Giro d'Italia - Brits in the 2008 Giro
If this year's Giro d’Italia, which starts on May 10, is anything to go by there
is a veritable flood of British talent. All told the Brits at the Giro number
six riders, one team, and one Director Sportif.
Editor at Large
Back in the Seventeenth Century it was the done thing for the British
aristocratic young to go on a Grand Tour of Europe, visiting the ruins of
ancient Greece and the art galleries of Italy. It was a big adventure and not
without a degree of peril - if you ran out of money you would be hard pressed
finding a Western Union back in 1770 - and transport wasn’t the best, hours
sitting on under-padded seats or saddles, dubious hotels, as for the all those
Actually, there are still a few Brits for whom this must sound a familiar
story, except now there are ATMs. These are those young British professional
cyclists who leave home and family for a life on the roads of Europe. The era of
low-cost airlines and budget hotels may have smoothed out some of the rough
spots, but it is still a life which requires something a bit special to survive
in a world where you are both culturally and linguistically an outsider. And
alongside above average athletic talent it helps if you are a bit of a maverick.
These factors are probably why until recently relatively few Brits have made
a career in Europe, and when they do they tend to be well known, at least to
cycling fans. Things are changing though, and if this year’s Giro d’Italia,
which starts on May 10, is anything to go by there is a veritable flood of
British talent. All told the Brits at the Giro number six riders, one team, and
one Director Sportif.
30 year old Charles Wigelius the veteran of the Brits having ridden 6 Grand
Tours. Photo ©2008 Mark
That’s a big change in just one year. In both 2006 and 2007 just one Brit
contested the Giro, Charley Wegelius and Steve Cummings respectively. In 2003
there were three, followed by none in 2004, and two in 2005.
It’s part of an on-going trend to greater internationalization of cycling. In
the past the Grand Tours had a heavy national bias, but this year of the 22
teams, just four are Italian registered, while of the 198 riders merely 54 are
Italian, down substantially from 82 in 2003.
Does this foretell the future for British presence in Professional Road
Racing? Perhaps, but it depends on whether you think it has a direct link to how
Briton’s are performing on the track. Certainly most of the current crop of
cyclists has made its mark in that arena. That makes sense. Britain is a crowded
island with a mediocre road-racing scene – no thanks to the authorities. While
one has to applaud those regions who have embraced the Tour of Britain, this
enthusiasm has yet to be extended to other races and throughout the rest of the
season. The Track offers an oasis for the sport. It also allows the sport to
collect and focus talent in one place.
2008 World Madison Champions Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins.
Photo ©2008 Mark
As for what else makes the British professional cyclist in Europe differ as
sportsmen from many of their countrymen - it is the hunger to win. The success
of British cyclists at the World track championships was as much down to the
aggressive desire to take apart the opposition and win as physical ability,
Shane Sutton’s Aussie influence playing no small part. If this could be mirrored
on the football pitch or the cricket field then there would be less anguish over
results in the British press.
So who are these Brits at the Giro? As riders there are: Mark Cavendish;
Bradley Wiggins; Thomas Geraint; Steven Cummings; Charley Wegelius; David
Millar. In addition there is Sean Yates as a Directeur Sportif.
born 21 May 1985, Isle of Man. Team: High Road (formerly T-Mobile).
Cavendish hails from the Isle of Man, a place famous for its TT motorcycle
races. Together with team mate Bradley Wiggins he is current UCI World Madison
Champion. While he appears to have officially started as a pro in 2007, he
actually began road-racing with Sparkasse in 2005 before moving to T-Mobile for
the 2006 season.
Cavendish is an out and out sprinter, having made his name on the track as
part of the GB squad. He has adapted to road-racing with apparent ease, winning
eleven times in 2007, and with a further five wins in 2008, including the
Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen and the prologue of the Tour of Romandie. Of all the
Brits Cavendish has the best chance of a stage win. In addition, though it might
not happen this year, if he continues to improve at the same rate he has a
chance at the Points jersey too.
Mark Cavendish prepares for the Tour de France prologue in London in 2007.
Photo ©2008 Mark
The really big question mark over this last ambition will be his ability to
stay the distance in a major tour, especially given his self-confessed inability
to climb. His desire to win is high, but if he suffers the sort of start he did
in the last year’s Tour de France when he crashed during the first two stages
his morale could take a terminal battering.
born April 28, 1980 - Team: High Road.
Wiggins was born in Ghent, Belgium, to an Australian Father, though he spent
most of youth growing up in London. His more public successes have been on the
track, with medals at both the Sydney and Athens Olympics, as well as at
numerous World Track Championships. At Athens he became only the second Briton
in Olympic history to win three medals at one games equaling Mary Rand’s haul at
the Tokyo in 1964, with gold in the 4km individual pursuit, silver in the team
pursuit, and bronze with Rob Hayles in the Madison.
