RETRO: GIANNI BUGNO & THE 1990 GIRO

We tell the story of the last rider to have led a grand tour from start to fin­ish, Gianni Bugno

Procycling - - Contents - Writer: Daniel Friebe Pho­tog­ra­phy: Yuzuru Su­nada, Sirotti Photo (right)

Hav­ing just told re­porters that he had led the 1990 Giro from end-toend, Bari to Mi­lan, by “do­ing the ex­act op­po­site of what my ri­vals ex­pected”, Gianni Bugno now bam­boo­zled the same stal­warts of the press room with a sim­i­larly ag­nos­tic ap­proach to his fi­nal en­throne­ment.

Bugno’s modesty - almost a prud­ish­ness about the man­ner in which his long-dor­mant tal­ent had jolted into life - had fas­ci­nated the jour­nal­ists through­out the pre­vi­ous three weeks. Now they could hardly be­lieve their ears or eyes as, af­ter var­i­ous other ova­tions and ac­co­lades in­clud­ing the points jersey, Bugno was called to the stage for a sev­enth time and he looked almost in sup­pli­ca­tion to­wards his Château d’Ax team boss, Gian­luigi Stanga.

“Again?? Come on, that’s enough now. Let’s go home.” Since Bugno took a break­through vic­tory at Mi­lan-San Remo in March the main­stream me­dia had hur­ried to dis­sect the psy­che and back­ground of a rider whose quirks dis­creetly bent rather than broke any moulds. He owned a husky called Rebel - but any­one be­liev­ing Ital­ian cy­cling had found it­self a new icon­o­clast would have been bark­ing up the wrong tree.

Typ­i­cally of Ital­ian riders, he came from mod­est, blue-col­lar stock. Un­typ­i­cally, Bugno was not the fiery Ital­ian of stereo­type - per­haps time north of the Ital­ian border as a boy rubbed off on him. In the early 1960s his par­ents had em­i­grated to Brugg in Switzer­land, where Bugno was born, then re­turned to Italy and specif­i­cally the Mi­lanese sub­urb of Monza to open a laun­drette when he was four. Bugno had spent the ma­jor­ity of his early years with his pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents in Cavaso del Tomba, at the foot of Monte

Grappa. In the class­room he en­joyed maths and Latin. On the play­ing field, he had tried ev­ery­thing and ex­celled at noth­ing - un­til he dis­cov­ered cy­cling at age 12. Ahead of this edi­tion, the two-time French Tour de France win­ner, Lau­rent Fignon, had ar­rived in Italy as the favourite de­spite the vi­cis­si­tudes of his pre­vi­ous five sea­sons. Fignon’s best years had been robbed by an Achilles ten­don in­jury, and his eight-sec­ond loss to Greg LeMond in the pre­vi­ous sum­mer’s Tour de France seemed to have stolen a part of the rider’s very soul.

As he was the de­fend­ing cham­pion, Fignon’s pre-race mus­ings none­the­less car­ried as much grav­i­tas as his rac­ing pedi­gree. Asked to name his ri­vals, he ma­ligned that LeMond was only in Italy to train, em­pha­sised the dan­ger posed by coun­try­man Charly Mot­tet… and com­pletely ne­glected to men­tion Bugno. A year ear­lier, Fignon had not taken the pink jersey un­til stage 13. So he wasn’t un­duly con­cerned when he lost half a minute to Bugno, the sur­prise stage win­ner, over the 13km of the open­ing day time trial in Bari.

Bugno him­self wasn’t get­ting car­ried away ei­ther. Af­ter a good if not ex­cep­tional am­a­teur ca­reer, he had mo­seyed through his first few sea­sons as a pro much in the same way as Ital­ian cy­cling was drift­ing through the late 1980s. Francesco Moser’s ri­valry with Giuseppe Saronni had cap­ti­vated the tifosi in the first half of the decade but suc­ces­sors were hard to iden­tify. Moser and Saronni also almost com­pletely shunned the Tour, and Ital­ian teams had if any­thing be­come even more parochial in the af­ter­glow of that duo’s golden age. The 1989 sea­son had been the worst in mem­ory for the Ital­ians. Most alarm­ingly, three dif­fer­ent for­eign­ers had taken the last three Giro wins.

As a new decade dawned no one would have imag­ined that the cal­low, sphinx-like Bugno could be the Bel Paese’s saviour. There had been flick­ers of class since his move to Stanga’s Château d’Ax team in 1988 but those in his en­tourage knew the tell­tale in­juries and is­sues of an eter­nal enigma. Us­ing mu­sic ther­apy and specif­i­cally cas­settes of Mozart, he had fi­nally cured the labyrinthi­tis and re­sult­ing down­hill wob­bles that were the legacy of a spill in the 1988 Giro. Still, though, Bugno did not sound like a man ooz­ing self­be­lief. “I’m treat­ing ev­ery day like a one-day race and we’ll see how far I get,” he said.

