He’s a man of few words, Gianni Bugno. He was famous during his career for his reply to the journalists questions – “Let’s see it” – as he was closed any predictions to evaluate the future. It’s so difficult to have a conversation with him but so easy to tell about his victories: Double world champion, a Milan – Sanremo, a World Cup, a Tour of Flanders, two podiums at the Tour de France, many stages at the Tour and at the Giro, and, last but not the least, the overall Giro title in 1990.
What is spectacular about his Giro is that he wore the maglia rosa from the beginning of the race. Twenty days in Rosa. Twenty days that changed the Italian’s destiny in the cycling world. After the Moser and Saronni era, the latest eighties were full of difficulties for the Italian cycling. The “tifosi” were fast decreasing and the Giro was losing spectators and international reputation. In 1990 the country focused on the Soccer World Championship in Italy. But that day, on the Vesuvio, something unexpected happened. Something that ignited the cycling passion back in the hearts of the tifosi. It’s a story to tell.
Bugno was unstoppable on Vesuvius that day in 1990.
Not long after the Giro’s presentation over the Winter, I spoke with Bugno on his mobile phone. We talked about the Giro 2009 route:
– Exciting innovations – he feels the lack of a big famous climb like the Stelvio, but his opinion about the next Rosa race is positive.
– They’ll be back on the Vesuvio – that year the race arrived at half way to the actual finish. Half way, but a hard one, as that time part of the climb was on a sort of pave, which was made of lava stones; the whole area of Napoli, was paved in that way. The mind stops and runs back to those days. Another time, another Italy, we were younger. It’s difficult to remember the details, but the feelings are still alive. The Giro that time started in Bari, south. Fresh fish and warm lands. There was a small ITT and Bugno won it against all prognostication. Just four seconds on the specialist Thierrie Marie but enough to wear the first jersey of his career.
This is most definitely not Vesuvius, but it’s 1990, Bugno is in Rosa, and all is right in Italian cycling.
– I started that Giro with the scope to make a good result in the overhaul standing – but things change and that jersey changed Bugno’s plan. He felt immediately the importance to defend that jersey and he did it the day later during the second stage, approaching Sala Consilina with an over 230 km race in the warm south. Marie attacked taking seconds at the intermediate sprint.
– He was just 1 second to my jersey – and Bugno replied using the whole team in the final kilometres. The Italian journalists criticized that decision. In their opinion Bugno had to keep care about his team and reserve it for the hard days. Those opinions, against a rider who was extremely determined to save the leader symbol stirred the hearts of the tifosi. Everybody was with Bugno.
So here we are. Sala Consilina – Vesuvio, the third stage of the Giro. It’s the first climb of the race. Nothing really impossible but always a climb. The first one is always particular. It’s a test for everybody.
– Fignon was putting a lot of pressure on me and on my team – in fact, Marie (Fignon’s team mate) won the intermediate sprint and overcame Bugno on the way to Napoli.
– We had just a tactic that day; defend the jersey – Bugno’s team is made of strong workers, good to set a strong pace and a couple of climbers (Volpi and Vona); at half way there was the Chiunzi climb.
– I was more concerned about its descent, it was difficult and dangerous – Bugno’s team started to work hard already before the Chiunzi in order to send a message to the bunch and the message was:
– we will defend that jersey – Bugno was conscious that Marie was not dangerous in that stage despite the fact that he was virtually the leader. The real danger was Fignon, working behind the curtain.
– Fignon was rolling really well on the Chiunzi – the French rider was the last Giro winner and he was looking for a double after the bad defeat against Lemond at the Tour de France the summer before. He was, together with the US rider, the leader of the cycling circus that time.
– We approached the plain of Napoli and in front of us there was the volcano – there were Chozas, Spanish, with Giuliani with a couple of minutes of gap preceding the bunch led by Bugno’s team
– Giuliani was my team mate the previous year but that time he joined another team, Chozas was a good climber – the lava stones started but Bugno didn’t paid too much attention to that, he was more concentrate to the race evolution as Chozas was now the virtual leader of the race.
Chozas was the only one able to hold off Bugno’s tidal wave.
– we approached the climb with Vona, my last team mate – now nobody in the leader’s group is taking any responsibility, everybody rides on Bugno’s wheel as he is the leader and he has to defend the jersey. The tifosi are clapping and screaming and the meters flow fast under the wheels, there’s not much time to lose. At that time it was unusual for the rosa jersey to take the initiative; cycling, especially in Italy, was very conservative and Bugno was recognized, in that world, to be one of the most conservative. But that day there was a jersey to defend and there was just one thing to do. He had to attack.
And Bugno attacked;
– I was left alone by my team after a hard job and I attacked – panic for anybody else. All the direct contenders lost many seconds at the end of the day and Fignon was one of them. Chozas was the only one able to resist and won the stage but Bugno preserved the leader’s symbol. The tifosi were finding their hero.
– It was so important to me to defend the jersey, the people were giving me so much morale and support – and Italian cycling was finding its new protagonist. Bugno never surrendered his rosa jersey and won that Giro edition with over six minutes on Charlie Mottet.
Today Bugno is a pilot. He pilots the helicopters flying over the Giro. He’s very busy and requires caution of the hills, wind, and fog, but he admits that sometimes looks at the race down trying to recognize this or that rider. We won’t know if next May Bugno will feel anything particular flying over his climb; he’s not that kind of man that open to such conversation.
– Let’s see it –