Posts Tagged ‘giro d’italia’

Storming the Stelvio

June 5, 2013

Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 12.16.44

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Jason Cardillo/Dain Zaffke

A pair of Englishmen sat exhausted outside their hotel, staring into the distance. Not so much a thousand-yard stare as a 155-kilometre one. Or the 4,058 metres of ascending equivalent. Rarely have I witnessed such wasted humanity where alcohol was not involved.

Nine-and-a-half-hours in the saddle can do that to a man, or a woman, for that matter. Of course, the Stelvio was hard; the cold wind blew; banks of snow lining the road received another dusting as we neared the top; skiers took full advantage of the extended season on the peak.

But it was the Mortirolo that had done the damage to our pair of Londoners. The savage gradient in the final kilometres was bad enough. Throw in a serrated dog’s dinner of a road surface and there was (whisper it) walking to be done for the backmarkers.

“It was horrible,” they both agreed. “Truly horrible.”

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They had, however, done what the Giro had failed to achieve nine days earlier – conquered the Stelvio – and judging by the vacant looks and slouched bodies sinking visibly into hotel furniture, it had been a testing day, to say the least.

I’d love to be able to give a first-hand account of the horror, but being eminently sensible and averse to prolonged suffering, I did the medio route, neatly swerving the Mortirolo altogether. Seeing these poor chaps confirmed it was the correct decision.


Highlights of the day: the ‘neutralised’ opening descent of the valley from Bormio, where one of our group clocked a maximum of 90kph; and possibly the finest cigarette I have ever inhaled atop the Stelvio before a chilling but thrilling descent back down to town.

Lowpoints: the grovel back up the valley road into a bastard headwind with no group to share the load; lack of fitness leading to being alone on the valley road in the first place. Time to stop smoking.

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This is one of our gang, Aaron Gulley, from Santa Fe. He is fit as a butcher’s dog and finished with 30th best time which, when you consider he had to blast past the best part of a thousand riders to get up to the leading group, is bloody impressive. And, unlike most, he still had the energy to smile afterwards. Chapeau sir.

And below is another of our bunch, Melina Holzer. Being a recent convert to road cycling having taken employment at Easton Bell, she threw herself in at the deep end and stormed up the Stelvio – first time on clipless pedals, third road ride ever. Superb. And if you’re wondering what she is wearing, that’s a skort, I am reliably informed. Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 12.18.11

If you fancy joining us next year, leave a line below and if there is sufficient interest, we’ll lead a Rouleur trip to the Gran Fondo Stelvio. There are three distances, so suffering for all, if suffering is your bag…

Many thanks to Easton Bell for the loan of some mighty fine wheels and Velo Veneto  for catering to our every need.

Podcast: Issue 38

April 30, 2013

At 260 pages long, issue 38 is being cursed by sore-backed posties up and down the nation. The accompanying podcast is a big ‘un too, nudging the hour mark. Joining host Jack Thurston for a feast of Italian cycle sport, the Bath Road 100, and much else besides are assistant editor Andy McGrath and writer Michael Breckon.

Issue 38

The Rouleur podcast is brought to you by Mosquito Bikes, London’s custom made bicycle specialists. New into Mosquito bikes are frames from Daniel Merenyi, Dario Pegoretti’s only apprentice. His frames ooze the knowledge Dario collated making Marco Pantani’s race bikes. Available in custom geometry made from the latest Columbus lightweight steel – Hungarian bikes with a dash of Italian flair. Mosquito is at 123 Essex Road, London N1 2SN or on the web at


May 24, 2012

Words: Colin O’Brien Photos: Paolo Ciaberta

“When I started, the biggest problem was that in Grosetto there were no people who could work to give me a hand – I needed more people to increase production. I had to do it all myself, work the day and the night, weld and do everything. But I succeeded. At that time there were so many of us. The framebuilders back then were all really good, but with my bikes… Moser raced, and Freddy Maertens, and Cipollini. Marked or unmarked, those bikes were Tommasini, and that’s a really beautiful satisfaction. And I am still here today.” Irio Tommasini

