Contributed by Guy Wilson-Roberts
When PEZ spoke with Frankie Andreu earlier in the year, he had some great stories from his racing days to share with us. Andreu rode in the Tour de France nine times, but in the Giro d’Italia only once. It was 1990, the year that Gianni Bugno dominated the race for his Gatorade team and wore the maglia rosa from start to finish. When PEZ spoke with Andreu, he said that Bugno turned out to be an elusive figure. We wanted to find out more and, as it turned out, Bugno still managed to have an important role to play in Andreu’s team’s fortunes.
“This was my first three-week Tour and I along with the other young guys were in way over our head,” Andreu told PEZ. “It was deadly slow at times and deadly fast at others. Gianni Bugno had the leader’s pink jersey from the very first day to the very last day, I never saw the guy once. In the mountains I finished in a group but we would be so far back team cars would already be heading back to their team hotels. There were time cuts at that time but somehow we always seemed to make it.”
Gianni Bugno the Dave Z look-a-like.
For Andreu, it was also only his second year as a professional.
“I turned pro in 1989 and was thrown in with my first race at the Tour of Holland,” Andreu said. “I went from racing 50-kilometre crits to doing 200-kilometre road races. Needless to say it was tough. I remember looking across the start line and standing next to me was Laurent Fignon. Nervous? Hell yeah!”
Andy Hampsten was not back in 1990 to defend his 1988 win or his third place in 1989, so the flag waver for the 7-Eleven team would be Swiss rider Urs Zimmerman, fresh from the Carrera team with a 3rd and a 6th place in the event on his palmares from 1988 and 1989 respectively.
“We had a young team with Norm Alvis, John Tomac, Tommy Matush, Thomas Craven, and Jeff Pierce,” Andreu explained. “We were riding mainly for Urs Zimmerman. He was having a good Giro but then crashed heavily on a mountain descent and had to be taken to the hospital. So that left us with not much at the end.”
The 7-Eleven team had already achieved much success in Europe, but the roster for the 1990 Giro did not include its better-known riders. John Tomac, for example, was more visible in mountain biking for his NORBA titles but was for 1990 was based in Belgium and racing on both the road and the dirt.
“John Tomac rode a huge gear all the time. He was a good climber but after riding such large gears his legs finally gave out and he had to quit. Tommy Matush each day would get teased because he loved eating the different cheeses. He was from Wisconsin so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Thomas Craven came to the Giro one day after getting married. I guess it would have been his honeymoon from hell. For all of use each day was survival. After two weeks of racing my legs were so sore I couldn’t get a massage at all. I made it to the finish but only barely.”
The Giro has certainly gained popularity with non-European audiences in recent years, but has still retained its uniquely Italian character, right down to the style of racing. PEZ was interested in Andreu’s experiences with the role played by Italian riders in running ‘their’ race.
“I think the Giro now is much different than in 1990 when I rode it,” Andreu suggested. “When I raced it there were certainly ‘piano’ days, or slow days. We would cruise and eat and talk, the directors would nap in the back while the mechanics drove. That would sometimes be for three or four hours and the last two hours would be at warp speed. Probably harder then if we rode fast the whole day because everyone was fresh.
“Other days, especially the weekends, the race would take off from the gun. Live TV has that effect for the Italian teams looking for publicity. It would be flat out from the start to the end. The mountain days took on whole new meaning; I never imagined how fast guys could up hill. It seemed like warp speed, and in the Giro the weather is always unpredictable, especially in the mountains.”
Last year’s variable weather confirmed the challenges for the racers competing in May in the north of the country, not to mention the epic conditions faced just two years before Andreu’s ride. Experience is often the key in knowing how to prepare.
“In the mountains you have to be prepared,” Andreu explained to PEZ. “Either have a jacket with you in your pocket or make sure your rain bag is in the right car so you can get clothes. Anything to stay warm because going down an hour long mountain in the freezing rain is torture.”
Still, there is always the potential to get it wrong.
“One day it was freezing cold and raining at the start of the race John Tomac decided to put on some hot lotion on his legs to keep the rain off and keep his legs warm,” he said. “After about two hours the clouds rolled away, the blue skies came out, and the sun came shining down. I looked over and saw Tomac almost crying, and found out that the hot stuff on his legs were starting to burn his legs with the sun baking down on them. Of course water can’t take this stuff off so no matter how much water he poured on his legs the burning never went away. Finally, the team car had to stop at a local mart and buy a gallon of milk. John poured the gallon of milk all over his legs which eventually stopped the burning.”
The 1990 edition was a Renaissance of sorts for Italian riders, led by Gianni Bugno exacting his revenge for three straight wins in previous editions by non-Italians. Marco Giovannetti, winner of the Vuelta that year (when it was run before the Giro) was third on the final podium.
It was certainly Bugno’s year, though, and he put his vastly improved climbing to good use with three stage wins to go with the overall title (later followed by a win on Alpe d’Huez at the Tour de France). Unorthodox musical therapy had also apparently improved his descending, a major factor in his win at Milan-San Remo that year as well and allowing him to follow in Francesco Moser’s pedal strokes in winning both La Primavera and the Giro in the same year. As usual, the Giro in 1990 was all about the mountains.
“The mountains were extremely hard,” Andreu noted. “Bugno and his team were always at the front and I couldn’t get to the front once we were racing. It was too hard, too fast, and too aggressive. Any time you touched someone the Italians would all yell at you like it was your fault. It didn’t matter that he pulled his foot out of the pedal was about to crash and slammed into you to keep his balance. It was my fault, always!”
Still, it turned out that Bugno was still essential to the 7-Eleven team’s fortunes in the race.
“I remember one day we were lost to the start,” Andreu explained. “Richard Dejonkeer was our director for the race. As we were driving around some little unknown Italian town we had no idea where to go. Of course it’s the directors job to get us to the start and to the hotels. After driving around for thirty minutes and about twenty minutes to the start Richard rolled down his window and started yelling in his non-speaking Italian broken-Belgian English accent, ‘Gianni Bugno, Gianni Bugno’. The town people got the idea and started pointing our way towards the start, each block a repeat of the above until we found where the start was.”
In his first Grand Tour ride, it was a huge learning experience for Andreu.
“There is a technique to finish these races,” he told PEZ.”It takes time to learn and of course experience and strength to get through them. You have to pace yourself and pick your moments to shine, as I learned later on in riding my nine Tours de France. If you ride hard every day and try to really race every day you will eventually crack.
“The mountains are about starting in front so that when you slide back you don’t get dropped right away. The Italians were very good at this and there would always be a group to fall back into for safety.”
But it was not all pain and suffering at the hands of the Italians in the mountains.
“Of course, the best part of the Giro is the food,” Andreu concluded. “Great pasta, great wine, and excellent desserts.”
Indeed, and PEZ is sure looking forward to this year’s race. Thanks to Frankie for taking the time out of his busy schedule to reminisce with us again. As well as his regular speaking engagements, he will be directing the Z Team on the road at the Tour of Pennsylvania at the end of June and will be back with Versus commentating at the Tour de France this year.