Despite his lengthy roll of honour on the track Wiggins’ road-racing palmares
haven’t been quite so spectacular. Since turning pro the weight of expectation
has been on him doubling up with David Millar as Britain’s best chance for wins
in the prologue and individual time-trial. Certainly he doesn’t seem to have
found his ideal team set-up.
After a false start with the Linda McCartney team in 2000, Wiggins moved to
Française des Jeux. After two years he moved to Roger Legeay’s Credit Agricole
where, in 2005, he had his first experience of the Giro. For the 2006 and 2007
seasons he moved on to Cofidis. Whether the 2008 Giro will allow him to deliver
on these hopes is to be seen. The chances of such success are arguably better
than they have ever been. High Road is a markedly different culture to the
“old-school” French teams, and he might find a better home amongst its more
Born 25 May 1986, Cardiff, Wales. Team: Barloworld
Continuing the British track-turned-road-racer tradition, Thomas is a member of
the current World Champion pursuit squad, which also includes Bradley Wiggins.
After riding for a season with Recycling.co.uk, he joined Barlowworld in 2007
and quickly saw action in his first Tour de France, finishing 140th on General
Classification. Given his team pursuit skills Thomas’ main duties during the
Giro are likely to be as part of the train getting sprinter Robert Hunter to the
front of the pack, though his ability to sprint may be put given a chance to
Born 19 March 1981 in Wirral, Merseyside. Team: Barloworld.
After three years as a pro, Cummings finally secured his first win as a
professional road racer this year by taking Stage 2 of the 2008 Giro della
Provincia di Reggio Calabria. Having started with Landbouwkrediet-Colnago he
switched to Discovery Channel 2007 before moving to Barloworld in 2008. As a
two-time World Pursuit Champion (2005, 2006) and Olympic Silver Medalist (Athens
2004) he will be a key part of the aforementioned sprint train.
Charles ("Charly") Wegelius:
Born 26 April 1978 in Espoo, Finland. Team: Liquigas.
Wegelius is regarded by many as the “forgotten man” as far as Brits in the
pro-peloton are concerned. This partly down to the fact he has spent practically
his entire professional career in Italy and partly due to an incident in 2005
which estranged him from many in British Cycling.
Charly Wegelius - Liquigas Photo ©2008 Mark
His affinity with Italy started when he joined the great Mapei-Quickstep as a
neo-pro in 2000. He then moved to DiNardi-Colpack when Mapei quit the sport, and
thence to Liquigas in 2005. The incident which marred his relationship with
British Cycling took place at the 2005 World Road Race Championships, when he
was accused of supporting his Italian professional team-mates at the expense of
GB team leader Roger Hammond.
Wegelius’ Grand Tour experience is strong having ridden all three. His debut
in the Tour de France last year saw him finish in 45th spot, by far the highest
placed Briton. Wegelius’ strength lies primarily as a climber supporting the
likes of Andrea Noe and Franco Pellizotti.
Born 4 January 1977 in Mtarfa, Malta. Team: Slipstream-Chipotle
Born in Malta to Scottish parent’s Millar is Britain’s pre-eminent time-trialist,
and the only British rider to have worn all three Tour de France jerseys. David
is also the current national champion of both the road and time trial
disciplines. Touted as Britain’s next hope for Tour de France glory following on
from Chris Boardman, Millar initially delivered by winning the 2000 prologue of
the Tour de France. Unhappily, the hope was short-lived, with crashes and
mechanical problems dogging his attempts in the following three events. His
problems culminated with his admission of doping in 2004 which brought his
career to a juddering halt with a resulting two year suspension.
David Millar - Tour de France 2007 returned to racing in the yellow jersey of
Saunier Duval/Prodir. Photo ©2008 Mark
Millar returned to competition in 2006 with the Saunier Duval-Prodir team,
winning stage 14 of the 2006 Vuelta a España. Now with Slipstream, in which he
has a shareholding, Millar is looking at his first Giro d’Italia. Whether he
will come anywhere near emulating his namesake and fellow Scot, Robert Millar,
is a moot point. He will have to improve considerably on his 59th position
overall in last year’s Tour de France to stand a chance of a high placing. A
more realistic outcome will be a brace of his specialist TT stage wins.
Directeur Sportif - Team: Astana
We can’t end this analysis without mentioning Sean Yates, the cyclist’s cyclist
and undoubtedly one of the best domestiques seen in the pro-peloton. Yates is
why the term “domestique” is a compliment, and a word synonymous with suffering
with dignity. Few sports have such a role - perhaps only the offensive line of
an American Football team come close.
1994 Tour de France Sean Yates in yellow leads team mate Lance Armstrong.
After competitive life with teams like Fagor, Linda McCartney,
Motorola and finally with Discovery Channel, during which time he won stages of
the Tour de France, Veulta and Paris Nice, Yates is now Director Sportif with
Astana . This isn’t his first foray as DS at the Giro d’Italia, having taken the
Linda McCartney squad to it in 2000. He’ll be hoping that the future will be lot
“Maglia Rosa” than last time.
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