One of his key lieu­tenants, Ste­fano Zanatta, re­mem­bers a slightly dif­fer­ent mes­sage com­ing from Stanga: “He said, ‘I’ve never had the maglia rosa in my team be­fore, so we’re go­ing to fight tooth and nail ev­ery day to keep it.’”

Be­fore the race Bugno had been siz­ing up the climb to Ve­su­vius on day three as an op­por­tu­nity to re­coup any time trial losses. As it tran­spired, he would serve up an­other tour de force. Turn­ing the ped­als in a lan­guid,

“He had a slight prob­lem with his knee in the last week. Gianni was pan­ick­ing but we kept telling him that, as long as he didn’t say any­thing, no one would know”

paw­ing mo­tion, his up­per body and eyes seem­ingly half asleep, Bugno at­tacked 3km from the top of the vol­cano and be­gan scorch­ing the earth. The Span­ish climber Ed­uardo Chozas was too far up the road to catch, but soon Mot­tet and Fignon were slid­ing out of Bugno’s rear-view mir­ror.

Once more, de­spite a deficit that had stretched by an­other half-minute, Fignon seemed un­flus­tered. “This is Bugno’s magic mo­ment. Let him en­joy it,” he sniffed. “Af­ter Ve­su­vius, I started to think my team could take care of any­thing, plus the course suited me so well.” This is about as close as one is likely to get to a com­pre­hen­sive sum­mary of the 1990 Giro from Bugno to­day. In truth, he and a Château d’Ax team with the likes of Zanatta, Al­berto Volpi and Franco Vona pow­er­ing its en­gine room made the job look in­creas­ingly straight­for­ward as the race reached up Italy’s spine. A crash on stage five to Ter­amo left Fignon reel­ing and Bugno’s sec­ond stage win at Val­lom­brosa, high above Florence, sent the ’89 cham­pion spin­ning to the can­vas. He pulled out 58km into stage nine.

Ac­cord­ing to Marino Le­jar­reta, Bugno’s credo of “ev­ery day like a Clas­sic” had al­ready cost him too much en­ergy. Bugno cau­tioned fans: “I could have a crisis at any mo­ment.” Sen­ti­ments like th­ese rung rather hol­low af­ter an­other mas­ter­class in the 68km time trial to Cu­neo and a flaw­less sec­ond week.

Even as the Ital­ian press were declar­ing the con­test over, the man in the maglia rosa seemed un­will­ing or un­able to com­pute the feat that he was about to ac­com­plish. “Some of it was gen­uine anx­i­ety that he wouldn’t last, also be­cause he had a slight prob­lem with his knee in the last week,” re­calls Zanatta. “Gianni was pan­ick­ing but we kept telling him that, as long as he didn’t say any­thing, no one would know.”

Mot­tet took ad­van­tage of Bugno’s hop­ping chain to out­sprint him in the Dolomite tap­pone fin­ish­ing atop the Por­doi, but that evening the French­man sounded more re­signed - or re­al­is­tic - than any­one. “I’m lead­ing the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion of nor­mal riders,” he sighed.

Even from the height of his four-minute ad­van­tage, Bugno couldn’t, or rather wouldn’t, re­lax. At the start in Moena he fret­ted not be­cause of his knee or Mot­tet’s threat but an old su­per­sti­tion: the num­ber 17 is con­sid­ered un­lucky by Ital­ians and they were about to roll out on stage 17. The day was also the Giro’s pre­miere of the Mor­tirolo. Race chiefs Carmine Castel­lano and Vin­cenzo Tor­ri­ani had the good grace to ar­range a gen­tle in­tro­duc­tion up the pass’s easy side - but this meant a treach­er­ous hel­ter-skel­ter de­scent to Mazzo that would be­come world­in­fa­mous. Giuseppe Tedesco, a long-serv­ing po­lice mo­tor-pi­lot on the race, no­ticed Bugno’s pained ex­pres­sion and tried to re­as­sure him. “Gianni, don’t worry. I’ve got bib num­ber 17 and this is my 17th Giro, but noth­ing’s go­ing to hap­pen to ei­ther of us.”

Tedesco was right. While Mario Cipollini dis­mounted on the fin­ish-line to kiss the tar­mac - his thanks for hav­ing sur­vived the Mor­tirolo mi­ne­shaft - Bugno’s smile be­trayed its first soupçons of re­lief as he shared the podium with the 21-year-old stage win­ner, Leonardo Sierra of Venezuela. Bugno made it all the way to the race’s fi­nal Sun­day and was still in pink. It was just a pity for him that the Corsa Rosa was still three days away from Mi­lan, its grand fi­nale hav­ing been moved to a mid­week date to avoid a clash with the foot­ball World Cup kick­ing off in the city’s San Siro sta­dium that Fri­day.

