When I first feasted my eyes on this photo over at lagazzettadellabici.com, it was the steely stare of Il Pirata that commanded my attention. That look says it all; “I’m suffering like a dog, the altitude is fucking with my mind, my lungs and my vision, but there’s rocket fuel coursing through my veins and I’m gonna grind these bastardos into powder as fine as the Colombian fare I’ll be sampling later.” Or maybe that’s just me…
It took me about five minutes to decipher the where, when and who of this photo. The jerseys threw me momentarily, before realising quickly that it was, of course, the Worlds. The rider second wheel had me too, especially as he is sporting the number 1 plate, usually reserved for the winner of the previous edition of the race. But no Colombian had won the title as far as I knew, so the only other explanation would be he was from the host country. Duitama. 1995. Ah yes. So who was a rider who could mix it with these guys, and carry the weight of expectation and hope that such a small country would bestow upon his slim shoulders? It could only be the somewhat evanescent Oliviero Rincon.
It all came flooding back.
At the time I was in a small Catalan village at the foot of the Pyrenees, staying with a friend of my travelling companion, and just happened to flick on the television and find the Eurosport coverage of the race. I think I’d read in the newspaper of Indurain’s win in the TT a few days before, so was aware the road race was coming up. Steve and I decided that copious amounts of Voll Damm were in order, and we settled in for the long haul. As did the protagonists. Seven hours plus at up to 3000 metres high? No problemo.
Pantani always exuded style on the bike. Check out the humungous Brikos perched on his sunburned, bald pate, the Spinaci bars, the semi-deep rim rear wheel. The white socks, turned grey from the road grime splashed up courtesy of a thunderstorm; he even managed to pull off garishly-patterned bar tape somehow.
There is so much more going on in this photo; Big Mig and Rincon either waiting to make a move or just waiting for Pirata’s cruelty to abate at the summit for another lap, the sweet steel forks, the caps, the hairnets. Pure Awesome all round.
What do you see?