Tag Archives: Italy

Brian Smith: surviving the Giro 1994

Brian Smith is a two-time British road race champion and rode for Motorola in 1994. He now provides analysis on pro cycling for Eurosport and other channels. As we head into the final few days of the Giro d’Italia I spoke to him to find out his memories of riding the 1994 edition, and how he survived to finish the race.



Brian Smith – British champion in 1994 for Motorola, picture taken by TAimages.com, used with permission.

I asked Brian if a good showing in the spring season was integral to his selection for Motorola for the 1994 Giro. He had supported the then-world champion Lance Armstrong at Classics such as Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and took a win himself at the Grand Prix Herning in Denmark.

There was a battle in the team, because Lance was world champion and he wanted things his way, and Hampsten was towards the end of his career, and was looking for people to help him. I think showing up with a win like that (in Denmark) I think that did gain me selection for the Giro, although I thought I merited it myself. It was always a constant battle to get into the right races, even before that, before Amstel, I did gain selection for Fleche Wallone and Liege but was unable to ride because I was sick.

It was always a battle to get into the Grand Tours, even the Tour de France that year, because of the job I did for Andy Hampsten at the Giro, then becoming national champion for the second time, I found myself first reserve for the Tour de France. They asked me to ride the Tour de Suisse which was two weeks after the Giro but in the end I never got the chance to ride it.

When you got the selection, was it a feeling of elation to ride your first Grand Tour, or was it something you were expecting, due to the form you had?

Obviously I was happy to get the selection but it had been talked about at the start of the year, that that was a main race that Andy was going to ride, so I half-expected it but it was never confirmed to me. One of the main preparations for the Giro was the Tour of Romandie, and I never got selected for that team, so then it had me thinking. I took my opportunities, I went to the Grand Prix Herning in Denmark and I wasn’t having to ride for someone, because a lot of domestiques don’t get the opportunities, and I took it with both hands. It worked well for me.

Into the Giro that year, I started at the bottom. As you know, the best staff look after the best riders, and the less experienced staff look after the newbies and the domestiques, so it took me probably a week into the Giro, and the next minute the top guy was massaging me, I was on his list. I asked him the question “why are you massaging me?” and he told me that the powers that be in the team, i.e I think, Andy Hampsten , had said “he has helped me a lot, I wouldn’t be in this postion without him, so we need to look after him”.

The support role to Hampsten- was that carrying bottles and riding alongside, or was there anything more specific?

Most of it was positioning and looking after Andy. Even in the last week of the Giro he put me and Michel Dernies (a Belgian domestique) in a position where we had to race for our life to get back on and think that if we hadn’t got back on, we wouldn’t have finished the Giro.

Andy was a person who needed to stop for a natural break, and I remember one day – the race started at the Lauteret climb and went towards Briancon [stage 21].

Giro d'Italia 1994
Giro d’Italia 1994, image by Pat Carroll, Velo Veneto

We were coming down Les Deux Alpes (in the neutral section) and he stopped at the bottom, and we had to stand there and wait, and fortunately Michel stayed with us, normally it was just me. We got him going, and started towards the bunch and a lot of the directors were shouting at us that the race had already started, so myself and Michel Dernies got him to within 100m of the back of the group and he jumped us and got across the last bit, and me and Michel were in no-man’s-land, dropped on the Lauteret.

We managed to catch a couple of riders, Giovanni Lombardi and Davide Bramati from Lampre at the time (Bromati is a DS with Omega Pharma – Quick Step), and one other rider, and we chased the whole way. We were in the cars for the next 30 or 40km and I managed to climb the Mont Genevre and got back on with Michel. Then it started snowing, and Alvaro Mejia was another climber on the team, and Alvaro was struggling. Andy said he was fine so he went on, and myself and Michel stayed to try to nurse Alvaro to the finish. He was a Colombian rider, who had finished 4th in the Tour de France the year before, so we had to help him.

