In Italy, cycling has become a “specialized sport”

The last timeIl Canto degli Italiani, The Italian national anthem was released on May 29, 2016. In Turin, Vincenzo Nibali won the second Giro in his career, after winning the Giro (2010) and the Tour de France (2014). Probability of seeing Sicilians in pink at the end of 105And The Tour of Italy (6-29 May) is thin, but remains a reference for tifosi, local media and a good part of the peloton.

that it “The only great athlete to have appeared on the Italian cycling scene since 2008”, recalls Matteo Monaco, Secretary of the Italian Society for the History of Sports (SISS). However, in a country that has spawned many cycling champions and made them icons, Vincenzo Nibali has not reached that status, he explains.

In 2000, when Marco Pantani, the “pirate”, attacked in the final Alpine stage of the Tour de France, in Morzine (Haute-Savoie), All of Italy stamped on his sofa ». TV news cuts out and the live broadcast of the event begins three hours early. Fourteen years later, when Nabali triumphed on the Champs Elysees, outside the circle of cycling enthusiasts, ‘Public interest is practically nothing’.

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After the death of Pantani [en 2004]Something has changed in our perceptionsummarizes Mr. Monaco. Until then, cycling and its champions had been part of the collective imagination. Today it has become a niche sport, although at all Italian races there are always thousands of fans on the streets. »

The atypical champion, easily recognizable by his shaven head, prominent ears and earring in his left ear, put an end, in 1998, to the thirty-three years of Italy’s lack of a Tour de France. Even better, he signed the Giro-Grande Boucle double, which only six riders before him had achieved. A year later, he was eliminated from the Giro, the day before the finale, when he dominated the event. In question: A blood test that reveals a hematocrit level above the permissible limit. The episode will hasten the end of his career. In 2004, he was found dead in a hotel room after an overdose.

Impact of the Pantani Affair

“There is no doubt that the ‘Pantani Affair’ undermined and changed popular sentiment towards cycling in Italyfollows Matteo Monaco. Phrases like “cyclists are all addicted to drugs” are becoming more and more common in bars. » Other cases, such as that of Ricardo Rico, will incite the public’s mistrust a little more.

“A sports legend is often formed before the hero himself”, argues the SISS secretary. Damiano Cunego paid the price: when he won the Giro, a few months after the pirate’s disappearance, the Italians called him his successor. The interested party will find it difficult to meet expectations despite good results.

Why did the story never take Vincenzo Nibali? Matteo Moanco offers several explanations. The Sicilian’s lack of plays first, when Mario Pantani exaggerated in the slightest performance: removing a bandana before running or tearing off his diamond nose during a duel with Russian Pavel Tonkov … His regularity at the time – “His career has been marked by the idea of ​​continuous progress, not by the immediate athletic prosperity we observe among us [Tadej] Pojacar, [Peter] sajan or [Remco] Evenepoel”, The SISS Secretary is coming forward.

The competition, at last. The element may be the most specific: “All the Italian cyclists who became legends had equally strong opponents: Bartali Cope, Saroni Moser, Cipollini Zabel, and then Armstrong and Ulrich Lipantani.” Despite his successes – four majors and three classics – Nabali has always been a divisive athlete: “On the one hand, those who said that it was a phenomenon, and on the other hand, those who said that he won only because of the absence of the strongest cyclists.”

“The cyclist’s championship concept has been lost”

Beyond the hero’s culture, “The perception of the cyclist’s ‘championship’, which made the greatness of this sport in the past, has also been lost.”, confirms Mr. Monaco. During the 1998 Tour de France, 15And The stage between Grenoble and Les Deux-Alpes was epic. In the pouring rain, Marco Pantani took power in favor of the race’s favorite, Jan Ulrich, the victim of a fiasco.

This was the day It was published in Italian newspapers as a ‘tragedy’ – a mixture of legend and tragedy.. Eight years later, when the Giro Vincenzo Nibali in 2016 blazed for more than four minutes over his direct competitors in the general classification, only cycling fans cheered.

Perhaps we should see there as a result of the evolution of cycling, which the representatives of today are doing “Now they seem to be pawns in the hands of their managers, sons of a strategy taught by computers Instead of instinct and direct challenge from man to man asks Mr. Monaco. Who thinks so “To rekindle the passion, a cyclist must come out of stage races, perhaps be a bit daring, and know how to fuel people’s minds.”

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