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Third Place  - Patrick Sharp

The 2002 Giro d'Italia: The Last Gasp or A New Hope?

The Giro d'Italia this year was a war of attrition, as Grand Tours in cycling always are. However, this year's Giro had a decidedly modern twist, as the race was as much a moral war of attrition as a physical one. We have seen this too often in recent years: riders ranging from major contenders to minor domestiques are weeded out for drug use and improper conduct during the course of the race. While mountain passes, painful crashes, and various illnesses claimed the lion's share of the dropouts this year, this recurrence of questionable behavior seemed to overshadow Italy's greatest race. The fall of Garzelli, Simoni, and Casagrande--the three hot favorites at the starting ramp in Groningen--was a little too reminiscent of the Pantani exclusion in 1999 and the San Remo raids that claimed Frigo last year. In fact, the raids that clouded the conclusion of last year's Giro continued to cast thunderbolts into the peloton of the 2002 edition before the race ever hit the road.

Doping, Dopers, and Plain Old Dopes

Just days before the Giro began, seven riders were sanctioned as a result of the San Remo raids. Most notable among these were Panaria leader Giuliano Figueras and Alessio sprinter Endrio Leoni, both major protagonists in many stages of recent Giros. Several other riders began the race with disciplinary action still pending, including former winners Ivan Gotti and Marco Pantani. As the "Euro Giro" swung its way into Italy, new drug violations rocked an already reeling peloton as Panaria's Nicola Chesini was arrested after Stage 5. Ironically, Chesini was Figueras' last-minute replacement; he was arrested in an ever-widening probe of the Panaria team by Italian police. There was also the revelation that two minor riders--Panaria's Faat Zakirov and Mercatone Uno's Roberto Sgambelluri--tested "non-negative" for the EPO-like drug Aranesp. Most disturbing of all was the news that Maglia Rosa wearer Stefano Garzelli, the winner of Stages 2 and 5, had tested "non-negative" (the most annoying euphemism in recent memory) for Probenecid, an obscure gout medication. When the counter-analysis confirmed the initial findings, all of these riders were given the boot. The drugs found in the tests of Zakirov and Sgambelluri were clearly performance-enhancing, and they obviously deserved severe punishment. However, the bizarre nature of the Garzelli case lent an air of tragedy to his expulsion. Probenecid was by all accounts an archaic masking agent, not a performance-enhancer. If anything, it would seem to impede the rider who took it because it led to frequent urination, a problem that reportedly plagued both Garzelli and his Mapei teammate Paulo Bettini on Stage 2, the stage in which Garzelli tested positive. So Garzelli was either the worst doper in the history of the peloton, or he had been taken down by something else...chance? medical incompetence? an anti-Mapei conspiracy? Speculations of a frame-up that began to swirl following Garzelli's expulsion after Stage 9 reached a crescendo after a Mapei rider discovered a mysterious ampoule in his baggage following Stage 2 of the Tour of Belgium. 

Long before the dust had settled from "the Garzelli affair," a new affair took down another leader: before Stage 10, it was announced that Saeco's Gilberto Simoni had tested "non-negative" (grrrrrr) for cocaine of all things. This test had been conducted in late April outside of competition, and Simoni blamed the results on a pre-test trip to the family dentist. Because the test was not taken during the Giro, Simoni technically could not be kicked out of the race. This didn't stop team directors and race organizers from pressuring Simoni's team to withdraw him from the race voluntarily. In seeming answer to his critics, Simoni blazed up the Campitello Matese to win Stage 11 in a two-up sprint with the wheel-sucking Francesco Casagrande. However, while Simoni was tearing up the road, medical experts were tearing up his explanations. It appears that the metabolites in his blood were consistent with cocaine use, and not with its various cousin-drugs used in small-town Italian dentistry. Before Stage 12, Saeco pulled Simoni from the race.

