When I proposed interviewing Ixio for this second edition of Orbea Magazine, he didn’t hesitate, but he had a condition: that the interview be at his house: “our house is our Facebook. It is the place where we get together with our friends.”
So, one cold Friday in December we went up to Gabiria, at the heart of Guipuzcoa, to eat with his wife Camino and his daughter Irati in an updated farmhouse called “Gurutzeta”.
And we got to talking…
We started at the beginning. Tell me how you got started in the world of cycling.
It's curious. When I was little, my twin sister was sick and my mother spent many hours at the hospital with her. She sent me to my cousin's house in Urnieta. That cousin was a professional cyclist and he was really into cyclo-cross and my love for the bike was born there. As a little boy I had a great love for cycling.
I remember going to Spain’s Cyclo-Cross Championships at that age, holding a bike that was bigger than me, and being with my cousin.
For me bikes were everything. But my family had 8 brothers and there was no money. I got my first bike really late and it was not a bike rider. It was a green standard Orbea that we had to share between all the brothers. I remember racing up the mountains with that bike like lighting. I have good memories.
Then, as life would have it, my brother-in-law, Jokin Mujika arrived with my twin sister and encouraged me to ride bikes. By then, he also opened a bike store and offered me a job working there. Everything happened so quickly.
Contact with Orbea
Being in the store with my brother-in-law during his last years in biking, we asked Orbea to sponsor Jokin in mountain biking and cyclo-cross competitions. And from then on, we started a strong relationship with Orbea. Besides that, before all we sold were Orbea bikes at the store.
Meanwhile, Jokin's brother Jose Cruz, who currently runs the store Jokin Mujika de Beasain, was the mechanic for the Orbea professional teams; Caja Rural, Seat Orbea and all that. I used to work with them in the farmhouse, I wasn’t part of the staff but I helped them with mechanical work. Jose Cruz was my idol and my teacher; I believe I owe a lot to him…
Talk to me about the farmhouse.
The farmhouse was the storehouse. It was where we prepared all the bikes for the team. It was the farmhouse of Jose Cruz and Jokin, a sort of headquarters for the Orbea teams. And I was there everyday.
How do you remember the times when mountain bike emerges?
Around ’92, the bicycles and mountain bike races began. By then, it was a strange thing that not many people knew about and we started with my brother-in-law. By then, the television also appeared, the races in Euskadi, Open ETB –ETB began, today Eitb is the Basque radio and television group, they broadcasted the last minutes of the races live and had extensive interviews on TV and there we went. We won it, Orbea liked the idea and that's how we started.
How has the transition been from being on the MTB team to being with Orbea?
It was something I remember with a lot of positivity. I started in the company because of the people I met through the team. The people from Orbea inspired a lot of trust in me and I made really good friends. It was because of that. It was the people at Orbea. To share what they inspired in me.
It seems like nowadays cycling in the 80’s and 90’s is somehow a blurry time…
I remember it very well. There was a lot of passion for biking. Now, there is too, but back then it was more like love. Now, I see people going to the Tour not because they are fans of a certain cyclist. Many of them do it as a fad, but they don't care about the riders. There used to be fans of riders, of Marino, Jokin, Gorospe… it was great. A crowd of crazy people, each one with a rider. Now they go, when we talk about the orange tide… but 90% are not passionate for the bikes and much less users.
Julien Absalon did a before and after on the MTB team and also on the image of Orbea in that segment. When we look back, it seems obvious to sign him, but looking at the history of the MTB team up to that time, it was a pretty modest team. What were the factors that led to taking this decision?
The team we had before getting Absalon was modest, a respectable team but modest. The arrival of Absalon gave it an incredible boost in professionalism and I believe with that, we took a step to the top of Mountain Biking, specifically Cross Country. It was a little strange. We had some times when we signed one rider or another and some riders tricked us. And at Orbea we said: “enough is enough; we know how to do things well, too.” And we went for the best. And we had weren’t afraid because that was the best rider at that time, he knew us. We didn't sign him for economic superiority. He also came because he knew us and valued what we had done for years, he was following us. That's what he told us, and I believe that it was true.
