lake, and Vuelta a Asturias. With Spanish teams Catalunya and Relax-GAM, and Portuguese team LA-MSS, he repeated his stage win in Asturias and had a breakthrough 2007 season in which he won competitive races such as Trofeu Agostinho and the Volta a Portugal.
Bigger teams now started to pay serious attention, and in 2009 he joined Andalucia-Cajasur. Finally having access to top-level races, he showed consistently strong performances in the Ruta del Sol, the Vuelta a Murcia, the Vuelta a Catalunya, the Castilla y Leon, and the Vuelta a Burgos. He also rode his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a Espana. Perhaps this was his breakthrough year, winning the Prologue at Ruta del Sol and finishing second in the GC of Vuelta a Burgos. Tondo showed that he could compete for stage wins and GC, and make his chances in both.
The following year saw him move to the Cervelo Test Team, where he notably won a stage of Paris-Nice. After a strong spring in which he won the GC of Vuelta a Catalunya his home race, the double-serving of Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana served as his proving grounds. Even though he started as a domestique for Carlos Sastre, he finished the Vuelta ranked 6th in the GC. The collapse of CTT led him to the super-team Movistar for 2011, where he was scheduled to compete in this summer’s Tour de France. Being a well-drilled team that consistently delivers in the grand tours–and carrying with it the histories and palmares of Delgado, Indurain, and Valverde–I have little doubt that Tondo would have had a great Tour de France. (I had his name on my Fantasy Tour de France team for some time.) It is a great loss to cycling that he will never regale us with a performance in perhaps the biggest show on earth for a climbing specialist.
Being a climber, few places on earth are better than Sierra Nevada where he lives and trains. And perhaps, few places on earth are better for a climber to die, even if tragically.