The stage I won was the 19th, two days before the finish. It was my 11th season and I’d been riding for Franco Bitossi for seven years.
I’d had a season as a leader, in 1970, but I wasn’t quite good enough. I couldn’t sprint and I couldn’t ride away from the best guys. So I went with Bitossi in 1971 and stayed with him for the rest of my career. Back then the sport was structured differently. Teams were much smaller, maybe 12 riders and there was one leader. Good gregari didn’t have ambitions of their own, but that year Bitossi had crashed at Tirreno- Adriatico. So it was up to the rest of us at the Giro and that’s why I went with the break.
What most surprised me was the warmth of the people when I won and also the journalists. I guess it was because I’d had a long career and I’d always given my best for the team.
Moment in time
Stage 14 of the 2012 Giro isn’t necessarily one that will linger long in the memory. The temperatures were spiteful, the skies threatening, the crowds as a consequence pretty sparse. It was a climbing marathon won by Andrey Amador, a Costa Rican arrampicatore from Movistar. Nobody would have imagined that 20 years ago, just as nobody would have imagined a Canadian might win a bruising, no-quarter Giro like this.
Though the stage wasn’t spectacular it was, in its way, a modern classic. The 20 seconds Ryder Hesjedal put into Joaquim Rodrìguez here seemed innocuous enough to those stood by the roadside, but they were anything but. They put him into pink, gave him something to defend and conditioned the final week. He famously clung on during a beast of a penultimate stage over the Stelvio, but it was here, on a bleak afternoon in Aosta, that much of the donkey work was done.
Hesjedal wasn’t a spectacular Giro winner and nor perhaps one the Italian media would have chosen. Like Johan De Muynck, Tony Rominger and Gösta Pettersson before him, he was unspectacular, undemonstrative and above all foreign.
The fact of the matter is that 21st century general classification racing is extremely tight. Gone are the days of long range attacks and five-minute gains by rampant maglie rosa. Of late overall victories have been rather more marginal, but no less significant for it. Hesjedal’s Giro, gripping if underappreciated, was simply a mirror on the times.