Tommasini appears in Rouleur issue 31


May 26, 2011

Ivan Basso, Giro d’Italia 2010 by Guy Andrews


Many would have us believe that everyone deserves a second chance, and of course in principal they are quite correct. However, in giving them that second chance, the people responsible for the wellbeing of the professional sport in Italy play Russian Roulette with the livelihoods of those employed within it, and close to it. The likelihood is that the majority of cyclists are now competing without recourse to doping products. If this is the case then they, and the hundreds employed behind the scenes, their sponsors and those building the bikes on which they ride, deserve better than the Giro’s current largesse. Modern doping techniques are not only deeply injurious to the credibility of the sport but, much more importantly, to the cyclists themselves. That Italian riders, those operating within an expensively sponsored team structure at the top end of the sport here, continue to be caught cheating whilst racing abroad is the most damning of all the sport’s truths. The Giro, the great standard bearer, is well beyond the point at which it can afford to keep handing out second chances; what it needs, and what the public demands, is that it starts making examples. The future wellbeing of the sport here depends on it.

Many argue, with no little reason, that doping is as old as the sport itself. Some would still have us believe that cyclists at the highest level are compelled, presumably by some indelible genetic imprint, to dope. Whilst there is truth in the argument that 100 years of doping culture can not be overturned in a relative instant, this in itself renders the responsibility to act decisively all the more compelling, all the more immediate. Elsewhere, most notably in France, huge progress has been made, and the systemised ‘vertical’ doping of the recent past is apparently no more, which can only be a good thing. In northern Europe and America new teams are emerging with openly anti-doping policies and cultures. To many of the young riders I meet, particularly British and American, doping is simply a non-issue because they’ve never been exposed to it. Though globally cycling is doubtless a much cleaner sport than ever it was in the past, the Italian peloton, and the Giro itself, has done nothing of any great substance in the fight against doping. CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, is stringent in its application of the WADA code, but the Giro seems intent on leaving a side door ajar for most anybody to sneak through. Sad to say, but whilst all around it bike racing is being regenerated and renewed, Italy’s great showcase simply blows hot air.

Extract from Maglia Rosa by Herbie Sykes, available here.

You Win Again

May 19, 2011

“That Belgian, he doesn’t even leave you the crumbs, he’s a cannibal!”

Christian Raymond.

In cycle racing there have been some amazing feats; stories of comeback and of daring-do, of great victories and of great tragedy, of personal sacrifice and bad luck – and then there is the story of the greatest cyclist ever: Eddy Merckx.

This extraordinary Belgian notched his unrivalled palmares in a career that spanned a little over 13 years. No surprise then, that even his teammates nicknamed him ‘The Cannibal’. Merckx was from a different time: a time when professional cyclists raced all year round, from the cold, early season Classics, through to the hot summer Grand Tours, and on. Merckx raced long into the winter too: the indoor six-day circuit on the track and the hour record… The astonishing thing about Merckx’s ability was that it was truly all-round – he was equally at home on the velodromes of Ghent, Amsterdam and Berlin, as on the climbs of the French Alps, Spanish Pyrenees and Italian Dolomites, and equally powerful in the flatter, cobbled one-day races like Paris–Roubaix as the hillier Liège–Bastogne–Liège. These days cycle racing is very different and bike riders specialise in one event; they are either Grand Tour contenders, six-day specialists or Classics hard-cases, rarely all. Eddy Merckx was a winner at all of the major bike races and more. The cannibal was, and still is, unique.

If anyone is in any doubt then I draw your attention to RAI’s coverage of the Giro. Eddy’s been a star summeriser on their Giro show and the presenters have shown their admiration, or rather adoration, of the campione in spades. So much so that regardless of what is happening in the race they have regularly stopped their commentary just to fawn over big Ted. And behind the scenes are the tifosi, shouting: ‘Eddy, Eddy, Eddy…’  But despite this retrospective love, back when he was racing, the Cannibal had a big problem. People got bored of his dominance and the way he would smash the opposition into submission, in a way we have never seen since, and although he showed some incredible strength of character at times and no small sprinkling of panache, in the end the constant winning got boring.  If you’re not sure what I mean but recall the 1990s Tours better than the 1970s, think of Miguel Indurain. I have nothing against the five-time Tour winner – he seems like a likeable man – but boy was he boring to watch. Motivated by hanging on in the mountains and then grinding his way back through the GC against the clock, his wins at the Tour were as far away from the exploits of Merckx as you could get and eventually his wins got a bit too much, even for the Spaniard’s admirers. Cycling fans are a pretty transient bunch and eventually we want to see someone else get a chance. But how?

