Multivan Merida XC rider and Spanish super star José Antonio Hermida (37) started his career in Australia, won the Olympic Silver medal in Athens 2004 and is now on his trail to Rio. We met him at the Multivan Merida team meet and greet prior to the World Cup in Albstadt, Germany – held in a castle. “I feel comfortable here, it’s a historic place” says the oldest rider in the top 100 cross-country field with a big grin on his face…
José, 20 years ago you won the Junior World Champion on Australian soil. This year in Cairns it didn’t go that well at all with a flat tire and a crash…
Yeah, back in 1996 when I took off to Australia I was 17. It was my first time on a plane, my first time on the top podium spot and I came back with the biggest smile. I wanted to celebrate my 20th anniversary in Cairns – and ended up in 42nd position. But I still love Australia immensely. It’s a very special place for me full of lovely people. And, you know, I’ve never been the pure winning type. I’ve had victories and I’ve lost races – everything is a process and I’m super grateful I’ve learned the losing part as well.
You are 37 and your chances for a ticket to Rio are good. This would be your fifth participation at Olympic games – eager to go or has it become a routine?
Oh no, it’s a still super special for me and the most dramatic race you can imagine. Everybody’s been training for that one day, the whole season, for four years. Me too. This year I haven’t raced Cape Epic or the Andalucia stage race. I’ve focused on cross-country. You invest everything, you know that this race can turn you into a hero and you can feel it. But living in the Olympic village is such a unique experience – being part of this is a victory in itself. It’s totally crazy. You feel like you’re in some TV show. The world’s best athletes in this one bubble. The spirit is buzzing, everyone is the same, no matter whether you are Rafael Nadal or a ping pong player from China, Kobe Bryant or a Hungarian gymnast – there is no hierarchy, no difference.
And what are your expectations for the race?
I have no expectations at all. Of course, I’m working hard now and I will race my best that day, but I have no expectations – well, apart from beating Absalon and Schurter maybe… No seriously: cycling sport is moving so fast – products, training, media life, race courses. Everything is getting faster and faster. But you should never forget: it needs slow cooking to make a good product – and a good rider.
The world is turning faster and you’re slowing down?
Not in the race, I hope. But I think we all should enjoy more and stress less. We only have that one life and we should honour that. Cross-country is a bit like a laboratory bubble, everything is programmed to the tiniest detail, it’s millimetric work. Maybe I’m a bit of an anarchist here, I don’t want full control all the time. Well on the track, I do. That’s why I love riding my hardtail. It makes me feel like a pure pilot, like I own that ride. It’s direct, it’s straight, without too much technology, the challenge is right there. This is what I love, this is how I was born.
So you will continue racing on hardtails next year?
Well, no, I will stop competing in cross-country. I’m not sure yet what lies ahead of me, but this will be the next big challenge: finding a new spot for me on this planet. I want to try out different things, I want to sit on an Enduro bike and have major fun. But I will remain in the bike business. I only have one life and I want to spend it riding bikes.