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Coppi and Bartali were so omnipotent that we often lose sight of the others great riders from their era. Oreste Conte was one such, and it's difficult to imagine a more stylish cyclist.
Conte somehow made a living from his bike during the war. He'd buy tubulars on the black market, and roam around the country looking to earn a few lire. As such he didn't make his Giro debut until he was 26, but he soon enraptured the public. He and Adolfo Leoni, another great sprinter, were both talented and extremely handsome. So whilst Coppi and Bartali fought for pink, the women couldn't get enough of these two. Leoni was quicker, but Conte the more complete cyclist. He would win thirteen Giro stages over eight editions, and wore pink for a day in 1950. Real class…
SEE, HEAR, FEEL...
The Zoncolan has become such a Giro staple that it's easy to forget that it's a newcomer. It first appeared in 2003, as Gibo' Simoni put the seal on his consummate Giro win. Four years later they tackled it from the harder side, and he produced yet another immense display. Will the Giro ever see his like again?
Simoni wasn't the first big name to win on Zoncolan though. That honour belongs to Fabiana Luperini, winner of five editions of the Giro Donne. Stage nine of the 1997 race included a monstrous stage over Passo Valles, Passo Rolle and finally this thing. How hard is that? Anyway Luperini was so good that they likened her to Pantani, and she danced up it just as she danced up everything else. A bit special, that one…
MOMENT IN TIME
People are forever dripping on about globalization in cycling, but it's nothing new. The start list at the 1932 Giro attests to that. It included no less than 18 stranieri, and one of them caused a genuine sensation on stage two.
Hermann Buse was one of a whole team of Germans. On the road to Udine he took off with Bovet, born in Switzerland but naturalized Italian, and the Frenchman Louviot. Of course nobody thought much of it, least of all maglia rosa Learco Guerra. Only Buse dropped the other two and rolled into town with an 11 minute advantage. When Guerra et al finally turned up the public, far from impressed by their apparent indolence, let them have both barrels. A foreigner in the maglia rosa? Outrageous!
For six further days Buse seemed eminently capable of carting the jersey back to Berlin. Thankfully – at least for the natives – he bonked on the stage to Foggia and lost 33 minutes. The natural order restored? Not quite. Antonio Pesenti, a gregario from Bergamo, replicated his exploit and made off with the jersey he'd keep for the duration. What a race.
All I can tell you is that the guy who wins it will probably be the best in the race, ergo the maglia rosa.
By now they're beyond tired, so it's about their innate ability to haul themselves over the mountains. It's the same for me, but as we get towards the finish my job becomes still more critical. Extreme fatigue is hard to manage at the best of times, and still more so for guys riding their first or second Giro. So I have to be a psychiatrist, a father figure, a disciplinarian and best friend. It's about doing anything and everything to get them home.
When you're in it you're in it, but when the Giro finishes I am destroyed emotionally and physically. For twenty days I want nothing whatsoever to do with bike racing!