Julián Berrendero, the cycling hero who won the Tour of Spain after being retaliated against and spending 18 months in prison | Culture


The cyclist Julián Berrendero, nicknamed 'The black man with blue eyes'.
The cyclist Julián Berrendero, nicknamed ‘The black man with blue eyes’.

September 1939. After the war, Julián Berrendero returned to Spain. He was arrested as soon as he crossed the border in Irún. The king of the mountains of the 1936 Tour, the winner of a stage in the Tour of 37, suffered 18 months in different concentration camps. He survived hunger, disease, forced labor. A few months after serving his punishment, he competed in the 1941 Vuelta a España, which he won.

One day of boredom and pandemic in the spring of 2020, the British writer and journalist Tim Moore read the story of one of the best Spanish cyclists of the 1930s, and his adventures, his absurd horror, moved him so much that he immediately embarked on an adventure that does not fit but the inevitable adjective of quixotic. With his inquiries, Moore discovered that Berrendero had set up a workshop shop in Madrid’s Chamberí and that there were still bicycles in good condition with the Berrendero brand, Reynolds steel pipe, Campagnolo group, built in the seventies. For the love of Berrendero, the canicular and African summer of 2020, about one of them, leaving the workshop in 1975, and baptizing it The Berrendero, with anxious legs, and a trembling heart charged with intrigue, Moore and his Orwellian and anti-fascist soul, undertook a crazy adventure, that of traveling the roads of the Vuelta a España in 1941, from Madrid to Madrid in 21 stages and more than 4,000 kilometers.

“For the first time, but not the last, I had the impression that although the intention of the race [que partió el 12 de junio de 1941 del arco de la Victoria junto a las ruinas, trincheras y búnkeres de la Ciudad Universitaria] to unite Spain, the tour had been planned in such a way, touching the losers’ noses in such detail, that it reminded everyone who had won the war ”, writes Tim Moore in one of the first pages of Skelter Lap (something like Revolt Revolt), the book in which he collects his hardships and misadventures on bicycles through the same places 79 years later, his suffering under the inclement sun of the hottest July of the century, his nighttime despair when he Google enters the name of the city in the who spends the night next to the words “civil war” and compares the information with the reading of the Spanish Holocaust, by Paul Preston.

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The opening of the bicycle shop 'Berrendero y Real'.  Julián Berrendero, fifth from left to right, grabs the saddle.  / FACEBOOK PAGE DEDICATED TO THE CYCLIST
The opening of the bicycle shop ‘Berrendero y Real’. Julián Berrendero, fifth from left to right, grabs the saddle. / FACEBOOK PAGE DEDICATED TO THE CYCLIST

His voice, his word, then becomes the voice of those who never had it. The voice of the disappeared, the voice of Berrendero, who could never, in all his life of rage, have a word to say his own. The manners, friendly and ironic newspaper in the English style then becomes a travel book in memory. Before his horrified and hungry eyes, only illuminated in Bujaraloz when he remembers the passage of the Durruti column through the town, such a wide catalog of the intrinsic evil of the Francoist forces unfolds, their desire for extermination, so much death, so many dead in mass graves , in gutters, on cemetery walls, which, later, when he tries to dine in the squares of towns and cities surrounded by happy, almost happy people, partying, he cannot but repeatedly and vainly try to reconcile the “charming” people who It surrounds him festively with his ancestors “blinded by hatred.”

He does not succeed and the mystery of that Spain intrigues and disturbs him as much as the survival still in cathedrals and plaque squares in honor of José Antonio and other fascist heroes, as he is surprised by oblivion, the silence that people return to him when he tries to remember the war or the concentration camp on the beach of Rota, in which Berrendero spent a few months in the winter of 1940, now turned, extreme irony, into a nature reserve for chameleons.

A pioneer

And it surprises him, and saddens him more, that no one of those he crosses paths with has ever heard of his personal hero, Julián Berrendero – “come on Hoooolián”- whom he honors by voluntarily submitting to torture similar to that suffered by the great cyclist to win the terrible Vuelta of 1941. He does not understand the Spanish forgetfulness towards one of the great pioneers of his cycling, Fausto Coppi who wins the Giro al Returning from his captivity in Africa during World War II in a Spanish version, the ever-abused champion, Berrendero, capable of winning two laps after so much penalty and even running, at 37, the Tour del 49.

The front page of Marca newspaper announces the victory of Julián Berrendero in the Vuelta a España in 1942. / FACEBOOK.
The front page of Marca newspaper announces the victory of Julián Berrendero in the Vuelta a España in 1942. / FACEBOOK.

“Even today I do not know what the suspension of my license was due to,” Berrendero wrote in his autobiography in 1949, My glories and my memories, using the euphemism “license suspension” to refer to his two months in the Torrelavega concentration camp, an old timber warehouse, from September 1939, to the following two months in the Espinosa de los Monteros concentration camp, in the cold mountain Burgos, and his year in La Almadraba de Rota and his sentence to pave the streets of the city of Cadiz with stone. “I have always attributed it to purification procedures, but what has always surprised me is that runners who, also absent from the Homeland, almost always acted with me outside of it, and as I was strictly athletes, did not run upon their return my so bad luck ”.

Berrendero, with a complexion so dark and eyes so clear that he was known as the Negro with blue eyes, born in a road worker’s hut in San Agustín de Guadalix, Madrid, in 1912, refers to Ezquerra, Cañardo, other components of the Spanish teams who were caught running the Tour on July 18, 1936 and decided not to return to Spain at war. They stayed in France. They ran the Tour of 37 with the republican flag – a purple jersey with a red and a yellow stripe -, they swore allegiance to the legal power in Spain, the Republic, and publicly pledged to donate half of their earnings for the orphans of the war . Only Berrendero was punished upon his return. Doubt, anger at injustice accompanied him throughout his life, until his death in 1995.

Perhaps the answer to your question was found by a mad Englishman, Tim Moore, consulting his card in the suspect file that a Gestapo agent compiled during the war in Salamanca. In it, among the two million suspects, is Berrendero’s file with a single entry: “He leaves half his fees on the cycling tour of France to help the orphans of the war. “WORKER WORLD”. No 485. Page 3 July 7, 1937 ″. It is not unreasonable to conclude, then, that the mere mention of his name in the press organ of the PCE was what condemned the cyclist, one more victim of a war that cannot be forgotten.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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