GIANT’S CAUSEWAY, IRELAND (VN) — Stephen Roche, the Irish rider who won the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, and world road championship in 1987, was inducted into the Giro d’Italia Hall of Fame at an event in Northern Ireland Tuesday.
At Giant’s Causeway, the coastal UNESCO World Heritage Site on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, where the Giro will pass in May during its Grande Partenza, Roche spoke of his 1987 Giro victory, and of the significance of the Italian race leaving mainland Europe for the first time, to spend three days on the island of Ireland, on May 9-11.
“I am very honored by this award because the Giro d’Italia always has a special place in my heart,” Roche said. “The 1987 Giro was a big victory and it opened up that year’s streak of magic.”
Roche, who hails from Dublin, is one of only two riders to have accomplished pro cycling’s “triple crown” — the other is cycling’s all-time greatest rider, Belgian Eddy Merckx.
Roche also became the third rider to be inducted into the Giro’s Hall of Fame, along with Merckx, in 2012, and Felice Gimondi, in 2013. In total Roche spent 18 days in the Giro’s maglia rosa, and he became the first Irishman, and the first English-speaker, to win the Italian grand tour.
A professional from 1981 to 1993, in 1987 Roche became the fifth rider to win the Giro and Tour in the same year, along with Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Merckx, and Bernard Hinault — a select group that has subsequently been joined by Miguel Indurain and Marco Pantani.
Pier Bergonzi, editor in chief of La Gazzetta dello Sport, joined Roche onstage Tuesday, along with Italian national team director Davide Cassani, who was Roche’s Carrera teammate during his Giro and Tour victories.
The main topic of the day was Roche’s 1987 Giro victory, which was made famous for extreme intra-squad tension between him and his Carrera teammate, Roberto Visentini.
On stage 15, into Sappada, Roche famously went against team orders and attacked Visentini, the race leader by over three minutes. On that stage, Roche followed a move on the descent of Forcella di Monte Rest, the first of three climbs, and rode into a breakaway — and away from his teammate.
Visentini overshot a turn on the Monte Rest descent, and chaos ensued as Roche drove open the time gap. Carrera team director Davide Boifava, and Roche’s mechanic, Patrick Valcke, both attempted to talk Roche into giving up his exploit, which he defiantly refused.
Roche finished the stage six minutes ahead of a furious Visentini, whose three-minute lead had turned into a three-minute deficit.
Carrera team manager Franco Belleri, was furious, and threatened to send Roche home from the Giro. Visentini later threatened to crash Roche while they crested a climb, a scene that was captured by television cameras and only added to the tension between the fans and inside the Carrera team.
Roche won the Giro, but spent the final week facing the scorn of the Italian tifosi, who, he later said, “spit rice and wine” on him for the rest of the race. Visentini crashed and broke his wrist on the penultimate stage and did not finish the race.
“According to the press release, only Visentini could be the Carrera captain for the Giro, but in reality, my achievements from the start of that season gave me the credentials to get a good result myself,” Roche said. “It was really a great success. For the first time I was elevated to the rank of cycling champion.”
(A detailed account of Roche’s 1987 Giro victory, titled “The Sappada Affair,” can be found here.)
Back at Giant’s Causeway, Roche thanked Cassani for his professionalism during a divisive Giro that saw Carrera’s loyalties split.
Cassani returned the praise, saying, “I think [Roche] was one of the smarter riders I have ever known, very capable of managing his own efforts. I learned a lot from Stephen when he was my captain in the Carrera team. I believe that his entry into the Hall of Fame of the Giro d’Italia is fully deserved.”
Roche’s son, Nicolas, is a professional with Tinkoff-Saxo; Garmin-Sharp’s Daniel Martin is his nephew, the son of Roche’s sister, Maria.
Though he never failed a drug test, Roche has faced recurrent doping allegations as the result of an Italian court case against Francesco Conconi, the sports doctor and scientist who was a mentor to Michele Ferrari and Luigi Cecchini.
Several Italian newspapers have alleged that Conconi provided Roche and other Carrera riders with EPO. An official judicial investigation indisputably found that Roche was administered EPO in 1993; however, due to statute of limitations, he has never faced a sanction.
Roche has steadfastly denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs.