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The pros: Oslo 1993, the changing of the guard
Twenty-ninth of August, 1993: it was clear from the gun that many of the peloton did not fancy the day’s 257.6km World Road Race Championships course around Oslo. They had good reason: new tarmac, road paint and the unremitting, driving rain caused one of the most crash-afflicted Worlds in recent memory. When pros fall off riding uphill, something is amiss.
Many big names were quickly shelled; some due to fatigue, some at sheer disgust at the conditions. Dag-Otto Lauritzen, local hero and first Norwegian to win a mountain stage in the Tour, was one of the principal animators; so too were Maurizio Fondriest and Claudio Chiappucci, both among the favourites. With them, in a small lead group in the penultimate lap, was a young Texan, a rider who seemed to thrive in the rain. And as the final lap came, Armstrong, following Lauritzen up the biggest of the course’s two climbs, opened a small gap, saw discouragement in the faces behind him, kicked and was gone. The scant crowd cheered as he carefully descended the Ekeburg hill, site of many of the day’s crashes, to hit the long, flat run-in 18 seconds ahead. Only Chiappucci had the heart to give serious chase.
Later, Armstrong was to claim that only by checking his cycling computer did he know it was the final lap. It doesn’t seem that way. Watch the video: the beefy Texan, whose great-grandparents were from Oslo, celebrates from 600 metres out, arms raised, a smile of disbelief on his rain-soaked face.
The 21-year-old was the second-youngest World Champion ever, and the youngest since the war. In the sunny amateur race the previous day, 19- year-old Jan Ullrich was the youngest to take the title since Merckx in ’64 – only two years after arriving at the first unified German Nationals with no cycling shoes, and nevertheless placing fourth. In the post-race photos he clutches a teddy bear, and looks impossibly young.
From today’s vantage point, the day seems quietly pivotal. Stephen Roche, in his last international race, retired after five laps. Fignon, for whom the race was meant to be a swansong, decided his form was too poor to make a telling team contribution and ducked out the week before. Indurain, who still had two Tour victories in him, never got closer to the World Champion hoops than this second place. And two riders, who would loom large over the next dozen years, definitively announced themselves to the world.
For better or for worse, one era gives way to another.