The Mayans predicted that the world would end in 2012, and with that Roland Emmerich, so given to imagining catastrophes, made a movie that cost 200 million dollars and quadrupled at the box office. The story of José Vicente Toribio Alcolea (Socuéllamos, 1985) is more prosaic: in 2012, like so many Spaniards then, he was unemployed. He had just run his third consecutive Vuelta a España, but the Junta de Andalucía, CajaSur and CajaGranada, the main sponsors, had many other priorities before continuing to invest money in a cycling team. That year, the crisis was drowning like never before and the Rajoy government was close to asking the European Union for bailout. Or so they said.
So Toribio, who was 27 years old and wanted to continue being a professional on a bicycle, spread the curriculum all over the world. Without setting borders, bare-chested, waiting to see what fate held. From the heart of La Mancha, he even joked with his wife and friends: “Imagine that they answer me from Japan.” Coincidence or not, they answered. And there he went, to the Rising Sun, nine years ago. He was first two seasons in the Team Ukyo, a team created by Ukyo Katayama, former Formula 1 driver; and now add seven in the Matrix-Powertag. You cannot say that the experience was bad: a few weeks ago, Toribio was proclaimed champion of the Japan Pro Tour for the fifth time.
“The beginnings are always difficult, especially in a country where the culture is so different. Shortly after landing, I remember that we traveled with the team to a race and the hotel room was completely empty; there was only one tatami. I asked about the beds and they answered that they were inside the closet. They were the kind of futons you put on the floor. He recounts it to ABC laughing on the phone from Osaka, the third largest city in the country, with more than 2.6 million inhabitants and located about 500 kilometers from Tokyo.
The Japan Pro Tour is a kind of league, in which cyclists compete from March to October. “It gets especially hard because you have to be focused for a long time, which creates a lot of mental fatigue, apart from the physical one,” he explains. Before there were 21 tests, last year they were reduced to 15 and this has been 17 due to the covid. The one-day races are held on circuits and are shorter than in Europe, about 100 or 120 kilometers, which makes it a “more explosive” cycling. In addition, the circuits “tend to be quite technical; everything is a seesaw, although some have harder climbs. There is also space for the critériums, which are run in short circuits, of one or two kilometers, with sprinters in mind.
«I consider myself an all-rounder. I am not a pure climber or a pure sprinter, and I defend myself in small groups. That is why I think that the Japan Pro Tour adapts well to my conditions, “he says before answering another question: when he is compared with Alejandro Valverde, one of the best cyclists in the world, with similar characteristics, he recognizes that they are” bigger words ».
In the Matrix-Powertag he shares a jersey with three more foreigners: the Spanish Paco Mancebo (third in the 2004 Vuelta a España and fourth in the 2005 Tour de France) and Airán Fernández and the Venezuelan Leonel Quintero. The rest are local runners.
The most popular sport in Japan is baseball, followed by soccer, sumo, and martial arts in general, but cycling is “recognized.” “Although much is not known in Spain, there are quite a few professional teams of the Continental category (the second most important after the World Tour),” he assures.
Next year he will be in his tenth season in Japan, where he renews from year to year because “I like doing it that way” and “the conditions are good.” He returns to Spain every year for Christmas. He spends a month making up for lost time with family and the environment in which he grew up. And yes, also bingeing on cheese, ham or blood sausage, “there is little around here.”