We went up Sestriere, down the other side and then back up Sestriere and finished in 2cm of snow at the finish. For me that was one of the hardest stages, having spent the pretty much the whole stage helping someone or chasing to get back on.

When I look back on it, if I hadn’t had chased and got back on [I wouldn’t have finished], I know many riders had climbed off that year, I think there was about 99 finishers. In 1994 there were no rest days- it was 22 stages in 21 days. The rest days for me were the time trials.

I can remember the time trial up the Passo Del Bocco [Stage 18], I was in 39×23 for most of it and I think for anyone to ride that gear up a climb, that’s not a rest day.

Brian Smith Giro d'Italia 1994

For me there were specific stages, where I thought “if I can get myself over this climb, you’ll make it to the finish”, but the major day for me looking back on it was in the last week of the race , twice up Sestriere in the snow, having to stop with Andy, getting dropped earlier on, having to chase and having to look after Alvaro. That was the day I realised I was lucky, and I got round the Giro.

You mentioned that a lot of guys climbed off, and we know now, looking back on it, that around that time the pace of the peloton was beginning to be enhanced so it’s a good achievement to have stuck it out.

I think what a lot of people don’t realise is that at that time, the Motorola team were a clean team – bread and water, and I don’t have any problems saying this. When I looked at the teams and the riders [ie of the other teams competing],I thought, I will be OK here. Even on the first stage there was a big crash because of the speed they were going round the corners at. I remember going round the corners on the first stage and my wheels were actually skipping round, we were going so fast.

It was when the Gewiss team, we used to call the Gee-Whizz team, were on the front, with Bjarne Riis and Berzin and all these guys, that was when a lot of big questions were being asked. 1994 was the year that Pantani won two stages in the last week, Indurain went there to try to do the triple- the Giro, the Tour and the World Championship, and even he was blown away by Berzin and Pantani that year. The racing was just, phew, there were probably 40 or 50 guys who were head and shoulders above everyone else. The grupetto that year was probably 60-strong and that was a big grupetto. We were the real race, and the other riders in front were just killing it. The thing is, I don’t think that there has been a Giro that I have known that hasn’t had a rest day.

There were guys outclimbing me – OK, I had a job to do which was to get Andy to the front, ride the first 2 or 3km of a climb and then pull off to the side and let him go on – but there were people in that group who weren’t climbers, they were sprinters with big legs. It was a wee bit demoralising for me, the Giro in 94, because I thought I would be OK and everything would be fine. But it’s only looking back on it now that you see the performance enhancing drugs that were evident in the early 90s, although it is speculation. I look at it now and I think I wish it was 94 again, so I could get a ride and perform.

Someone taped the television coverage and sent it to my Dad, and he saw a few glimpses of me, as well as finishing in Milan, and he took that to his grave, that his boy rode the race. My mother and father were cyclists, who used to tour every year in Italy for a month, so for me to ride the Giro was a great privilege and an honour for them.

Despite the regrets it was a good achievement, there are positives there. But Hampsten was 10th and was he let go by Motorola and you too?

Andy was a former Giro winner and he finished 10th, and he turned round to me and said ‘I can’t compete now with these guys’. It was a new era of cycling, as we look back on it now with the Lance Armstrong thing and other things that have come out. It was definitely the start of a new era. Looking back on it I am proud to have finished the Giro and proud to have helped Andy, but at the end of the day, sponsors are sponsors and 10th wasn’t good enough, so Adny had to look for another team, and unfortunately he wasn’t a big enough name to take me with him and I had to fend for myself.

The Giro is a special race and I have still got a lot of passion for it. I’d love to have ridden the Tour but for me, the history, the passion – the Giro will always hold something in my heart.

Brian Smith finished 95th @ 3hr 22min 35sec with 99 of the 153 riders finishing the race.

1994 Giro on Bikeraceinfo
1994 Giro on Wikipedia

Brian Smith’s views on the Giro

Brian Smith was a two-time British road race champion and rode for Motorola in 1994. He now provides analysis on pro cycling for Eurosport and other channels. I spoke to him before the start of the Giro d’Italia to find out his thoughts for the 2013 edition.

