Part 7: Opportunity Knocks
When the regulations were relaxed to allow coloured shorts in the professional peloton, the designers at Carrera seized their opportunity. The Italian team’s sponsor was a denim manufacturer, so of course it made total sense for the rider’s lycra shorts to look like denim, complete with sublimated stitched pockets.
Before this fashion disaster, the Carrera team kit had been rather stylish – a mainly white jersey with red and blue accents, and classic black shorts. And the team rode some very tasty red, white and blue Battaglins equipped with Campagnolo Delta brakes.
In the 1987 Giro d’Italia the Carrera team fielded the defending champion, Roberto Visentini, and the Irishman Stephen Roche. Visentini was 30 years of age, with long flowing hair and playboy good looks. He was much-loved by the Italian tifosi. Roche, at that time, had shown great potential, and posted many wins, but a knee injury had curtailed his opportunities in the grand tours. So when Visentini won the opening prologue in San Remo and took the first maglia rosa of the race, it just reinforced his leadership of the team.
But Roche was on form. He won a crazy time-trial down the Poggio into San Remo, then led the Carrera team to victory in the third stage team time trial, and in doing so took the maglia rosa from his team-mate.
Roche defended the jersey until the 13th stage, a mountain time-trial, when Visentini rode back into the lead. Two days later came one of the most controversial days in recent Giro history. The stage from Lido di Jesolo to Sappada was long, at 224km, and included three Dolomite climbs. On the descent of the Monte Rest Roche broke clear of the lead group with two other riders. In Visentini’s account to the sympathetic Italian press, Roche attacked against team orders. In Roche’s account to the same press, he simply went downhill fast and Visentini couldn’t follow. You can guess which story they believed.
The Carrera team went to the front to chase down Roche on behalf of Visentini, but it came to nothing. Roche finished the stage far enough clear to take back the maglia rosa. There were cries of betrayal in the newspapers, and the atmosphere in the team was tense. For the remaining days of the race, Roche had to defend his lead in an increasingly hostile environment.
He only had one loyal domestique, a Belgian, the rest of the team supported Visentini. The organisers had to place motorbikes either side of Roche on mountain climbs to keep the furious tifosi away from him. If they got a chance, some fans would fill their mouths with red wine and spray it into Roche’s face. And after his bodyguard had whisked Roche away to his hotel, a single loyal mechanic would keep his bikes secure, away from the others, for fear of sabotage.
Meanwhile Visentini was leading a host of riders such as Robert Millar, Jean Francois-Bernard and Marino Lejarreta, in attacking his stubborn team-mate. Roche, however, could follow everything, and when Visentini crashed on the penultimate stage, breaking his wrist, the story was over. Roche won the final time-trial to Saint-Vincent and secured his first grand tour.
That season was to be the crowning achievement of his career; with victories in the Giro, the Tour de France and the Worlds. For Visentini the 1987 Giro d’Italia was a bitter blow, from which he never recovered. He stayed with Carrera (Roche left for the 1988 season), later moving to smaller teams, but Visentini never won another major race.
In its 101 editions the Giro d’Italia has entertained, enthralled and excited. It has become synonymous with explosive racing through spectacular landscapes. And it has created many stories, encompassing every human emotion we can imagine. As the 2018 race spins its way towards Rome, Soigneur brings you seven stories from the race’s beautiful history.
Una bella historia Part 1: Breaking Away
Una bella historia Part 2: The Maestro
Una bella historia Part 3: A badger in the snow
Una bella historia Part 4: Angels with dirty faces
Una bella historia Part 5: Staring at the ceiling
Una bella historia Part 6: Turning through the clouds