Procycling

FALL OF AN EMPIRE

The Giro d’Italia has always needed Italian winners, and the 1977 edition was a case in point. It was billed as a showdown between a local sporting David and a marauding foreigner. The previous September, the Worlds road race in Puglia had been a twohorse race. Folksy, popular Francesco Moser had defended Italian honour, values and virtue, while the Flemish bruiser Freddy Maertens had been a natural fit for the Goliath role. They’d distanced the rest, but Maertens broke the locals’ hearts by galloping clear at the line. Now, over three bruising weeks, Moser would get his revenge. It was precisely the formula which had put Italian bums on seats each May for decades.

Maertens crashed out early and Flandria, his team, pushed his best lieutenant to ride for GC. Michel Pollentier reasoned that he might as well, and agreed to give it a shot. While Maertens’ absence was unfortunate, it had the local press salivating all the same. Moser was a shoo-in to reach the promised land, and the remaining two weeks would amount to a celebration of his talent. Wouldn’t they?

Not quite. It transpired the ugly duckling Pollentier was a useful bike rider after all. He’d been developing, quietly but assiduously, in the long shadow cast by more celebrated team-mates, but here the shackles came off. He matched Moser in the Tuscan time trial, and began to chip away at his deficit in the Alps. Then, in the Dolomites, he bludgeoned the living daylights out of it, out of Francesco Moser, and out of Italian cycling’s hubris.

The rest, as they say, is history, and cycling history always repeats. This year saw the Ineos proxy Tao Geoghegan Hart take up the cudgels following Geraint Thomas’s latest Giro misadventure. Just as Pollentier had rained on Italy’s parade back then, Hackney’s finest produced a stupefying performance in the third week. First he broke Vincenzo Nibali, then he broke everyone else, and by the time he reached Milan he’d replicated Pollentier’s 1977 heist. This extraordinary Giro had the winner it deserved, though not necessarily the one it wanted. Geoghegan Hart had been brilliant, but this was supposed to have been Nibali, the

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