Words: Andy McGrath Photos: Offside
If you’ve seen an Italian bike race on the telly, chances are you’ve seen Stefano Pirazzi. He’s the one who attacks. A lot. Usually when the road heads uphill.
Who are the other aggressive riders in the Italian bunch? “Aggressive like me? There’s nobody else… I think I’m the only one,” Pirazzi says.
As he looks around at the quagmire formerly known as Knowsley Safari Park, he says it laughing, as if it’s a badge of honour.
Sadly – if you’re a romantic like me – the perennial attacker is a dying breed in modern cycling, sacrificed on the altar of buttoned-up, reserved, necessarily sensible (yawn) modern tactics.
Breakaways are often futile endeavours. You’d have to be brave, deluded or simply bonkers to spend all day out there.
While aggression has yielded Pirazzi no race victories yet, he’s gained a trunk – that’s where he keeps his career prizes – full of King of the Mountain jerseys, not to mention a sizeable fan club. ‘Tutti pazzi per Pirazzi‘ (we’re all crazy for Pirazzi) is their tagline.
Even over here at the Tour of Britain, he hasn’t been subdued, giving it a go on the road to Kendal.
Pirazzi can’t help attacking. He’s always done it.
“Ever since I started cycling aged six, I rode like this. I’m trying to improve myself, to achieve my biggest goals… At the end of the day, everyone tries to complement their own characteristics.”
His most prominent performance came at this year’s Giro d’Italia. Pirazzi was the jack-in-the-box, popping out of the bunch on stages into Florence, Vajont and the Galibier to score points and secure the green jersey of Mountains classification winner.
When previously his attacks had sometimes been tactically deficient, this success was a sign of Pirazzi’s growing maturity.
“When you’re in a race like the Giro d’Italia, everyone is trying to find the window to win a stage by being in the break. It’s truly spectacular when it pays off because it’s not easy,” he says.
However, his aggression is not always so popular among the conformists of the bunch.
“Many guys will not be happy about my way of riding but that’s the way I am. I’m happy to have that style, one that a lot of other riders lack.”
Hailing from the Lazio town of Fiuggi, Stefano – whose twin brother Roberto was also a handy amateur rider – moved north to Bergamo as an amateur to pursue his dream, aware that the Italian north-south divide extended to professional cycling opportunity too.
Pirazzi plies his trade for the lime-green, homely, youth-oriented squad Bardiani Valvole. They give him the freedom to take flight that WorldTour squads would likely stifle.
The Pirate would be a decent nickname for Pirazzi: he’s a hero of counter-culture, scourge of the other ships that follow formation, making plenty of rogue missions and firing away his cannons at will.
But that title belongs to someone else – Pirazzi’s hero, Marco Pantani.
“It’s because of his style of racing, plus his attacks on climbs and the way he pre-empted them: dropping the bandana, the sunglasses, the earrings, then he was off. It was a signal, as if to say ‘I’m going”.
We hope Pirazzi is as mad about cheese as attacking. If he gets into his usual breakaway groove, the Rouleur combativity prize may well be winging its way to him.
Perhaps we’ll even see some British fans going pazzi per Pirazzi.