A look at how the last Swiss rider to wear yellow before Cancellara gatecrashed the sprinters' party in the first road stage of the 2002 Tour, and how he is faring five years on.
By Andy McGrath
Who was the last Swiss rider before Fabian Cancellara to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France? It was no other than Rubens Bertogliati. In the space of one kilometre in the 2002 Tour de France, Bertogliati shot out of the folds of pack and into the limelight.
The third-year Swiss pro, riding with Lampre, jumped the Telekom-led bunch inside the last 1000km to take the biggest win of his career and the yellow jersey, finishing a good few metres ahead of the rampaging sprinters. That episode remains the last time that the first road stage hasn’t culminated in a bunch sprint for victory. Five years on, Bertogliati is still riding in the top tier of the sport – for Saunier Duval – but hasn’t won since that career-defining day in Luxembourg. As Locutus prophetically said in his Jambon Awards that day: “If he never wins another race, he'll still be a cycling hero for the rest of his life.”
Bertogliati in full time-trial headwear Photo
c. Capture the Peloton
A competent time-trialist both then and now, it was a fine 19th place in the prologue which put the youngster - who also lists J.D. Salinger, Isaac Asimov and Dante Alighieri among his favourite authors - 17 seconds behind prologue winner Armstrong. However, nobody could have foreseen the unheralded Lampre man, riding his second Tour, holding off the bunch to win the opening road stage. Overnight, he went from another face in the peloton to the yellow jersey wearer, doing many interviews. He held the lead for one more day before losing it to Erik Zabel.
Still only 28 years old, Bertogliati’s best year since then has perhaps been this current one – the Italian-speaker took fourth overall in the Tour of Georgia after making it into the decisive break on day three. The last time he rode the Tour was in 2005 – three starts, three finishes.
As the memories of that glory five years ago fades further into the murky backwaters of cycling fans’ minds with every Tour, Bertogliati remains a solid and dependable team rider. Moreover, he still has the memories, the yellow jerseys and the Credit Lyonnais stage winner’s lion, among other things, to look back on proudly. It is this kind of underdog feat which, even five years down the road, is sadly and conspicously lacking in modern cycling - the pack is so well informed and regimented that the surprise lone break is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.
2002 Tour de France Stage 1 – Jambon Awards
2002 Tour de France Stage 1 – Live Coverage