Only the madness of Thibaut Pinot, his inevitable defeat at the top of Crans Montana, gives meaning to yet another sad day of the saddest Giro in which the only joy is lived, thanks to the victory of Einer Rubio, Movistar and Colombia.
Shy as the sun that barely shines and does not warm the Swiss mountains, walls of snow at the top of the Croix de Coeur, the Giro favorites ride calmly to the tran tran – defensive rhythm, they say in the jargon, marked by heavy wheelers, or wounded, from the Ineos of leader Geraint Thomas—, through the valley of Padre Ródano, which rises up there, the 74 kilometers to which the great alpine stage has been reduced by decision of the riders (90% of the peloton voted for the cut), who feared a rain that did not fall, a cold that they did not suffer.
Athletes feel empowered. At last. They are no longer slaves. Artists without rights, only to entertain, to excite, to give meaning to the whims of the organizers, believe they are liberated when they are no more than victims of the contradictions of their trade, professionals of an ancient sport in a postmodern world. Cyclists want to feel like other athletes, to be able to talk about technology, danger and the speed of tires tubeless, so abrupt their braking, of watts, of nutritional control, of calculation, and of the value of their champions, their taste for adventure. The fans, who whistle and boo from the cold gutters at the cyclists who cover two thirds of the stage by bus, and the Great Saint Bernard, above and below, speak of romanticism and epicness, of the sublimation of suffering, that they should not die the times in which you ran for hunger, anger or love, that only without breaking its roots can cycling survive. And they stand up, and listen, when Eddy Merckx speaks, the Cannibal who won his first Giro, already in 1968, defying a snowy day in the Dolomites, woolen jersey soaked and rolled up, the voice of memory. “If the rain and the wind are a problem, you better stay at home playing cards,” Merckx admonishes the Giro cyclists. “Cycling is not made for you.”
“We, the Ineos, wanted to be with the majority. Many runners have fallen ill [cuando al Giro le quedan aún ocho etapas, y las más duras, han abandonado ya 41 de los 176 ciclistas que lo iniciaron el 6 de mayo]. Another day of more than five hours in the rain, in the cold, would not have been ideal”, says the leader, Thomas. “I know that in the end the day was not so bad, but we based the day before on the weather forecasts. It’s always hard to hit.” Just a symbolic acceleration from Damiano Caruso, launched by his Colombian teammate Santiago Buitrago, two kilometers from the finish line, makes Thomas and Roglic lift their asses off the saddle and make his heart race.
It is the anniversary of the death of Luis Ocaña, 29 years ago, god of stubbornness and nonsense, the great anti-Merckx of cycling, and before the false start, at 10 in the morning, those responsible for Eolo, the team created halfway by Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso, two champions from nothing, announce with great sadness the death of their 25-year-old runner Arturo Grávalos, who two years ago underwent a first operation to remove a brain tumor that reproduced and ended with his strength, but never with his desire to live, with his spirit. His fight, that of the cyclist from Cuenca against everyone, that of Grávalos for life, is reflected in the Pinot stage, the cyclist who did not want to be a star, who feels strange in a conformist world and who is unhinged in the valley and in the last ascent, 12 kilometers, his two companions on the run, Rubio and the Ecuadorian Jefferson Cepeda. Pinot, who is the strongest, the fastest, and sets the pace, does not understand that the two Andean cyclists do not give him relief. He attacks them again and again, reaches a few meters ahead, and soon sees them again at his wheel, like someone who smokes. And so the Frenchman wears out, who wants to leave the memory of his deeds. Didn’t want romance? Rage blinds Pinot. It is the fight of stubbornness and a racing heart against lucidity, pure unreason against tactical reason. “Maybe I won’t win,” he tells Cepeda at one point, pointing at him, “but I’m sure you won’t either.” The third, Rubio, the most intelligent, won. He lets them argue. He makes them forget him. He surprises them in the last meters. It is the Giro de la Diversidad, too: 12 different riders from 11 different teams (only Evenepoel’s Soudal and Healy and Cort’s EF have repeated) have won the stage.
Rubio, 25, is a cyclist out of hunger, to get out of the poverty of peasant life in Colombia. He was a bricklayer’s laborer in Paipa, in Boyacá, and emigrated to Italy at the age of 19. He became a cyclist at the Esteban Chaves Foundation school in Bogotá, and in Italy he grew and grew to become one of the best climbers in the country’s under-23 races. In 2018 he won an uphill stage, a good alpine pass on the border with Slovenia, ahead of Pogacar; in 2019, he finished second in the Giro sub-23. In 2020, at the age of 21, he reached the WorldTour, his goal. “I went to Italy alone,” says the broker. “An Italian manager, Gino Ferri, asked me for the data from a stress test and since they were good, he took me in 2017 to a team in southern Italy, in Benevento, near Naples. At first I had a very bad time, but I managed to adapt. I lived at the home of Donato Polvere, the team manager, and his wife. They are my second parents. And my girlfriend is Italian.
A few years ago, his father, Libardo, recounted the adventures of his son, a stage winner in Crans Montana, in the well-kept Swiss mountains and their vineyards: “We are no longer farmers, now we work in recycling in Bogotá. We grew potatoes in San Pedro de Iguaque, at an altitude of 3,000 meters by Villa de Leyva, Arcabuco and Cómbita, also the lands of Nairo, but eight years ago the price of potatoes began to drop, we had a bad harvest and we couldn’t take it anymore. We sold the cow and went down to Bogotá. The countryside is dying and the government does nothing, calmly letting the peasant culture end. Our life. Ah, but we didn’t sell the land. We have a cabin there and when Einer stops cycling and comes back, we will all go back there.”
Like Rubio, some 60 Colombian cyclists have immigrated to Italy and Spain at a very young age, above all, in search of a future in the peloton.
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