Merckx’s 525 victories had me thinking. Most riders are lucky to ride that many races in a lifetime and win any at all. What has stuck with me over the last few weeks is a question that many new racing cyclists ask: how do I win a race? It’s a tricky question and one that has so many answers that it would fill several books, let alone one short blog post. Truth is there are no hard and fast ways to reach the line first, but to the uninitiated the fundamental rule is somewhat confusing: it’s not something that just involves, being fast. Eddy’s response to this question was pretty familiar. Apparently he was ‘scared’, so attacking was the best method he had of dealing with the fear – perhaps it was the fear of losing, or of not winning. Whatever. Merckx just rode as fast as he could, because that was good enough most of the time.

But not winning, in my experience, teaches you an awful lot more about road racing craft than just riding the opposition off your wheel does. Winning is such a complex business – although, granted, professional racing is as different to the amateur level as tiddlywinks is to chess – but regardless of the level you’re at, whether strong and dumb or weak and clever, winning or not is all down to timing.

So if you have ridden 500 or more races in your career and won very few, or perhaps even none, you will have a different approach to racing and one that is as unique as Merckx’s palmares. Underachieving is actually the best education you can have, as not winning races means you’ll learn an awful lot from your mistakes along the way.

John Gadret won at the Giro yesterday and in many ways this was a victory for the ‘loser’ in cycling. Not that Gadret is a loser – far from it – but he has built a career on finishing up there, but not quite there. He has been a professional since 2004, his name often features in the TV commentary when the break is ten minutes down the road, and he knows well enough by now that today probably won’t be the day. But yesterday was Gadret’s day, and the finish was text book stuff. It wasn’t the measured response to covering your rivals, or being told in your earpiece who was strong and who wasn’t. It was all about timing and no small amount of bravery, but most importantly, as the splintered break was swallowed up, he knew too well what it felt like to be caught and sensed the oh-so-slight hesitation in the chase and, as the favourites stuck together like cattle, our man jumped away for the biggest win of his career.

The emotion on the 32-year-old’s face was the whole story; the unsuccessful breaks, missed attacks and unlucky punctures. They were all written in his expression. Collecting the crumbs had been a long time coming.

Guy Andrews, Editor

Millar’s Time

May 11, 2011

Words: Ian Cleverly

I was just about finished with my piece on David Millar for the next Rouleur when things changed dramatically. The subject of my 3,500 words was on the attack at the Giro and in imminent danger of riding himself into the maglia rosa, making him the first Briton to have taken leader’s jerseys in all three Grand Tours. This would be an historic occasion. It would also require a major re-write to the end of the feature. Damn.

As we now know, Millar’s feat understandably paled into insignificance with the news that Wouter Weylandt had crashed on the Passo del Bocco and died immediately. I never had the pleasure of meeting Wouter, and feel enough has been said and written by those who have without my input. The picture I have formed is one of a determined, fun-loving, all round good guy – as are the overwhelming majority of professional cyclists I have met.

Interviewing Millar in Switzerland before the Tour of Romandie, I formed a similar opinion. We all have our preconceptions of famous people’s characters from TV soundbites and magazine interviews, yet rarely do they match the reality. Some have the gift of being utterly charming, both on and off-camera (step forward, Sir Chris Hoy). Others know how to turn it on. And some struggle to portray their true selves; are uncomfortable in the spotlight; fail to find the words to adequately express their feelings. And why shouldn’t they? Cycling’s stars are just like you and I, after all.

I had pigeonholed Millar in the latter category, based on nothing in particular – just an overall impression. A bright guy but potentially spiky, I thought, who would rather be anywhere else than talking to some cynical old journo for two hours over a coffee. I was wholly wrong, and happy to admit it.

What should have been David Millar’s great day in pink on the road to Livorno was washed away as the peloton paid tribute to Weylandt. Yet by his dignified and respectful leading of the day’s proceedings, Millar did the maglia rosa and the profession of cycling a great service. Long may he continue to do so.

A sad day for cycling in many respects, yet a moving and uplifting one at the same time.

We Can Meet Heroes

April 27, 2011

Words: Guy Andrews Photos: Wig Worland

Eddy Merckx won 525 races.