With the other major favorites now gone, it seemed clear that Fassa Bortolo's Casagrande had a clear shot at taking his first Giro. However, after struggling on the climbs in Stage 13 and getting destroyed in the Stage 14 time trial, "Scarecrow" Casagrande's frustration tipped him over the edge. In apparent anticipation of the upcoming World Cup, Casagrande decided to muscle-up with his best hooligan moves on a small Colombian rider from the Selle Italia squad. After getting an earful from his teammates and other riders, Casagrande was shown the exit by the race jury. Meanwhile, the pathetic Pantani continued to drag at the back of the peloton, seemingly weighed down by the latest looming drug crisis that threatened to finally end his long and tainted tenure as Italy's most enigmatic cyclist. The former Champion would finally put his Giro--and possibly his career--to sleep on Stage 16, the first of two leg-breaking days in the Dolomites. 

Meanwhile, back on the road...

With the main favorites and the major scandals exercised from the race, what we discovered in the Dolomites was that there had been one hell of a race going on for over two weeks. The media was likely somewhat to blame for obscuring this fact, though of course the media wouldn't have had anything to sensationalize if all of the riders had followed the code of conduct they had supposedly pledged themselves to uphold. Still, once the scandals were over, several dramatic and key moments in the race quickly came back into central focus. The first was Tyler Hamilton's horrid luck keeping upright, going down three times by the end of first week. The crash in the Prologue and Hamilton's frightful slam onto the pavement on a Stage 5 descent had many writing off his already slim chances for a podium position. Despite suffering a broken bone in his upper arm, Hamilton fought back with grit and determination that would prove one of the major revelations of the cycling season so far: he limited his losses on all of the major climbs and dominated the Stage 14 time trial. With the constant aid of his powerful CSC-Tiscali team, he went into the final time trial within one-and-a-half minutes of the leader, and his second-place finish in Milan was nothing short of heroic. Hamilton not only showed that he has the talent and form to be a champion, but also that he has the poise, leadership, and intestinal fortitude to dominate a Grand Tour some day soon.

The assault of the English post-colonials was also led by Mapei's Aussie, Cadel Evans. Originally assigned to lead Garzelli through the mountains, Evans suddenly found himself at the front of the race. The former mountain biker climbed and time-trialed with the best of them, taking the Maglia Rosa at the end of the first day in the Dolomites. A rookie in Grand Tours, Evans ran out of gas on the next stage, struggling to simply finish the last climb with the occasional push from one of Italy's cycling-crazed tifosi. Strangely, Evans' seeming failure on the climb turned into a moment that showed he is clearly marked for greatness: when his pain was at its peak, his lead decimated and his legs screaming in pain during the last 2 kilometers, Evans spotted Tyler Hamilton riding back down the hill from the finish line towards his team car. Though it looked as though Evans was having difficulty simply staying upright, he still managed to catch Hamilton's eye and give him the thumbs up as he rode by. That cheeky gesture of good humor and sportsmanship spoke volumes about Evans' poise, class, and mental toughness. With the talent and character he showed throughout the race, the young Evans will give Australians something other than sprint finishes to cheer about for quite a while.

Speaking of the sprints, Evans' countryman Robbie McEwen of Lotto gave Mario "SuperFabio" Cipollini his only serious competition in the flatter stages of the Giro. While the beautiful Cipollini was sprinting his way into legend with the help of his wild zebra-men, McEwen was displaying the resurgent form that must have his former squad Domo kicking themselves. With victories on Stages 4 and 10, as well as a handful of top three finishes, McEwen lit up the pavement before retiring to prepare for the Tour de France. As for the blond old man of sprinting, Cipollini powered to six stage victories to take his career total to forty, one short of the magical record held by Alfredo Binda. Cipo not only came through in the sprints, however, as he stood tall and condemned the erratic behavior of Casagrande, helping facilitate the "Scarecrow's" expulsion from the race. As a talent, a fashion plate, and a leader of the peloton, the Tuscan playboy showed conclusively that the Tour de France will be an impoverished race without him.

