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Ángel Nieto: In Memoriam

The early 50s were tough years in Spain. A family from Zamora, including a six-year-old named Ángel Nieto, upped sticks and moved to Madrid in search of a better life. They started a poultry shop in the working class district of Vallecas - right next door to a motorbike repair shop in which a young man by the name of Tomás Díaz Valdés was trying to make ends meet as best as he could following the premature death of his father. The six-year-old boy was fascinated by his neighbour and the motorbikes in his garage. At first he was allowed to come in and watch the bikes being repaired or restored and maybe, now and again to help out by tightening a screw; later he became an apprentice until finally, he was given the chance to test the repaired bikes and not long after that, he became a fully-fledged racer.

Nieto makes the front pages

Tomás Díaz Valdés was, along with his right-hand man, a motorbike specialist for many many years. His first years in the sport were very difficult. At the start, it was only Díaz Valdés who would accompany Nieto on the international circuit. Sometime later Marca journalist Virgilio Hernández Rivadulla joined them. But the motor racing scene was of little or no interest to the national press. Nieto, who was a keen football fan as an adolescent, ended up detesting tyhe sport after seeing so many front covers dedicated to football while his own successes were confined to the back pages. That is until his triumphs could no longer be ignored. The increasing popularity of television played a key part in that – nobody could ignore his monumental victory in the Spanish GP in Montjuïc.

A boy adds a photograph on a tribute monument to Angel Nieto at Jerez racetrack today.

But he was much more than a champions – he was a pioneer – one of those Spanish sportsmen who appeared out of nowhere in the 1960s, bringing into our homes, through television, a new sport and enriching our outlook – to the point of relegating Spain's classic 'sporting trilogy': football, boxing and cycling to the sidelines. That was all down to him, Santana, Emiliano, Aritmendi, Haro, Ballesteros and Fernández Ochoa. Now he has been snatched from us by a tragic accident – just when he was enjoying life to the full. And we are left with a feeling of emptiness. We can at least find solace in knowing that he lived long enough to see his legacy: the outstanding level to which his sport has reached in Spain – the result of the days when he would send us all into orbit with his sporting triumphs. Rest In Peace.