Raúl López stops in the U23 category: “It’s time to live cycling in a different way”

“I’m sorry I stayed, I apologise”. The sentence is real, as real as the great cyclist, and better person, that he is. Raúl López, the Aragonese of the U23 structure of the Contador Foundation, finishes his stage as a U23 rider and considers that the time has come to leave the competition. “Fortunately or unfortunately, the last Volta a Galicia was my last dance. Next year I’m going to stop competing, at least for sure at this level. I’m not going to focus on myself as an elite, I think that life is a series of stages and mine as a competitor at a high level has come to an end”, he points out.

“I’m sorry I stayed, I apologise,” he said at the time after a race this season when the plans and forecasts for the morning meeting could not materialise due to a lack of strength after another day of hard work and wear and tear. The legs go as far as they go and when you give everything, and even then a little more, you can’t ask for forgiveness. “He’s a ten-percenter, hard-working, honest, polite, responsible… Always putting the team before the individual. All the good things that can be said about Raúl are not enough”, says Rafa Díaz Justo, his manager this past season.

Raúl López joined EOLO-KOMETA Cycling Team for the 2023 season after three previous seasons with Caja Rural. Just one season that has been a master of kindness, dedication and companionship. “I have been lucky enough to spend four years in top teams, with top material, with opportunities in top races, with a top staff… In the end things have not worked out or I have not been able to give more. Along the way I have worked and helped my team-mates, because on many occasions I felt much more fulfilled. When I had the chance to compete, I was the one who didn’t make the grade”. And he adds: “Each new season I’ve felt that I’ve started from a higher level than the previous year, I feel that I’ve followed the course of the category, I’ve felt stronger and stronger, I haven’t found the passing of the kilometres so hard… and I’ve also had better results. But from these four years I’ll keep the experiences. In the end it’s 40, 50 days of competition away from home, plus the trips there and back, the training camps… That brings a lot together”.

The truth is that his career in the category did not have the best of beginnings, as has happened to a whole generation of cyclists, because of the COVID-19, its pandemic, the confinement and the wave of suspensions that slowed down cycling at all levels. “The year of the COVID was difficult, in the end there were few races and in the end the teams gave more time to their older riders. Then everything returned to a certain normality and that went hand in hand with getting the hang of the category,” he recalls. At the same time, cycling as a sport was also facing changes in the form of a greater focus on young riders and their potential. On the hunt for the ‘new Remco’ with new forms of negotiation.

An abrupt change for López, who began his career in this sport as a child, within a cycling school, and has followed the more traditional path of what has been this sport. Steady and constant steps, first many years under the coaching of Luis Escribano and this season working with Samuel Maragoni: “It’s not easy. The numbers of the boys are there, but those numbers don’t explain everything. I think that junior is a category in which there is a big difference in physique. For example, in my first year as a junior I wasn’t ready. Now with the free development at the end of the day, you also strengthen people who have a greater physical development. It’s true that you see people who come with the body of a third-year amateur, but a junior who jumps to the professional ranks lacks the competitive flight hours of a cyclist who has spent two or three years in U23 and that background is necessary, it’s missing, you can’t improvise. And there is only one Remco. And there is only one Carlos Rodriguez”.

López continues: “The mental aspect is going to be very important and it is probably an aspect that is not worked on very much or not at all. Just today a 19 year old kid won the European time trial, what can a 27 year old rider think? Or a 22 year old rider? Maybe he has doubts, maybe he thinks he’s not good enough for this, maybe he eats his head off and yet “his year” is simply the next one or the one after. My personal experience has been to get better every year. And then, of course, not all cyclists can take it the same way at the same age, it’s true that there are many young people who ride their bikes 24 hours a day; others can’t afford it because of personal or family circumstances, or they have other responsibilities… This dedication is good, but it’s counterproductive because if something happens, an injury, whatever, all that effort and exclusivity is worthless. This sport is very complicated, you have to perform 365 days a year and you have to be lucky. And yet, that doesn’t guarantee anything. I’m not saying that dedication isn’t good, but you have to avoid obsession and not close other doors”. For these reasons, López was clear that he would never stop studying.

And that’s why one of her imminent plans is to study computer engineering. She has never put them on hold. “In the end, sport has helped me to disconnect a lot from my studies, but I never considered giving them up. I’ve always thought that, with the right balance, which is not easy either, you could do both things. And look, little by little, it has been possible. This is going to be my last year of university studies. The idea is to be able to submit the TFG during this academic year 2023-24. Now, for the moment, it’s time to rest a bit. I think we deserve it”.

Deserved. Without a doubt it would have been nice to be able to raise your arms in an individual race, because team successes did come during the course. Is that the thorn in your side? “I would have liked to finish this stage as an U23 with at least one victory, yes. In the recent Volta a Galicia, I had a very good time trial and, hell, at some point I was close. I didn’t expect it, but I had the day. I was strong. And when you see yourself there you think, come on, you’re ready to compete. But the next day you crash and you say, wow, what a shame, all the effort of yesterday… But this sport is like that, sometimes you go with gas and other times you don’t. But in the Volta a Castellón you’re not. But in the Volta a Castellón I did feel it close. It was the first race I did after Arturo’s death. In the queen stage, with the finish in Bel, I started and took about 15″. Isaac Cantón, who was leading us in that race, was cheering me on through his earpiece. I wanted to win and dedicate it to Arturo, I was getting goose bumps… I tried, I gave it my all, but I couldn’t. And the thorn in my side was the dedication of the race to Arturo. And the little thorn of that dedication did stay with me”.

In love with the Pyrenees, where the family has a house, the leisure menu will never be short of cranks. “The bike, of course, will always be there. I love cycling, I’m going to keep on cycling. You have to enjoy the Pyrenees and the Sistema Ibérico. As soon as I can I’m going to escape to climb Javalambre, which I’m looking forward to seeing. This year I couldn’t go to see the Vuelta there or the Tourmalet because it coincided with the last races of the season. It’s time to experience cycling in a different way, because it’s one thing to train and another to go cycling. It’s time to enjoy cycling in a different way, to discover the landscapes with different eyes, to experience cycling in a different way… I will also be able to do more cross-country skiing in winter, which I really like, and I will also be able to do more trekking in the mountains, which is something that is not possible in season. And my brother wants to get me involved in the world of triathlon! So who knows, maybe this winter I’ll be up for it. What I know for sure is that I’m going to continue to enjoy cycling.