Most professional riders are lucky if they win one.  And he is, as we all know, the greatest cyclist that will ever live. For this reason alone he is at the top of any cyclists’ list as the number one – the cycling hero to top all cycling heroes. So what’s a man so super-human really like? Finding that out is no small challenge. Eddy is an interesting foil for journalists: not that he’s impolite or terse or difficult or anything, really. He’s just – as the gentlemen of the press will tell you – ‘a bit tricky’. I’ve met him a few times and so it’s hard to fathom why I can’t seem to get him talking. He’s just a man after all. I’m not blaming him – he’s a nice guy, Eddy. It’s clearly my problem and a strange one at that, because you usually can’t shut me up. But when Eddy Merckx shakes my hand I just can’t get the words out… He won Milan-San Remo seven times, the first time at 20 years of age. Just a man, then, Eddy Merckx.

By matter of contrast Italo Zilioli was one of those riders who, by the sounds of it, rode a bike pretty much for fun. He was unlucky in that he was born into a time when the world was rich in cycling talent, but he doesn’t seem to mind: he’s happy to have been there even if it was on the second rung of the ladder and often in the shadow of his Belgian colleague.

And these men agreed, through many strings pulled, mainly by the Sykes and Peracino contingent, to come to the inaugural Rouleur Supper Club, to help us launch Herbie’s new book, Maglia Rosa. I had to write that down, just to prove to myself that it actually happened… Eddy turned up, he brought Signor Zilioli, his best friend in cycling, and Phil Liggett managed to stop them behaving like a couple of overactive school kids long enough for them to chat to our eager audience. Brilliant.

By his own admission Herbie Sykes was never much of a bike rider. However he is a great writer about bike riders as his latest work, Maglia Rosa, shows. Herbie pursued Giro winners all over Italy to tell the story of this great race, then tracked some down a second time to get them to sign the special editions – such is Herbie’s unquenchable dedication to the Giro and all things Italian.

Phil Liggett didn’t win many races either, but he can claim to have raced with Eddy, which in itself is palmares enough. As a journalist he’s been slightly more successful. One of his trade secrets is the unrivaled ability to get people to open up. I’ve had the dubious honour of sharing a few racing experiences with Mr. Liggett and for anyone wanting to have a stab at journalism, it’s an education. He has this extraordinary knack of sticking at his subject no matter how closed the interviewee may be and relentlessly pursuing, often making fun of them in the process, until he gets his answer. So when Eddy Merckx is on top billing, it’s better that Phil does the talking…

As the night progressed we learnt that Eddy Merckx and Italo Zilioli were more that mere racing acquaintances. These two were best pals when they were racing and it still shows. And it showed best earlier in the evening as they signed copies of Maglia Rosa before last night’s supper at the Blueprint Café. It’s a bit like watching two kids on the back seat of a school bus – punching one another and laughing. A close and enduring friendship made on the road regardless of any hierarchy, status or power.

I’m not sure if you should or shouldn’t meet your heroes, but noticing that they’re enjoying being out in London, and happiest in the company of fellow cyclists, makes you realise we’re all just a big band of brothers and sharing the experiences, albeit of those at the sharper end of the sport, has a strange way of bonding us closer together. That may sound a bit corny, but as one of our guests, Alan Sandell, who was more than happy to have met his ‘hero’ last night, told me as he left :

“I grew up with Eddy.”

Prima Tappa

April 19, 2011

Eddy Merckx and Italo Zilioli come to London next week to help celebrate the launch of Maglia Rosa – triumph and tragedy at the Giro d’Italia by Rouleur regular Herbie Sykes. In this extract, Merckx wins his first stage in the Italian race. Look out, world…

Vincenzo Giacotto, the former manager of Carpano, called his old friend Nino Defilippis and told him to meet him on the road to Cervinia, at the foot of the Matterhorn. Charged by Faema, the coffee machine manufacturer, with building a new team after a four year hiatus from the sport, Giacotto was in need of a Giro winner. He had a hunch. It was the spring of 1967.

The formidable, precocious young Belgian, Eddy Merckx, already being touted as ‘the new Rik Van Looy’ for his extraordinary strength in the single day classics, was the hottest property in world cycling. Merckx, his contract with the French bicycle manufacturer Peugeot due to expire at the season’s end, had greatly impressed Giacotto with an outstanding performance at Paris – Nice. A former World amateur champion and already a big winner amongst the professionals, Merckx found himself paying his own expenses at Peugeot. He’d sought to renegotiate but no avail; the winner of Milan – Sanremo continued to buy his own tyres from the local bike shop.

