MIT has a tradition of riding to Richer on the last Saturday of the Giro D’Italia and enjoying coffees, Provenchers and TV coverage of the inevitable battle up the penultimate climb of the race. Unlike the last day of the Tour de France with its easy parade into Paris, more often than not there is still a lot to play for on Stage 20. This year was no exception with the top four riders separated by only a couple of minutes at the end of yesterday’s stage. Unfortunately the race was not broadcast in Canada this year and MIT was left wanting. Alas, Cycling TV carried the entire three weeks “On Demand” for a very reasonable price of $20.00 and so on arriving home I settled in to see if Kruijswijk could come back after his crash yesterday or if Valverde or Nibali could take the Pink Jersey from Estaban Chaves. It turned out to be an epic battle with Nibali riding to the second Giro victory of his mercurial career. The top four riders were separated by a minute and fifty seconds. Nibali doesn’t smile much but there was no doubt for any viewer that he was one very happy Italian. Contemplating the race from my easy chair I thought back to thirty years ago when I first learned about the Giro and its status as the second greatest stage race.
When I was in my early twenties and living in Edmonton I discovered Velocity Cycling, a small bike shop started in 1978 by Hungarian immigrants Joe and Kathy Zombor. Joe had left Communist Hungary behind with a dream of owning his own bike shop. After working as a printer for several years Joe bought a small shop that he renamed Velocity Cycle.
Joe, a successful cat.1 racer in Hungary, focused on high end road bikes. I couldn’t have imagined that a bicycle could be worth two quid prior to seeing the rack of Bianchi, Gianna Motta and Gios bikes in the shop. Velocity Cycle did not do large volume sales, but it had a passionate and loyal clientele of young, mostly poor, racers. The shop was a place to be educated in the sport. Posters of Merckx, Moser, Hinault and Zootemelk climbing the magnificent cols of the Alps and Pyrenees were plastered on the walls. Racks of team jerseys of the era to make one look like the pros were available for sale. Several shelves of books about cycling legends and European races were there for the browsing. The shop carried Winning Magazine, a must purchase every month to keep up with the races in the 80’s. Midway through the summer Joe would order in professionally made VHS tapes of the Giro D’Italia, straight from an Italian supplier. These were much in demand and though I was definitely not at the top of the pecking order in the Velocity cycling club I eventually had my turn with the video. There was no English TV coverage of the race, everything was in Italian, but it was first rate. I recall being amazed at the time trials which were filmed from above via helicopter. The 1985 race saw the arrival of a young Andy Hampsten, son of English professors from Grand Forks, who won the final stage on a monster climb. I was inspired to buy a plane ticket and travel to Europe the summer of ’86 to cycle with a friend from Quebec.
Our plan was to ride through Provence, swing up through the Alps and into Italy, and then ride through Switzerland and back to Germany. We did everything except ride through Italy. Short of funds and time we got as far as an interesting ski town on the border of France and Italy called Isola 2000 before taking the train to Switzerland. Today, thirty years later, the Giro passed from France to Italy, crossing the border at none other than Isola. Shortly after this Nibali, led out by Scarponi, launched the attack that destroyed his rivals. Thirty years of riding and I still get excited by the scenery and the history and drama of the sport.
Perhaps it is time to complete the ride through Italy. Anyone free next summer?