He had the vision for a serious team. He had seen us growing little by little and he saw us as a team with a good foundation. It wasn’t a team that was on top one year and on the bottom the next. He valued our history.
How was the relationship with Julien during those years?
It was very good, very easy. It was normal, there was some pushing and pulling, but it was really easy. It was a very good relationship personally also. He's been here! (meaning his house).
Absalon was the team leader, but the whole team overall was a dream team
Yes. But that happens everywhere. When you talk about Real Madrid, everybody talks about Cristiano Ronaldo. And in this case, he was the leader. There was Jean Cristophe Peraud, Iñaki Lejarreta, Ruben Ruzafa who were very good riders. They were just in the shadow of a leader who was Absalon.
Jean Cristophe Peraud jumps into the race and climbs the podium in the last Tour de France.
I have very fond memories of this. It reminded me of everything we had been through before, and it also reminded me of the Jean Cristophe that I knew. He is not a rider who has changed. For me, he is the same person I knew, the same. And I had this feeling in my heart when I saw him… he is so good-natured, from a humble family. No weird things or anything like that. Very normal, a warrior… and he left a good taste in my mouth.
Well Iñaki… a young man I knew since childhood, since he was a young player, very, very normal, but with a lot of pressure. His first name was Iñaki, he had a (famous?) last name, and I think that created a lot of pressure. He was more professional than I was. For him, biking was life and he was thinking about biking all the time. We argued a lot because I would tell him “Iñaki, there are other things in life besides biking. There’s family, friends and you never rest.” I would tell him that all the time, it gave him a hard time but it's true. For him, biking was everything.
What about when he was going to be a father…
We had funny stories. We talked about that… and also, it was a time when Iñaki had already matured as an athlete and he was missing one little point that I believe he was going to achieve. For me, it was hard because I had a great relationship. Since I lived near Orbea… and nowadays I have a horrible relationship with his family. For me… I don't know. He was not like a son, but he had something… I had affection for Iñaki.
The best moment with the team, the one you remember most fondly.
(He takes his time to think)
Probably, it would be the World Cup that Absalon won in Scotland. He went on to win the Olympics, those were also great moments, but I thought it was so easy for him… but the one that gave me the greatest satisfaction was the World Cup in Scotland.
It was difficult, complicated. When you have fear in your body… A huge gamble had been made that year, we had signed the best. But even still, it was really difficult.
I remember one story… In that World Cup, Joseba Arizaga, the late Rennie and I were at the hotel. We were so tense on the day of the race, that Julien, who was staying at another hotel with the French national team, came to hour hotel at 8 in the morning with his bike to have coffee. And he told us, “relax, I'm fine. We’re going to do great.” And wouldn’t you know it, he won…
I think since he saw that we were nervous… and he said: “I’ll take a little ride, and have some coffee with you,” dressed in full uniform already… we had coffee, he went to ride, came back to his hotel…
In the end, that’s what makes a great champion, isn't it? That he knows when he is going to win.
I remember we told him later: “You’re so macho…” and he would tell us, “No, no, I'm not like that any more.” It's just funny…
A friend. Yes he is! (Laughs). A friend we’ve done a lot of battle with, we’ve done some very good things, we’ve had our arguments, but still…
Have you slept together?
Yes, many times… many (laughs). But I don't dream about him, okay? (laughs again). He has helped me a lot… We share some things, others, we don’t, but Joseba and me are united by competition, we have always been linked to competition and we have nursed it. Because we both like it… our roots have always been in competition and that brings us together.
Current projects: Cofidis, Luna chix… How do you see them?
Good, I see Cofidis as a team that fits well with Orbea's philosophy. Modest, serious, but hard-working. I think it will give us a good push. I like it, I like it.
Las Luna is a great team. Maybe female cycling is not as highly regarded as male cycling yet in the media, we had to close that gap, push harder. Unfortunately, Catherine Pendrell is not as well known as Julien Absalon. But she is improving and as a brand, we need to have that commitment.
What about the future?
I believe the brand will take a global leap. We are a recognizable brand but I think we can still do better. We will do things. Don't you believe?