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A Thorny Story of Julián Berrendero – One of La Vuelta’s First Racers

By Tereza Antonova

The origins of the Spanish Grand Tour as we know it are resembling the beginnings of adventure novels. Born in a difficult environment and struggling to survive, our hero strives to find his place in the complicated and hostile world, dominated by stronger players.

The unstable political situation and war marked the first decade of La Vuelta as they did the life of one of its first racers and talented cyclists: the life of one Julián Berrendero. This unknown young man appeared at the second edition of La Vuelta in 1936 and unexpectedly posed a threat to the race’s favourite: Gustaaf Deloor. While Deloor ultimately won the race, Berrendero claimed a promising fourth position and joined the 1936 Tour a month later.

Berrendero at the Tour
At the 1937 Tour. © Profimedia

Crossing the finish line of the Grande Boucle, Julián learned his own country has plunged into the atrocious Spanish Civil War. The young cyclist decided to stay in France and run a bicycle shop. Still exiled, he signed a document pledging his allegiance to the regime of 1931. When the civil war was over and thousands of Spaniards fled the country, Julián finally embarked on his way back home, driven by homesickness and the wish to see his family. Unfortunately, the minute Berrendero set foot on Spanish soil, he was arrested by the Francoist regime he openly criticized before.

Thus began almost two years of concentration camp imprisonment, malnourishment, and regular corporeal punishments. Fortunately, Berrendero’s cycling career turned the scales for him.

Julián Berrendero Tour
Racing before being imprisoned. © Profimedia

During the line-up of prisoners of a Cádiz camp, the captain recognized the face and the athletic constitution of one young prisoner and ordered him to follow him to his office. Berrendero obeyed, terrified of what could be ahead. However, to his great surprise, he found the captain in tears, embracing him, explaining he used to be a cyclist as well; the captain and Julián raced together before the war.

In 1941, Berrendero was released and what else could he have done to commemorate this than return to racing. After intensive training and determination, the 1941 and 1942 La Vuelta saw him back, claiming the victory. Julián Berrendero continued his cycling career with an overall balance of 79 major victories. He died aged 83 in 1995. When visiting Madrid, stop by a bicycle shop still bearing his name.