A day on the Col d'Izoard, watching the Giro d'Italia, 1994

In 1994, I and 5 or 6 friends cycled from Strasbourg to Nice. This is not a long account of that tour, or even a short account of it. It's just a memory of one particular day. A couple of the lads, Paul Harte and Mick Sweeney, I think, decided that after leaving Briancon, we should wait on the far side of the Col d'Izoard to see the Giro d'Italia which was scheduled to pass over it in the early afternoon. We climbed the 20 odd km to the top and went a bit down the far side until we found a fine perch near a hairpin bend to watch the race.

The mountain was already fairly densely populated by cycling fans in Motorhomes and otherwise. Most of them were Italians, who are easily the most ebullient race on the planet. They had bands with them, playing folk-music , etc., they were dancing, having barbecues and such like. We had to wait a full four hours until the race proper arrived. Before that there was and endless procession of amateur cyclists grinding up this difficult climb, interspersed with an endless stream of team cars, cars bearing advertising hoardings, cars containing the Corleone family, cars which were famous for being cars and just plain cars. We waited and waited and waited. On this tour I didn't have a good camera like an SLR, as I was trying to keep the weight down, so I had a waterproof Pentax 28-90mm compact, which for a compact was pretty sophisticated. It didn't take great shots but they were much better than nothing.
The weather was nice and the music was lovely and the smell of fine Italian food was great, but four hours is four hours.

After 467,134 cars had passed, SUDDENLY there was action.

Two small men came flying up the road, apparently effortlessly. We didn't know who they were, but the Italians knew about the first one.

It was the first time that he had shown his mettle, Marco Pantani!! It was he who went on, on one occasion to win the Tour de France. He was one of the most remarkable climbers ever. Drugs tainted his record and he became depressed and died young. Cocaine appears to have had something to do with his death.

He shaved his head as he became bald very young and this emphasised the size of his ears. The Italians, typically, called him "The Elephant"
I don't know who his companion on this climb was. Possibly a Spaniard called Edo.

Next up, but I don't have his picture handy, was the great American cyclist, Andy Hampsten.

Next, I got three shots of a group which flew so fast around this hairpin, that I wasn't sure who was in it until I got the film developed.

The man at the front is Moreno Argentin. He was a great one-day classics rider, an Italian. (An Irish sportscaster read out his name once as Moreno the Argentinian! Understandably I suppose). Next the man in pink is that year's winner, Berzin, the Russian. The Yellow Jersey of the Giro d'Italia is pink if you'll pardon the Irish Bull! The third, big man, is Miguel Indurain. Big Mig. The great Spaniard who won the Giro on the two previous years and won the Tour de France on five consecutive occasions. Behind him is the Pirate, the great Italian rider Claudio Chiapucci (Key ah poo chee). He was a true racing buccaneer. Don't know who the others were.
When the race had passed we descended and went on our way, sorrowfully.

Aren't photographs wonderful things?

3 comments on “A day on the Col d'Izoard, watching the Giro d'Italia, 1994”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Hmm... your Post just prompted me to solve something that's nagged me before a few times. In which year of the 90s did the Tour de France pass through Sarlat? I've never been able to find route maps for previous tours (online). That seems strange. Anyway we camped in France for many years, and one year we watched the Tour pass by in front of our noses at Sarlat. I have a black and white photo I took of the peloton with Indurain on it – his final Tour, I think. There isn't time on the flat stages to take many photos – I managed maybe three with my Pentax MX. But I could never remember the year.

    I think I've found the answer on the Independent website at last: 1994, the same year as your Giro d'Italia (although I've also found websites that say the stage was a time trial). Hill climbs or time trials are best for spectators. Flat stages are over and done with in a few seconds, except for the entourage.

  2. Garry Lee wrote:

    I saw the tour go by on the flat in Cork (It had a stage here once) in a microsecond!

  3. julian wrote:

    the man riding with pantani is buenahora, and chiappuci was known as the devil, not the pirate.
    Thanks a lot, wonderful pictures from a wonderful, but now rare race

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