Italian wins on the Galibier with an inspired performance
After crossing the finish line, just a few metres from the Marco Pantani memorial and the spot where Pantani attacked during the 1998 Tour de France, Giovanni Visconti threw up his arms in celebration and threw off the problems that have affected him for the last 18 months.
The Sicilian-born rider quit last year's Giro d'Italia on stage 15 after a panic attack that went on to affect him for months.
He served a three-month ban for working with Dr Michele Ferrari during the winter and struggled with his demons and to rediscover the form and confidence that helped him become the three-time Italian national champion.
"I hope that this marks the start of a new career start for me," an emotional Visconti said in the stage winner's press conference.
I thought a thousand different things on the climb. In the final kilometres, you perhaps saw me crying, but for the last three kilometres I was crying inside. I knew I was going to win and I thought of the coincidence of finishing near Marco’s memorial.
"I was born on the same day as Marco (January 13), perhaps he gave me a hand today. I thought of him and asked him for the strength to make it to the finish."
The real Visconti
Visconti has always been considered one of the most talented riders of his generation, along with fellow Sicilian and current Giro d'Italia race leader Vincenzo Nibali, who also moved to Tuscany to compete as an Under 23 rider. For several years they were fierce rivals, their homes, their teams and their loyal tifosi separated by the hill that divides Quarrata from Montecatini Terme in the centre of Tuscany's cycling heartland.
Visconti was Italian under 23 national champion in 2003 and confirmed his promise by winning the Italian national title for the first time in 2007. Other tricolore followed in 2010 and 2011 while riding with the ISD team of his mentor Luca Scinto, who now leads the Vini Fantini team. He also won the UCI Europe Tour ranking in 2011 but joined Movistar in 2012 to ride the big WorldTour races and find his limits as a rider.
However after deciding to escape from Scinto's intense and often suffocating set-up, Visconti's career went off the rails. Only he knows the affects of being caught up in the investigation into Dr Ferrari and his subsequent ban for working with the infamous and now disgraced Italians doctor.
"This is the real me, not what people saw in the last 12 months," he assured today.
"It's been a difficult time for me and so I'm really happy. I went home last year due to a problem that's difficult to resolve and that hung around for a long time. Today I thought a lot about my family, my children, they are my life and my oxygen. If I won, it's thanks to them. Some problems are worse than breaking your leg: my head didn't want me to ride my bike, it's a terrible sensation."
Someone said to me: 'a circle is closed'. They're right. A year ago I quit the race on stage 15, today on stage 15 I won. My teammates have been a big help and always supported me. (Team manager) Eusebio Unzue kept telling me: 'A good rider, is always a good rider.' I thought about that for every metre of the climb to the finish."
"I don’t feel hurt by anyone. I am what I am. I know that a rider who never gets to the finish line successfully isn’t really a rider. I kind of prepared this attack. I hoped to get into the break on a mythical stage of the Giro. I told my father and friends that I hoped to get into a good break on a big stage. I needed it. I’ve never felt what Vincenzo feels as race leader but riding at the front on this stage today, I felt it."
No doubt and now a new start
Despite his problems and doubts, Visconti's love for cycling meant he never thought about quitting.
“No, never, because, 'la bici' is my life, my work and my passion.
The bike made me what I am today. I thought about telling lots of people to fuck off but perhaps they didn’t understand my problems, which I don’t want to talk about here. Coming out of it was down to me. Now it's time for a new start."