The next comment isn't going to go down too well. I didn't enjoy racing in Italy.
There. I said it and I'll be judged and probably forever more live with the consequences. To some it might even be shameful that I feel that way. So be it.
There are reasons for my treachery but I hear the cry: “How could you even contemplate thinking such a thing?” Of course, there are good points to Italy. It's the land that gave us so many great bike brands – Campagnolo, Colnago, De Rosa, Bianchi – and great riders, like Gimondi, Moser, Saronni, and my personal favourite Gianni Bugno. Sorry, but none of that ever made me think I'd like to spend more time there.
I could cope with single events, or even a series of one-day races tied into some kind of weekend challenge, but stage racing in Italy left me cold. Therefore finding myself at the start of my one and only Giro d'Italia in 1987 wasn't my idea of heaven. Peter Post, head honcho of the Panasonic team, thought it a good idea to surprise me with the order to race a three-week tour of Italy that included eating spinach every day – not that everybody else got Popeye's favourite vegetable each night, but we did, all because Post liked the stuff. That was all well and good, but our Big Boss only spent a few days on the race, then went home to do something more important.
I didn't particularly want to be big and strong or have a girlfriend like Olive and, more importantly, I didn't want to be doing a Grand Tour before the TdF again. So my strategy was to keep out of trouble and not be riding for GC or paying attention all day. I certainly didn't need to be getting stressed or tired.
Saying that, I knew I'd be bored just doing a bit of work now and then, or getting dragged round, so to perk up my outlook I thought I'd try out for the mountains prize. This was the era when there was no washing machine in the truck and you did your own kit cleaning, so having a nice new jersey to wear each stage saved a bit of energy.
Anyway, enough of the whining. What was the Giro like? Hectic, frustrating, annoying, quite often ridiculous and full of wheeling and dealing. Much like Italian life, then.
I should point out that, because I was riding really well, it was bearable on a physical level, even though as a course it was harder than a normal Tour de France. However, if you weren't a climber it was agony on anything but the flat stages. Those sprinter days were a bit of an eye-opener. To say the Italians can ride fast would be an understatement. For example, I'd be flat out in the wheels just trying to survive the last hour and some unheard-of local from one of the small teams would attack and ride for five minutes, 100 metres in front of the bunch.
Then there were the mega crashes, like the ones you see in Milan-Sanremo, when people end up piled three high. I got captured by a few of them, mainly because – as is the way in Italian races – you would ride slowly until the final 60kms, then it would be flat stick to the finish. I always disliked that change of pace, as it was a shock to the system; the easy bit, by contrast, I quite enjoyed.
It was tiring mentally, though. The lack of proper organisation at the start and the finishes grated; the blatant bias towards all things Italian; long transfers to the hotels; the television helicopter being too low; dodgy finishes. Or the plain stupid stuff, like the split stage where the intention was to just race down the Poggio. That was only changed because most of the teams (but not all) complained it was too dangerous, so it turned into a token bit of uphill then a kamikaze run into Sanremo. That confirmed the feeling I had that the organisers were on some kind of mission for the next new gimmick, the one that would get the Giro noticed and then, in their eyes, put it on an equal footing with the Tour.
And sod any safety concerns.
Of course, the big talking point of the ‘87 Giro was the mugging of Visentini by Carrera team-mate Stephen Roche. That was interesting to be part of, in much the same way the Hinault / LeMond Tour debacle had been two years earlier – though at the Giro, feelings ran deeper amongst the tifosi and it got quite hateful now and then.
Not many riders liked Visentini. He was arrogant, complained too much, shouted a lot and was generally obnoxious when he didn't get his way, so it was karma that he got no help from any of us watching from the sidelines. At Panasonic, we had enough internal politics to deal with, due to the emergence of Erik Breukink as team leader and the collapse of Phil Anderson's ambitions that had Post dancing from one foot to the other – when he graced us with his presence, of course.
I did have some good moments at my only Giro. The food was way better than the other Grand Tours (spinach excepted), there was dramatic scenery most days, I learned some proper Italian swear words and I added a green jersey to my collection, but overall I didn't fall in love with the race.
I'd still have a Colnago C40 in a heartbeat though, or a Bianchi, or a Pegoretti…
Confusing, isn't it?
This column first appeared in issue 46. Robert Millar is a regular columnist for Rouleur magazine.