The echoes of Bugno’s ex­ploits might have been even louder had World Cup fever not been build­ing to such an all-ab­sorb­ing din. Bugno also found him­self com­pet­ing for at­ten­tion with an­other new dar­ling of the Ital­ian sports me­dia, Roberto Bag­gio. On the same day that Bugno had claimed his first pink jersey in Bari, the ‘Divine Pony­tail’ com­pleted his move from Fiorentina to Ju­ven­tus, pro­vok­ing ri­ots in Florence.

This ugly coun­ter­point at least served as a re­minder of some of cy­cling’s more whole­some charms. “When the Giro starts in Italy the home fans dive into it straight away. With Gianni get­ting the jersey on the very first day, a lot of peo­ple were sucked in right from the start. We could then just feel this wave of ex­cite­ment grow­ing with ev­ery stage. It was as though cy­cling in Italy was be­ing wo­ken from its sleep,” Zanatta says.

There was still time for one last sprig of gar­nish on Bugno’s race - an em­phatic stage win in the time-trial fin­ish­ing on the Sacro Monte climb near Varese. Bugno’s ad­van­tage over Mot­tet was now more than six min­utes. A tor­ren­tial rain­storm did noth­ing to dampen what Il Cor­riere della Sera’s Gian­franco Josti called a “foot­ball-sta­dium at­mos­phere”. As early as the first week, Stanga had com­plained that Bugno’s ev­ery move was pro­vok­ing a stam­pede of tifosi in both the start and fin­ish towns. It was pos­si­bly for the best, then, that Tor­ri­ani’s orig­i­nal plan to have Diego Maradona pre­sent­ing Bugno with the last of his 21 pink jer­seys, two days be­fore Ar­gentina played their first World Cup match, came to noth­ing.

The next af­ter­noon, Bugno’s fa­ther, Gi­a­como, stood in the crowd weep­ing - the 21st day in a row that he had cried, he swore. “Gianni won’t change. He’s made of solid stuff and has good val­ues,” Bugno se­nior told jour­nal­ists. There were in­deed signs that here was a rider with more to of­fer than just two sets of rip­pling calf mus­cles. Bugno had sub­stance. Moral fi­bre. He con­tin­u­ally ref­er­enced his hero, Bernard Hin­ault, in in­ter­views, but never used the nick­name “Bad­ger”. To Bugno he was al­ways sim­ply “Lo Zio” - The Un­cle.

Yes, there were sev­eral things that made Bugno dif­fer­ent. Or per­haps just one. As an­other for­mer Giro win­ner and sud­denly Monza’s sec­ond most fa­mous ped­aller, Fiorenzo Magni, put it: “You can’t buy class from your lo­cal del­i­catessen but Gianni’s got some to spare.”

Any­one wish­ing to re­live the giddy late

spring of 1990 with Bugno nowa­days is likely to be dis­ap­pointed. “Bah, I don’t re­mem­ber any­thing,” is how he fields our ini­tial en­quiries. “I have no mem­o­ries, no sou­venirs, noth­ing. It’s all in the past.”

Ask­ing Bugno about the trans­for­ma­tion that had oc­curred be­fore the Giro proves more fruit­ful. He talks about Mozart and the mu­sic ther­apy, about tests that es­tab­lished a lac­tose in­tol­er­ance, tweaks to his rid­ing po­si­tion and of an ef­fort to spin smaller gears at a higher tempo. Psy­cho­log­i­cally, Mi­lan-San Remo had also been a break­through.

But what we re­ally want are answers to one of the most per­sis­tent and baf­fling rid­dles of the next half-decade: why did Bugno never win an­other ma­jor tour af­ter 1990? And how could a man who seemed set to build a dy­nasty in three-week races be on the brink of giv­ing up by July 1993, not just on that year’s Tour but cy­cling?

Bugno rode that Tour in the rain­bow jersey, hav­ing won his sec­ond straight world ti­tle the pre­vi­ous au­tumn. And yet by week two he said: “I don’t know where to turn. It’s like when ice-cream gives you in­di­ges­tion: you can’t even look at it any more. Cy­cling’s like that for me at the mo­ment.”

Could it be that around 1992 a large pro­por­tion of the pelo­ton got in­volved in the ‘prepa­ra­tion’ arms race? A se­vere and ter­mi­nal down­turn in Bugno’s re­sults in three-week races oc­curred around the time when, by most es­ti­mates, EPO be­gan its ru­inous cas­cade. In Europe, first-gen­er­a­tion Epo­etin alfa was ap­proved for clin­i­cal use in 1988. No sooner were doc­tors load­ing up sy­ringes to le­git­i­mately treat anaemia suf­fer­ers, then ru­mours were cir­cu­lat­ing about cross-coun­try skiers at that year’s Cal­gary Win­ter Olympics. The In­ter­na­tional Ski­ing Fed­er­a­tion re­sponded by adding EPO to its banned list, two years be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee and three years be­fore the UCI.

