It was acceptable in the 80s – Part IV

Thursday, 25 March 2010

As part of the series on the 1980s, here are five items related to Italian cycling.

1. Insularity
Italy enjoyed a vibrant cycling scene in the 1980s but it was often confined to the Italian peninsula, teams did not venture abroad as much as they do today. A lot of strong Italian riders therefore didn’t make their mark on the wider calendar. Not to say they never ventured abroad – see below – but that they didn’t get the results they deserved. For example Moreno Argentin was one of the best riders of the 1980s, picking off one day triumphs – four wins in Liège-Bastogne-Liège – and taking hilly stages in the Giro but he didn’t ride the Tour de France until 1990 when he duly won a stage.

2. Francesco Moser

Like the French, the Italians have a global image of style which doesn’t quite stand up you visit the country. But Moser rhymes with style, maybe you won’t find a better looking rider. No, this isn’t a man-love moment: I’m talking about his supreme position on the bike and the fluid pedal stroke. Moser’s aero position was part of his arsenal, no more so when he broke the hour record and used a special bike along the way.

Very much the Fabian Cancellara of his day, he was happiest in the classics but enjoyed the Grand Tours, especially when Giro organisers designed a flatter route for him in 1984 – although Fignon was leading until, the Parisian alledges, TV helicopters were used to blow Moser to a home victory. Once nicknamed “the Sheriff”, today he runs a vineyard and a bike brand and had a brief comeback in the mid-1990s to break the hour record, under the supervision of Franceso Conconi, a sports scientist and known preparatore.

3. The Circus
The Giro d’Italia stared to become a circus show during this decade. Blessed with fantastic stages, the race organisers couldn’t help but add a few gimmicks to drive up TV ratings. So we had several split stages – two stages per day – as well as a downhill time trial which offered more spectacle than sport.

4. Foreigners
Having written about Italian insularity, here’s a counter-point: we saw the arrival of new nations into the sport. If the likes of Stephen Roche, Phil Anderson, Sean Kelly and Robert Millar had already made a name for themselves in France, they solidified this reputation in Italy. In 1984 American Andy Hampsten won a mountain stage in the Giro d’Italia and by 1987 the Giro was won by Irishman Roche and Hampsten followed this up with a win in 1988.

5. World Champions
One race travelling for was the World Championships. Held at the end of August back then, the Italians were on the podium eight times in the decade with Guiseppe Saronni, Moreno Argentin and Maurizio Fondriest all winning the rainbow jersey.

6. Colnago
The Milan-based frame manufacturer was at the top of its game in this decade. With special star-shaped tubing and precise lugs, a Colnago frame always stood out. The paintwork was especially remarkable in an age when you could usually order frame in a one colours, for example a red frame or a blue one, albeit with molto chrome. But Colnago offered airbrushed finishes.

Today’s cyclists are offered a plethora of high end frames and no single name stands out, in the 1980s there was Colnago and there was the rest. The 1990s saw the C40 frame, well ahead of its time but the family business has struggled ever since, still turning out wonderful frames but against much fiercer competition.

This is part of a recurring series of things that marked cycling in the 1980s. The other entries are:
It Was Acceptable in the 80′s – Part I
It Was Acceptable in the 80′s – Part II
It Was Acceptable in the 80′s – Part III
It Was Acceptable in the 80′s – Part IV
It Was Acceptable in the 80′s – Part V
It Was Acceptable in the 80′s – Part VI
It Was Acceptable in the 80′s – Part VII
It Was Acceptable in the 80′s – Part VIII
It Was Acceptable in the 80′s – Part IX
It Was Acceptable in the 80′s – Part X

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