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Hero for the Day
For all Nibali’s class and the confirmation of Cav’s greatness, the first remit of any Giro d’Italia is to reacquaint us with the magic of the Giro d’Italia. For that we waited till stage 7 to Pescara. There a self-effacing Australian, a man synonymous with the inherent altruism of the gregario, finally enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame. Hitherto noted principally as a serial grand tour fetcher and carrier, Adam Hansen recalled the great escape artists of yore with his miraculous 140-kilometre gallop through the Abruzzese hinterlands. Hansen’s exploit proved that, notwithstanding the dreary utilitarianism which increasingly characterises modern grand tour racing, the spirit which conceived it refuses to lie down. Victories like his legitimise the sport itself, and by extension all of us who care.
He may win again, but for his own sake it’s to be hoped that he doesn’t. It would be at variance with what he represents, and an abrogation of responsibility. Moreover for all that he may not yet know, no possible good could come of it. History tells us that to continue on would not only despoil the memory, but also denude him of his identity…
The winning gregari of Giro legend did it just the once, then disappeared back to whence they came.
Take Emilio Casalini for example. Winner of precisely zero professional bike races, he somehow conjured a beautiful win on Monte Grappa at the 1968 edition. The thing to remember is that Casalini wasn’t riding the Giro because he was good, but because he wasn’t. He was employed by Faema, and the original choice for his place on the team had been a young hotshot named Mino Denti. He’d won the Tour de l’Avenir (amateur Tour de France) two years previously, and looked set to become a top ten grand tour rider. He’d gone well at Tirreno, was starting to fancy his chances, and had convinced manager Vincenzo Giacotto that he was the next big thing. However, road captain Vittorio Adorni was uncomfortable with the idea.
Adorni was a highly intelligent man, and nobody understood cycling better. He declared himself uneasy with the composition of the team and, more importantly still, with the dynamic it would create. Merckx had brought along his Flemish cadre, and Adorni understood that the Italian contingent need be selfless to a man, devoid of pretense. He convinced Giacotto that the last thing they needed was ambitious gregari. Denti was a very good cyclist, but Faema had no need of them. What they needed was a very good gregario, which is something altogether different.
Casalini had been around long enough to realize he’d not a hope in hell of becoming a contender. He was a water carrier, no more and no less, and he very well understood the fact. A goldsmith by trade, he’d come late to the sport late, and loved nothing more than turning himself inside out for those he considered his betters.
Stage 10 finished atop Monte Grappa, the mythical 28-kilometre Dolomite behemoth. When Casalini and two other deadbeats sprinted for a traguardo volante in the valley nobody paid them any great heed, and so they set about the climb. Emilio figured that if he had a right go at the lower slopes he might make himself useful further up. When the hammer went down he might be able to take a quick breather, then do a big turn for Merckx or Adorni. He therefore detached Capodivento and Campagnari, and the rest is a history that still, 45 years on, he can’t believe he made.
It was a great ride, and they still invoke it here. Ultimately though, its resonance has nothing to do with dreary, stolid performance. Rather it’s rooted in what he Emilio Casalini was and, notwithstanding his day in the sun, what he would remain. He didn’t become a champion overnight, but more importantly he didn’t even begin to entertain the notion that he might. When I spoke with him he declared himself a “mediocre” cyclist, and therein lay his great good fortune. Objectively you don’t win on Monte Grappa by being mediocre, but Casalini’s conviction that he was precisely that is the crux of his story. It was through his innate humility and modesty that the win acquired such mythical status, its symbolism a reflection of his character. Like Hansen’s it was a long overdue victory for a good man, but like Hansen’s it was much more besides; it was a victory for all of his creed.
Hansen, then, would do well to remember who – and what – he is, and he needn’t look far for the proof. When Paolo Tiralongo won stage 19 of the 2011 edition, most everyone in cycling was delighted. Tiralongo had spent over a decade helping others, and Contador’s benevolence in ushering him over the line was just reward. Contador could easily have come round him, but he’d have been making a very big mistake. Tiralongo, like Casalini, was fully deserving of his win, a ray of light in an otherwise turgid three weeks. Then, however, he went and did what a lot of them do. He allowed himself to be seduced by the podium girls, and forgot who he was.
Not his fault, but when they excluded Contador from the 2012 edition Tiralongo was supposed to ride for Kreuziger. Instead, though, he started harbouring aspirations of his own. He won another stage – which of course totally devalued the previous one – and hung about the GC group for two weeks. Then he shipped seventeen minutes on the road to Alpe de Pampeago, and that was that. It was inevitable it would end badly, and yet he alone hadn’t seen it coming. Having been one of the best mediocre cyclists on the planet, he’d got to thinking he could transform himself into a good one. He couldn’t and he didn’t, and in truth he’s not even a mediocre good one, just a gregari who’d allowed himself to become infected by hubris. Let's hope that Adam Hansen doesn’t make the same mistake.
- @TheRaceRadio A man experienced in sheep aerodynamics, perhaps. → http://t.co/4ysrDy5bie
- The most recent Rapha Gentlemen’s Race took place in Adelaide with 18 teams lining up for the rolling 160km route. → http://t.co/ZQ3Dzz0NEX
- @andersmagnus Hi Anders, there’s been a delay unfortunately, but thanks for being patient. It will be out as soon as possible.
- We're proud to present one of our favourite films this year, so put some headphones on and enjoy. View the film → http://t.co/B2BXnE3JuY
- Congratulations to yesterday’s Alpe d'Quiz winner Khamarul Rejab who receives a Team Sky bundle. Today's prize draw → http://t.co/h4frOXDYma
- RT @chrishoy: Ok, I'm going to make the call now, and it's a big call, but I reckon @Ed_Clancy will break the World kilo record at the end …
- @Barry8012 @RaphaCycleClub You’re most welcome Simon, thanks for your feedback.
- @antmccrossan Thanks Anthony.
- @brettrothmeyer nice cap drawing by the way!
- @Jack_Sadler @raphacondor We’re honoured to have you riding for us Jack.