Some of the ear­li­est sus­pi­cions were aired by Nor­we­gian re­searchers and cen­tred on the Ital­ian coach, Francesco Con­coni. From his base at the Univer­sity of Fer­rara, Con­coni had coached and treated Ital­ian Olympic ath­letes through­out the 1980s, but soared to promi­nence when he and a young prodigy, Michele Fer­rari, mas­ter­minded Francesco Moser’s suc­cess­ful Hour Record bid in Mex­ico City in 1984. As far as some were con­cerned,

he would also then fall into dis­grace when it emerged that Moser had ‘pre­pared’ for Mex­ico with blood trans­fu­sions. Here, though, le­gal­ity and moral­ity be­came con­fused, for blood trans­fu­sions were not out­lawed in sport un­til 1986.

San­dro Donati, the Ital­ian ath­let­ics coach and re­searcher who in 1994 would ex­pose Con­coni’s dop­ing prac­tices and a plague of EPO abuse in cy­cling, tells Pro­cy­cling that, in his view, Con­coni prob­a­bly be­gan ad­min­is­ter­ing the drug “in the late spring or sum­mer of 1988, ditch­ing blood tran­fu­sions”.

Donati proved that Con­coni was help­ing Bugno in 1993, but not 1990. Con­coni’s pro­tégé Fer­rari had also left Château d’Ax in the mid­dle of the 1989 Tour af­ter a row with Stanga. “I worked with Con­coni in 1993 and it didn’t go well, so I stopped. That sea­son, 1993, was the only time that I had a prepara­tore,” in­sists Bugno. Donati’s find­ings con­firm the link with Con­coni in 1993, but he has noth­ing on Bugno in 1990. He also writes in an email: “Peo­ple in cy­cling thought Bugno was the most gifted of that gen­er­a­tion. They say he only took small doses of dop­ing prod­ucts so that he could be com­plete. Is that an ur­ban myth? I don’t know.” There’s no ev­i­dence to sug­gest that Bugno doped; he has al­ways de­nied do­ing so.

Bugno would pre­fer to fo­cus on dif­fer­ent fac­tors. He as­cribes the down­turn in his for­tunes to the ad­vent of a new ap­proach to train­ing and rac­ing. “There was this big move to­wards spe­cial­i­sa­tion as the prepara­tori be­came all the rage. I might have been a de­cent rider but I only had one strength - my re­sistence. I would come to the fore in longer, harder races, and with a lot of rac­ing.

He con­tin­ues: “That was the only way for me, to race a lot, be­cause I had no spe­cific abil­ity that I could tease out. That had been fine, but it was never go­ing to be enough to beat In­durain or a lot of other riders who were fo­cus­ing on only one or two goals a year.” In the midst of 1993, Stanga summed up his star’s ex­is­ten­tial crisis thus: “He’s like a horse who is dy­ing of hunger be­cause it can’t de­cide whether to eat the straw or the hay.”

Zanatta’s the­ory con­tains heav­ier hints about the EPO-demic and its ef­fect on Bugno. “Gianni was a per­fec­tion­ist. He would be con­stantly wor­ry­ing about his legs not be­ing good. Ev­ery night he’d have his head buried in a Miche­lin road at­las, study­ing the course. If you take a guy with that mind­set, who’s been suc­cess­ful, and who’s sud­denly be­ing beaten by tall, heavy guys who were nowhere not long ago, that af­fects your morale. Which then af­fects your per­for­mance.”

Bugno would con­tinue to be­jewel a fine pal­marès with rare pearls. He col­lected a sec­ond mon­u­ment at the 1994 Tour of Flan­ders and stage wins in the Tour and Vuelta be­fore re­tir­ing in 1998. He is aware that he re­mains only the fourth man ever to lead a Giro from start to fin­ish, with Costante Gi­rar­dengo, Al­fredo Binda and Eddy Mer­ckx. How he did it re­mains a mys­tery to even Bugno - or per­haps it’s just some­thing upon which he has cho­sen not to dwell.

“Gianni was a per­fec­tion­ist. He would be con­stantly wor­ry­ing about his legs not be­ing good. Ev­ery night he’d have his head buried in a road at­las study­ing the course”

On stage two to Sala Con­silina. Bugno ex­pected to lose the pink jersey any day

At the day one time trial, the irst of three stages Bugno won dur­ing the 1990 Giro

Bugno rid­ing the Tour in 1993, where he was on the brink of giv­ing up cy­cling

Just 7mm sep­a­rated Bugno from Jo­han Museeuw on the line at the 1994 Flan­ders

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