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Ochowicz: On Hampsten’s big day at the Giro, the start looked promising

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (VN) – On Sunday Jim Ochowicz stood outside the BMC Racing bus in Stateline, Nevada, while a group of team directors and riders negotiated with race organizers over alterations made to the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California. Twenty-four years ago, Ochowicz stood atop the Passo Gavia in northern Italy, waiting to hand eventual race winner Andy Hampsten a new set of clothes as snow piled up during the queen stage of the Giro d’Italia.

Ochowicz said Monday that while the conditions atop the Gavia were worse than those encountered by teams driving to the abandoned finish at Northstar Resort at Tahoe, the Italian climb was clear of snow when the race set out on June 5, 1988.

“The difference was that in the Giro, the conditions were deteriorating overnight, but in the morning it was raining, not snowing,” said Ochowicz. “It was raceable conditions. Even the Gavia was quite clear and not snowing when we left in the morning.”

According to Ochowicz, there was no discussion that morning in Italy of canceling the stage.

Hampsten, Ochowicz’s GC hope for 7-Eleven, cleared the top of the climb at 8,599 feet in second, behind Johan Van der Velde. With television helicopters down, the famous photograph of Hampsten covered in snow is the only visual proof of a miserable day high in the Alps. A 25km descent in the wet cold followed the summit. When Van der Velde pulled out, current Rabobank manager Erik Breukink took the stage and Hampsten the maglia rosa.

“As the day progressed, the conditions deteriorated and so by the time the riders were moving over the pass it was much worse conditions than (Sunday),” said Ochowicz. “But that was in the middle of the bike race.”

When asked whether the call by organizers to call off Sunday’s stage with snow falling on-and-off all day, Ochowicz stopped short of praising — or critiquing — the move.

“I don’t think you can ever say (it was right). You have to do it to give you an answer. I think they made a call and whether it’s a right call or a wrong call, I don’t think it matters anymore,” said Ochowicz. “It’s done and I think they made the right decision in their own minds and that’s all that counts. Whatever their reasons were, I’m fine with that.”