Hi Brian. I’m not much of a pundit – is ‘Wiggins v Nibali’ too simplistic a way to look at the GC battle or do you think it will come down to those two guys?

I think it is very much looking that way. With Wiggins it is all about calculations, he has looked at the parcours through his coach Tim Kerrison and they reckon he can do the double. He’s going to the Giro d’Italia to win it, that’s obvious.

I know Wiggins, and he wants to be a legend within our sport. Last year he won the Tour, which made history in the UK, and he won another Gold medal, but he wants to be known as a legend in the sport, that’s what inspires him. He wants to win the Giro and the Tour, and I don’t think that has been done since Stephen Roche in 1987. He looks at history and that’s what motivates him.

I think the tifosi will be behind Nibali and will do what they can to crack Wiggins, I think it goes back to the Vissentini – Roche thing. (in 1987 where Roche ended up riding against his team leader, and was attacked by the Italian fans) I think Wiggins is not so strong mentally and that the tifosi know that, and even the press will try to put pressure on him, so he will have to stay focused. If he thinks he can go to the Giro and have it easy then he has another thing coming. I think there will be so much more pressure on him.

There is a team time trial, which Sky are very good at, and Sky will probably take the jersey there. With the parcours, it is set up for Wiggins to take the pink jersey at the first time trial, either the team time trial or on stage 8. This will mean that Nibali can sit back and Hesjedal can sit back and let Sky do all the work.

The last few days of the Giro are very very hard and that is where there is a weakness in Wiggins if he is attacked. The Italians are very proud and you will get combines- people will ride to help Nibali and hinder Wiggins, and Wiggins will have to have a really strong team. If he can keep the team strong together then he can win the Giro.

Remember, Uran was 7th last year and best young rider and now he has to ride for another person. He was maybe thinking he would have his opportunity. For Sky to win the Giro, the team have to really pull together because they will be up against it. My experience of this race is that the Italians stick together. They will combine together to try to make sure there will be an Italian winner.

There is no doubt it will be a great race, I love the Giro. Anything can happen, it is a very difficult race but this test is probably bigger than the Tour de France last year for Wiggins.

My thanks to Brian for taking the time to share his thoughts – this is a brief view on this year’s Giro but I hope to bring you some more substantial insights soon, covering his own memories of riding the Giro in 1994.

RIP Wouter Weylandt

Although David Millar gained the maglia rosa on today’s Giro d’Italia, it paled into insignificance with the news of the death of Wouter Weylandt of Team Leopard Trek.

Wouter Weylandt

Millar’s pink jersey would normally be something I’d do a wee post on, but there will be no celebration… the podium ceremonies were cancelled and Leopard Trek and the peloton at large will be trying to think of the most appropriate way to honour the fallen rider on stage 4 on Tuesday.
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David Millar, Stage 7 Giro D’Italia

Click this link to see an image from Garmin Slipstream’s flickr stream. Their flickr is protected so I can’t embed it in the blog.


image © sirotti/steephil.tv – click the image to see 35 brilliant quality large images from Stage 7.

David Millar limited his losses on today’s epic Giro D’Italia stage, which finished on the strade bianche dirt roads. He finished 1:29 down on GC, in third place.

Cadel Evans and Alexandre were stongest, on a day where several GC contenders were blown away, including Nibali and Sastre.

It remains to be seen whether Millar will be able to hang in the mountain stages… Stage 8 has a hilltop finish

Steephill.tv is a good place to start for links to live cycling feeds, highlights, photos, the GC and race reports of the Giro D’Italia and other races.

Pic of the Day: Robert Millar 1987 Giro

giro87foto2, originally uploaded by giroitalia.

Robert Millar in the Giro d’Italia. Riding for Panasonic, this must be Stage 2, which he won. He also won the King of the Mountains classification – it was the first time he had ridden in the Giro.