He’d come today because he knew that Italian cycling was better paid, and because he was anxious to meet Giacotto, about whom he’d heard great things from the Belgians he’d managed at Carpano. Almost to a man they had said he was progressive, clever and honest, unusual qualities in the arcane, often grubby world of professional cycling. For his part Giacotto had gotten it into his head that if he could get the youngster to, as he put it, ‘think Italian’, he could challenge Gimondi, considered now the world’s best cyclist, at the Giro.

Defilippis, twice maglia tricolore and formerly Giacotto’s Captain on the road at Carpano, agreed to meet his old boss, though in truth he’d pretty well lost interest in cycling since his retirement. What he saw as Merckx powered his way up the mountain, though, had him agog at his untapped climbing brilliance, and would re-ignite his interest in racing. More immediately though it had him, and Giacotto, scratching about under their car seats, desperate to have Merckx sign something which might constitute, in some way, a pre-contract. The back of a cigarette packet, anything…

Keen to impress his would-be employers, Merckx performed expertly at his first grand tour, the 1967 Giro. When Zilioli attacked on the big mountain stage to Block Haus, he confounded expectation by first following and then dropping him to claim his first Giro stage win. The Gazzetta opined that ‘…our climbers were embarrassed by a Belgian sprinter.’ They, and their scalatori, need get used to the idea. Merckx won again two days later, this time a bunch gallop at the seaside, and would finish ninth on general classification without apparently giving it much thought. In so doing he seemed to confirm Giacotto’s perspicacity. That he possessed bludgeoning strength, a prerequisite for winning the classics, had never been at issue, but he was a tremendous, bullying climber as well, and could time trial with the best. Here indeed was a potential Giro contender.

On Friday 2 September 1967 Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx signed, for 400,000 Belgium Francs a year, a three year contract with Faema; it represented an increase in salary of over 300 per cent. The following day, across the Dutch border at Harleen, he celebrated. In outsprinting the local favourite, Jan Janssen, he become only the second man in history to claim both amateur and professional versions of the world title. Thus, by the time he arrived at Faema’s winter training camp on the Ligurian coast, 22-year-old Merckx had won not only the great Ardennes classic Flêche – Wallonne and Milan – Sanremo (twice), but had handed Giacotto, on a plate, the rainbow jersey of the World champion. It had been a decent day’s work at Cervinia…

Merckx made for the partenza of the Giro with an impressive Spring campaign under his belt. As the peloton barrelled towards the finish of stage one, beneath the Novara’s giant Basilica of San Gaudenzio, the sprinters had themselves in position, entirely as forecast in view of the flatness of the percorso. Two kilometres from the line, however, Merckx bolted, and held off the lot of them to win by six seconds. His was an extraordinary feat of speed and strength, but categorically not the action of a rider intent on winning a three week stage race. Guido Reybrouck, Faema’s designated sprinter, was aghast, Pifferi, Basso and the rest of the Giro’s velocisti humiliated. For his part a delighted Eddy Merckx, the new maglia rosa of the Tour of Italy, didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. Vincenzo Giacotto simply shrugged his shoulders; this Merckx was something, wasn’t he?

Merckx’ show of force had the media speculating, quite reasonably, that he was at the Giro in search of stage wins, and to a degree they were right. There had been a stage to win, he had won it, and now there were another 21 to try to win before the Giro finished. The next day he went out and won again, this time in the mountains of Aosta. As he made his way towards the podium Merckx was grabbed by a TV reporter from RAI;

‘Bravo Eddy, did you always have it in mind to go for the win today?’

‘Why do you ask me that? Why do you think I’m here? To watch the others win?’

Ten of the best from the ten best

February 17, 2011

In case you have yet to see our latest Rouleur Photography Annual, here’s a taster of what’s inside – 320 pages of wondrous images and words.

“The best photographic record of 2010 in all of cycling” – Bill Strickland Bicycling Magazine

Gerard Brown - Francesco Marciarelli, Mont Faron, Tour of the MedGerard Brown – Francesco Marciarelli, Mont Faron, Tour of the Med

Guy Andrews – Cav after the crash, Tour de Suisse

Olaf Unverzart – Winning ceremony, Giro d’Italia

Daniel Sharp – Climb on Meeting House Road, Tour of the Battenkill

Marthein Smit – Kevin Seeldrayers in trouble, Tour de France

Timm Kölln – Luisle explains, Tour de France

Taz Darling – Crucifix, Giro d’Italia

Yazuka Wada – Assistance, La Vuelta

Geoff Waugh – Raleigh Round, British National Championships, Barley

Ben Ingham – Castellania