Also obscured by the scandals was the valiant charge of the pink guard, led by the last of the great Cold War wonders, Jens Heppner. Taking the Maglia Rosa on Stage 6 from the tainted Garzelli, Heppner and his powerful Telekom squad held it through hell and high water before finally losing contact with the leaders on Stage 16's Passo Pordoi, the Cima Coppi (or highest point) of this year's race. And then there was the helium-filled Mexican Julio Perez, who floated up the tallest mountains with good-natured ease. His victories on Stages 13 and 16, as well as his domination of the Maglia Verde, single-handedly redeemed the reputation of his sponsor Panaria while half his team withered under police scrutiny. And finally, who can forget the winner, Paolo Savoldelli? When he flew off the front during the first stage in the Dolomites, many wondered "where had he been?" A quick glance through the results sheets told the story: he'd been with the leaders the entire race. While Savoldelli's abilities on the descents have never been questioned, the eerily young-looking Italian had finally overcome two years of back problems to find he could fly uphill as well. While Hamilton, Evans, and last year's scandal Dario Frigo struggled up the final climb of the race, Savoldelli soared into the Maglia Rosa. He confirmed his form two days later with the time trial of his life, beating both Hamilton and Alessio's Pietro Caucchioli en route to his first Giro victory in Milan.

What scandals?

While many bemoan the continued controversies surrounding doping in cycling, the sport has never been so healthy. While major American pastimes like baseball and football are rampant with drug abuse, there are few checks to catch the cheaters and preserve the integrity of those sports. In Europe and elsewhere, football (or soccer, as we like to say) has the same sort of relatively unchecked behavior. Cycling has so many doping scandals because, guess what? they actually have taken a serious stand against doping. In the Giro, what stands out is not that there were cheaters, but rather that the cheaters were brought to justice. Despite the questions still surrounding the Garzelli affair, the bottom line remains that the rules were upheld and the clean riders were allowed to continue the race. Of course the media, the police, and many race organizers play up the doping scandals for their own selfish purposes--see the ongoing French "investigation" of the obviously clean U.S. Postal squad for an example of how "doping" scandals can go wrong. But what remains at the end of the Giro is not the degraded image of tarnished champions, but rather the glorious spectacle of 140 clean riders fighting to the finish in Milan. With the dopers, hooligans, and idiots left in their wake, men like Hamilton, Savoldelli, Perez and Cipollini crossed the line as champions. They had raced on the roads of Italy the way they were supposed to: with flair, passion, and toughness, and most importantly with respect--respect not only for the fans and their fellow riders, but also respect for themselves and the sport of cycling. 




Third Place  - Susan Westemeyer

The Giro: A rider looks back at days of storm and sunshine

Well, the Giro is over -- three weeks of torture. My bottom hurts, my knees hurt, my elbow hurts where I fell and left all the skin on the pavement, everything hurts. I haven't had a good night's sleep in over a week, I'm still sniffling from the cold I caught from the cruddy weather and I'm not sure I ever want to face another plate of spaghetti. And rain, rain, rain and cold -- how can it possibly be so cold in Italy in May?

But there were sunny days, too -- literally sunny and warm. Seeing old friends again, catching up on everything -- who's going to change teams, who's not, who's getting married or divorced or having a baby. The satisfaction at the success of the "oldies" Heppner and Cipollini. And then there's just the sheer pleasure of racing, the inner joy at not only taking part in the Giro, but in finishing it, too.

If you look for my name in the final standings, you'll have to go way down the list. I'm satisfied with my performance though -- I acutally did better than I had expected. My stage results were about the same. A lot of people back home will say, Well, you sure didn't set the world on fire, did you? No, but that's not what I set out to do. I did what I get paid for: supporting my captain, pulling him up the mountain, riding in the wind for him, fetching water bottles and helmets and rain jackets, and so on. And I did it well. He said so, and my Sporting Director said so. That is my reward, and it is enough.

There were some very dark clouds over this Giro, mainly dealing with drugs. Why does a not-so-successful rider take a drug that will supposedly help him, and then still not ride well? Does a rider use cocaine to enhance his performance or does he just snort it for "fun" -- and that during the second most important cycling race of the year? Is another rider showing his true colors by purposely shoving an opponent into the roadside barrier and injuring him so badly that he has to go to the hospital, or did he snap under the incredible pressure put upon him to win the Giro? I don't know the answers to these questions, I guess nobody does except the people involved, and I wonder if even they know. 