The quality of the photograph is not great but for historical value it is worth a look.

This pic is © Gazzetto della Sport, and I don’t have permission, so I have lowered my standards by posting it. Er, don’t tell anyone I posted it please or they might send Primo Carnera after me.

Pic of the Day: Millar and Roche ’87 Giro

giro87foto4, originally uploaded by giroitalia.

Stephen Roche (Maglia Rosa winner) and Robert Millar (King of the Mountains) on the podium of the Giro d’Italia 1987.

Roche ended up riding without much support from the Carrera team and Millar, riding for a similarly fractured Panasonic team, helped him, or at least, did not ride against him.

Note Roche’s ‘shhh’ gesture: the Italian fans despised him, and he took great pleasure in winning the Giro, despite being spat on and coming under great pressure. Millar empathised with this having endured similar treatment in the ’85 Vuelta à España.

This pic was found on flickr but is © a well-known Italian newspaper, so gonny no tell them, or I’ll be in trouble.

Picture of the day: Billy Bilsland Lombardia 1970

Billy Bilsland. Photo A Hamilton / PEZ Cycling News

Billy Bilsland. Photo A Hamilton / PEZ Cycling News

Here Billy Bilsland recovers after a 10th place finish at the 1970 Tour of Lombardy. The day before he had also raced the Coppa Agostini. Click the photo to read an interview by Ed Hood on Pez Cycling News.

The race was won by Italian national champion Franco ‘Mad Heart’ Bitossi, who outsprinted Felice Gimondi on the concrete track at Como. The field ganged up against Eddy Merckx so an Italian rider could win.

Billy Bilsland is one of Scotland’s greatest ever racing cyclists- have a look at my Top 10.

Nostalgia for Fausto Coppi

I am reading Will Fotheringham’s Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi. I decided to look for YouTube clips of him but most of the original footage is overlaid with music and powerpoint-style text that wasn’t really to my taste. I did find these dreamlike recreated scenes, from an Italian film about Gino Bartali.

The clip of Coppi and Bartali riding together in the Tour on an Italian team is particularly evocative. Bartali was a bitter rival in the Giro, the Classics and the Italian racing circuit, but when it came to the Tour and the Worlds, it was a real struggle for the Italian team manager Alfredo Binda to get them to bury the hatchet and ride together. On one occasion Binda decreed that Coppi was the team leader

This footage seems to be from a two-part Italian TV drama focusing on Bartali from a channel called Rai Fiction or Rai Uno.

Info on the programme
Still shots
Film available here! (Italian no subtitles)

Will Fotheringham’s book naturally covers his phenomenal success in cycling, including his two Tour-Giro doubles. It also delves into the then-scandalous breakup from his wife Bruna and Giulia Locatelli, and gives some surprising insight into the state of Italy, and cycling just after the second world war.

Dan Martin in the Giro di Lombardia

Dan Martin took 8th place in the Lombardia bunch sprint. This finish followed some problems with injury in the middle of the season (he missed the Tour de France and wasn’t on top form in the Vuelta a Espana), but his early season was fantastic with 2nd overall in the Volta a Catalunya and 3rd overall in the Tour of the Mediterranean.

Above Dan is pictured in the bunch of riders sprinting for 3rd (Gilbert and Sanchez had already bagged 1st and 2nd place). Another big photo © of the always-excellent Sirotti which features regularly on steephill.tv’s galleries.

I have been a fan ever since Andy from Bike-Pure told Dan he liked my photo of him in the 2008 Tour of Britain.

Yellow jersey group

I did have a copyright issue with this image. One day I was surprised find it in a marketing email from Chain Reaction Cycles, used without credit or permission. More info here.

Back on topic- my opinion of Dan was further enhanced in a Cycle Sport feature. He seems to have his feet on the ground, doesn’t shoot his mouth off, and is looking to progress at a sensible pace. He says, when I climb, it’s all on feel. A man after the Scottish Cyclist‘s heart then!