By Jean-François Quénet in Terme di Comano and Monika Prell
One year ago, when Iban Mayo won the stage to La Toussuire in the Dauphiné, it looked like he had climbed out of the depths of the two dark seasons that followed his win over Lance Armstrong in a Tour de France Alpine stage in 2003. But it was false re-start to his career. Now, four years after his triumph at the l'Alpe d'Huez, the Basque rider found success in his first Giro d'Italia, winning Stage 19 on Friday. He said he was "very content, very happy about this victory," but even before Friday, his Giro was going well.
Mayo came to Italy overweight, something he confirms with numbers like three or four kilos. "I'm getting better after three weeks of racing," he said. "You can't start the Tour de France like that. It's really a different race. There's much less stress at the Giro than at the Tour. Every stage for sprinters is a recovery day here. At the Tour, it goes flat out every single day. At the Giro, you must work with your brain more than at the Tour as well."
"I said before the start that my form was a bit tight and that I hoped to get good form slowly, and it happened," said Mayo. "I had to work for the team because Simoni was declared our leader, and I knew this morning that it would be my last chance."
The rain and the cold did not bother Mayo. "Days like this one are quite good for me. I went with in with all intentions of breaking away from the start, and in the first category mountain, we tried out the leader. Piepoli set a very high pace, but Di Luca showed that he is very strong and so we focused on the stage win."
Mayo described the break. "When I escaped together with Losada, I thought that they would gain on us. It seemed that he [Losada] was not willing to help me, but later I saw that he was not fine and I preferred going on my own. I did not believe that I would win the stage until the end, because behind me were riders of the highest level and the difference was minimal." He enjoyed his win on the home stretch, "because these are moments that normally will not be repeated."
Referring to a darker time in his career, he recalled "the bad things that happened to me in these [past] months and the people that always have been with me. This triumph is for them. For the team, my family, my fan club who followed the race during four days in the Dolomites."
Mayo's explanation for his comeback is his move to Saunier Duval after seven years with Euskaltel, where he faced problems with his knee and shoulder. "I'm happy with this change. I'm not in the Basque national team anymore, but I feel at home here. There's a good atmosphere. We work well. We get on well together. There's less pressure on me. After many years in the same environment, it becomes boring. Changing teams has been great for my motivation."
The 29 year-old said, "This win means something special to me, because it's the first one with this [Saunier Duval] jersey and because it was in a race like this. It gives me a lot of pleasure and it's a big moral boost for the future," finished Mayo.
He'll be the only rider from Saunier Duval to double up on Grand Tours this year. "We don't have a candidate for the overall win at the Tour de France," he said. "It's very different than at the Giro. So we'll take it day by day. We'll try and do our best."