A certain macabre humor developed in the peleton -- how many minutes would The Pirate lose today in the mountains? Which of the favorites would be thrown out next? And for what? Every time it was announced that another big name would not be starting that day, we all automatically thought: Oh, what did he take that he doesn't want to get caught for? And whether the race officials "disqualified" them or their team "removed" them from the race -- did they jump or were they pushed -- what difference does it make? The end result is the same.

The sun came out for the last few days and made everything positive again. In fact, once all of the top names were eliminated, it became an exciting, suspenseful race -- a real race, not just the crowning of a single, dominant rider. How long could "Grandpa" Heppner hold on to the pink jersey? How many stages could the Chief Zebra win? How our hearts bled for young Cadel Evans -- but we knew that losing the pink jersey as he did was a more important lesson for him than having won it. And who would win in the end -- who would fly higher -- the american eagle or the italian falcon? 

Yes, the Giro is over, and I'm thankful for the rest period I have now.  But I'm also thankful for having been a part of this scandal-ridden, fabulous, exciting and unique extravaganza -- the Giro d'Italia, with all of its dark clouds and sunshine!




Third Place  - Francesco Grande



  • "Hawk" Savoldelli
  • "Sir" Tyler Hamilton
  • "King Lion" Cipollini
  • "Cadel" Evans
  • "Big House" Casagrande
  • "Gibo" Simoni
  • "Bald" Garzelli
  • "Pirate Pantani"

Once upon a long time ago an old king of 85 years was sitting on his throne looking for a worthy heir. The wheel of his life was almost all turned and the steps he was making were day by day more heavy, now coming near to a 18% climb.

He hadnít silver armor or wondeful and precious dress, just a pink, thin shirt, but this was the symbol of his power, the garment that showed to everybody he was the chief of bikers in old land called "Stivale"!

So he decided to call a meeting of all the epic knights of bike, to make a competition and finally see who was the best in running with fantastic bike-machine; the fastest would have been the new King of Italian land.

There were many pretenders to the throne, the most important were perhaps the mountain man called "Gibo" and the bald-head of young Garzelli. They began to run well but they were soon defeated by the monster of Doping who kept them in its shifty arms making them loose all power and they even lost love coming from the people.

Yes, people were still with them, they loved and respected their heroes, but couldnít forgive them the way they went into "wizards" men who promised them easy triumph and offered new stronger blood for some of their soul!

They were obliged to give up, and the same had to do the old "Pirate", who was nomore the important man he was before making agreements with the devil...

There was still a great, good guy which name reminded power and force....he was called "Big House" but he lost his hopes following "fashion" and prefering green dress to the pink one! The worst was that to get this he thought to kick a poor, kind man who was only passing by there.... The old King said him: "Go home, youíre no worthy at all, i donít wanna see you anymore!".

So it began the tale of the young man from nowhere land. His name was Cadel and he seemed the strongest man till he reached his human limit just by meeting "Folgaria Gods"....it was cruel but he went back to normal life!...at least heís young, he can even grow up...

Later It seemed sure at that time that the new King of Pink would have become the "scudiero" of Emperor of France, Sir Tyler Hamilton from New Continent, but the surprise was still near the corner, and the clock that was always been his friends turned its pointers back against him!

So it appeared from the clouds a man similar to Hawk, master of downhill and able to come down on dive like a hell! At least he was born in rocky mountains of the Alps and he breathed pure air and climb powder since he was born, and all seemed natural to him..... he rode the bycicle-machine like a Hero of the past and in the end was the first coming to the 85-old man!

The King finally had found his worthy heir and gave him as wife Lady Victoria! Glory even for other king, Lion King of Sprinter-Country! The Hawk was now all in pink and the people of Italland lived all happy anong the years!

Is it all and only a fable?



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