TheScore.ie have listed their top 50 sports articles of the year, and No.2 on the list was an article written by one of the team at Thebikecomesfirst. Graham Healy looked at what became of Roberto Visentini, Stephen Roche’s team mate and rival at the 1987 Giro d’Italia. Below is the article.
Stephen Roche’s 1987 Giro nemesis, Roberto Visentini still not happy after all these years
By Graham Healy
The clash between Stephen Roche and Roberto Visentini at the 1987 Giro d’Italia remains one of the most-talked about conflicts between team mates at a Grand Tour.
Roche’s subsequent story is familiar to all cycling fans, but whatever became of Roberto Visentini? It seems that twenty seven years later, he’s still angry about what happened.
Visentini was incredibly talented as a junior, winning the Italian championships in 1975 and later that year adding the world title to his palmares.
Three years on, at the age of just twenty, he turned professional for the Italian Vibor team. Many talented juniors have found the transition to the professional level demanding, but it didn’t appear to have been difficult for the man from Brescia.
He was entered into the Giro in his debut season, and finished in an incredible fifteenth place in addition to winning the best young rider title. The following years would see him go from strength to strength as he continued to improve on his GC position in the race, as well as winning a number of stages.
He also claimed victories in the Giro del Trentino and Tirreno-Adriatico, amongst other events.
In 1985 it looked likely he would win the Giro d’Italia, having worn the pink jersey for nine days. However, he had to pull out of the race before the end due to illness. Finally, in 1986, he would win the race overall, beating the likes of Greg LeMond and Francesco Moser.
So, he returned in 1987 as defending champion. But among his team mates on the Carrera team was Stephen Roche, who was in the form of his life.
Team management decided they would start with two team leaders. Before the race even began though there were lots of arguments between the two in the battle for supremacy within the team. It was Visentini who got the better of the Giro’s early exchanges, winning the prologue in San Remo to take the first pink jersey.
However, Roche took over the lead after the stage 3 team time trial. The jersey would again trade hands when Visentini took it after the 46-kilometre time trial to San Marino, as he trounced Roche’s time. He was now leading the Irishman by over two and a half minutes.
Roche seized his opportunity to win the race on the fifteenth stage to Sappada. Going against team orders, he attacked early on a descent. Directeur sportif Davide Boifava told Roche to desist, but he continued on. Behind, there was the farcical sight of Carrera team chasing their own man. But the chase eventually fell apart.
It was a gamble that just about paid off, as Roche managed to take over pink by five seconds from Switzerland’s Tony Rominger. Visentini meanwhile had a torrid day, and ended up losing six minutes to his team mate. His chances of a repeat victory were gone. He was livid afterwards, as were the Italian fans.
Despite receiving extreme abuse from the tifosi over the last few days, and a threat to his lead from Erik Breukink, Roche hung on to win the race overall by nearly four minutes from Robert Millar.
Visentini ended up pulling out, having broken his wrist on the penultimate stage.
Roche left the Carrera team at the end of the year. Whilst Visentini stayed on, he never won another race.
He continued to compete for another three years for a number of smaller Italian teams, but his heart was not in it any more. He retired from the sport in 1990.
The Italian was interviewed a number of years later about his career, and despite the many highlights it seems he still cannot shake off the events of the ’87 Giro. He admitted it was the biggest disappointment of his career.
“Being attacked by opponents was normal, but it was my team mate and I could just not stomach it,” he said. “I sometimes lost to star riders like Moser and Saronni, but I never complained. Roche’s attack was unacceptable.”
He wasn’t just unhappy with Roche though, but with the team management too.
“If the captain is in the lead, the team must help him. Roche, however, attacked me. But the real crime was by the team management; clueless, heartless.
“At the end of the race, I went to Davide Boifava with some plastic bags containing the bike which I had sawn into pieces.”
Asked about Roche’s assertion that Visentini had declared before the Giro that he would not go to the Tour de France to help the Irishman, he said: “All excuses to deflect blame after what had happened.”
These days, Visentini runs the family business near Brescia and doesn’t have much involvement with the sport. Earlier this year, Roche was inducted into the Giro d’Italia Hall of Fame and this seemed to rub salt into wounds for Visentini.
He was approached by an Italian journalist a couple of months ago and asked about his thoughts on Roche’s recognition. The journalist seemed to catch him off guard as it was the first he had heard of the honour for the Dubliner from the Italian race.
“What, I do not understand?” was his initial response. He then added: “The gesture of Roche remains unspeakable.”
The Italian has yet to be added to the Hall of Fame.
It seems the two former team mates will always vehemently disagree about what happened that year, but it made for an unforgettable Giro. Visentini has admitted that he suffered a psychological blow on the road to Sappada in 1987, but it seems that blow has lasted a lot longer than just one day.