Luis Ocaña and the other side of the medal

29 July 2022 By shamim kordbache History

It was mourned on May 24, 1994, at Notre-Dame des Cyclistes in Labastide d'Armagnac, France. It was the funeral of Tour and Vuelta winner Luis Ocaña. On May 19, 1994, at the age of 48, Luis Ocaña ended his life with a gunshot through the head. According to the story, the depressed Luis suffered from hepatitis-B and cancer and could no longer bear life. The Spanish mountain king and time trial specialist was honoured with a stained glass window and a green marble plaque at Notre-Dame des Cyclistes.

The drama of  life

Luis Ocaña's life was not always rosy. He was born on June 9, 1945 in the Spanish village of Priego in the province of Cuenca. The family lived in great poverty, there was not always enough food for the 5 children. Because of the Spanish Civil War, the 12-year-old fled with his parents to France to avoid persecution of his republican father by Franco's fascist regime. Luis was a worrisome child, he contracted tuberculosis which left him with weak lungs. His authoritarian father put young Luis to work early in the fields and he only found freedom on the bicycle school. Although his father was against it and thought him too weak to play sports, he joined the cycling club Mont-de-Marsan and discovered that on the bike he was a real winner.

The difficult choice

Although he grew up in France from the age of 12, Luis Ocaña continued to feel Spanish, so on his first professional contract he chose the Spanish cycling team Fagor. As Fagor's leader, he finished second in the 1969 Vuelta in less than 2 minutes behind French rider Roger Pingeon, with Dutchman Rini Wagtmans taking third. Luis got a contract with the French cycling team BIC and rode the Vuelta again in 1970. Despite his dissatisfaction with the course, which included too few and too short time trials for his liking, Luis won this time.The audacious Luis was not a true team player, preferring to chart his own path; it was only in the final time trial that he defeated his rivals and added the first major stage race to his resume.

Luis Ocana Tour de France 1973

Luis Ocaña -Tour de France 1973

His compatriot Agustn Tamames, who won the Vuelta in 1975, finished second, and Belgian Herman van Springel finished third with a time difference of only one minute.Luis Ocaña was Eddy Merckx's main rival in the 1971 Tour de France. Luis rode 60 kilometres solo to the ski resort of Orcieres-Merlette, finishing 5 minutes 52 seconds ahead of Lucien van Impe and 8 minutes 42 seconds ahead of Eddy Merckx. Legendry yellow jersey appeared to be within reach in Paris. However, everything went wrong on the 14th stage of the Col de Menté descent. The road became slick due to a thunderstorm, and Luis crashed and was unable to continue.

The 1973 Tour de France

In 1973, at the age of 28, Ocaña won the Tour de France by a large margin, capturing the yellow jersey in the first Alpine stage and riding to Paris in yellow. His French rival Bernard Thévenet finished second at almost 16 minutes behind. His biggest rival - Eddy Merckx - did not compete in 1973, much to the chagrin of Luis who was convinced he could have beaten him that Tour. Luis saw Eddy as his only real rival: "Eddy irritated me because he always wanted to win everything, rule everything! Beating him became an obsession for me". Luis even had his dog named 'Merckx', that way he was always the boss of 'Merckx' at home.

Luis Ocaña, Yellow jersey

He did not win a single grand tour after 1973. In his last Tour de France, he finished 25th with the Dutch cycling team Frisol. He then concentrated even more on his wine estate, as Luis enjoyed a glass of wine. Since he missed the world of cycling and could not bear being away from it, became a cycling commentator for Antenne 2 and Spanish radio stations in 1979. A car ride through the Alps was planned for journalists on a rest day. Luis gets out of the car and falls into the ravine, breaking his forearm and jaw and causing permanent damage to his eye and ear.

The demise of a hero

After a hailstorm had destroyed the wine grapes, Luis became an advisor to the Colombian team in the 1983 Tour. He collided with this cycling team from the start, which proved unsuccessful collaboration. The same year, he crashed his car into a truck, severely injuring his leg. Unlucky Luis contracts Hepatitis-B during blood transfusions in the hospital, which leads to liver cancer. He knows that it does not have long to live and therefore deprives himself of life. His family does not believe it and accuses - in connection with an extramarital affair - his widow Josiane. This accusation soon proves to be unjustified. 


Luis Ocaña became acquainted with the other side of the coin. Luis Ocana himself said - just before his death about: 

Ce n'est pas que je sois malheureux dans ma vie actuelle, mais elle ne me procurera jamais les sensations et les émotions que j'ai vécues sur le vélo !

[ It's not that I'm unhappy in my current life, but it will never give me the sensations and emotions I experienced on the bike. ]



Tour de France 1973 - Stage 8 (Les Orres) - Luis Ocaña


This cycling jersey is a replica of the 1973 BIC yellow jersey of Luis Ocaña from the 1967-1974 Bic team.  Order the jersey here and ride in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France 1973!

Luis Ocaña in het wielershirt van Bic


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