Mercedes Ateca dies, the first Spanish to go to international competition and the first champion of Spain
Cycling, especially women’s, is in mourning. Yesterday morning, at the Laredo hospital, Mercedes Ateca Gomez (Udalla, December 23, 1947), the first Spanish woman to participate in international races outside the country, died at 73 years of age and who, with her example and her efforts would decisively promote this sport among women.
She broke the mold in 1978 when he participated in the Road Cycling World Championship in Cologne (Germany). The following year, the Spanish Federation would be encouraged to organize the first Spanish Championship, which was held in Zaragoza. Mercedes prevailed with great authority. She would also take first place in the 1980 and 1981 championships.
The funeral will be held today in the parish church of Santa Marina de Udalla, her hometown, starting at 4:00 p.m.
It was in this town belonging to the municipality of Ampuero that Mercedes began to pedal and enjoy the spectacle of cycling, whose races she used to frequent, also encouraged by the fans of some of her brothers, including Fernando Ateca, who was also a runner, although she would stand out more as the organizer of competitions and as a manager, both in the Cantabrian Federation, where he was president and in the Spanish Federation, as vice president.
Mercedes’ sporting career would expand when she decided to go to work in France in the hospitality industry, settling in Paris in a house next to a closed bicycle circuit where she used to go to exercise. When her friends verified her excellent physical condition, they encouraged her to obtain a sports license. At that time, in Spain women were still not allowed to practice cycling in official competitions, but in Paris, their hobby would be renewed thanks to another of their concerns in life: their love for nature. As part of an environmental group, she did not hesitate to enthusiastically join an initiative to make visible the need to take care of the environment and which consisted of carrying out a bicycle route from Paris to Rome with the slogan ‘Save Nature’.
Mercedes not only made the route to Rome but also extended it from the Italian capital to Cantabria to see her parents. That cycling experience would encourage her to join the competitions. She participated in various tests in France, Holland, Switzerland, and Luxembourg with the Peugeot team, and in Spain, with the Santisteban Cycling Club.
Mercedes Ateca would travel to Cologne representing Spain in 1978 to compete in the World Cycling Championship at the Brauwiller circuit, which was held on August 23. The Cantabrian cyclist had to settle for position 52, five minutes and a second behind the winner, the German Beate Habetz.
Although some sources indicate that Montserrat Torres also participated, the truth is that there is no trace of her in the qualifying references that the press would publish the next day. Mercedes also took part in the 1979 World Cup, held in the Dutch town of Vlahemburg, near the Belgian border.
After Mercedes’ participation in the World Cup, the Spanish Federation decided to organize the first Spanish Women’s Championship held at the Cabezo de Buenavista circuit, in Zaragoza. There were 16 laps of a 1,250-meter track where the Cantabrian runner prevailed with a time of 40 minutes. The quality of Mercedes would be confirmed by obtaining the Nacional three consecutive times (1979, 1980, and 1981). Her overwhelming winning pace was cut short by a broken collarbone after a crash in 1982. A year later, she placed fifth, after another crash when she was in first place. And in 1984 she obtained second place among the 35 participants who attended the Montjuïc circuit, in which the young Valladolid woman Maria Luisa Izquierdo won the title.
When Mercedes Ateca returned to Spain, she set up the La Miel del Condal Restaurant in Udalla, in which she transmitted the influences of her stay in France to her elaborations.
Yesterday, after learning of the death of the former cyclist, the Government of Cantabria, through its vice president, Pablo Zuloaga, transmitted its regret on social networks. “It is a sensitive loss,” said the president, who recalled that it is a figure who led the way in women’s sports and cycling.