To describe Piotr Ugrumov’s professional career as fleeting may be a tad on the unfair side. While he enjoyed a good deal of success in his early years, he also seemed to burst onto the bigger stage of the Giro and Tour from relative obscurity, at least to this observer. Looking back through his results though, reveals a talented climber and time triallist who used those assets to pick up a win at the Baby Giro (the Giro d’Italia for amateurs) in 1984, backed up with the Young Rider classification in his first crack at the Giro in 89, 8th on GC in 1990, and 2nd behind Miguel Indurain in 1993. But it wasn’t until 1994 that the Latvian made his mark on Le Tour, and when he did, it really did appear to be a remarkable performance.
This was also the year that the Gewiss Ballan team ran roughshod over the peloton, coinciding with their collaboration with Dr Michele Ferrari. Berzin had also ‘come from nowhere’ to win the Giro, and the now infamous 1-2-3 at Fleche Wallone was in the books with a huge asterisk next to it. With Ugrumov skipping the Giro, he came into the Tour with a fire in his belly, and rocket fuel coursing through his veins. Still, by the time he’d appeared on the radar in Stage 17, where the Colombian Rodriguez sucked his wheel all the way to the summit finish at Val Torrens before taking an classless win, Ugrumov only seemed a bit player in the bigger production of the world’s greatest race. The next two stages were to elevate him into a much larger role.
Somehow finding remarkable powers of recovery after his day-long breakaway, Ugrumov went on the attack again, this time soloing into Cluses over two and a half minutes ahead of Indurain and Virenque, with Pantani even further back. Then, the following stage saw him smash the long mountain time trial, putting 1.38 into the Pirate and 3.16 into Big Mig, catapulting him into second overall, a position he would maintain all the way to Paris. And all this at the tender age of 32. A late bloomer? Perhaps.
He would never reach those heady heights at the Tour again, although a 3rd at the 95 Giro and 7th at the 96 Tour are none-too-shabby in anyone’s books. Yet, the ‘magic’ that had imbued him and his team in 94 was somehow never as potent, and a couple of seasons of mediocrity would spell the end of his career. But Ugrumov did have one other impressive number next to his name; after being recorded as 32% in December 1994, his haematocrit level had jumped to a massive 60% in May 95, right in the middle of the Giro, and two days after following Rominger and Berzin in for 3rd in a TT.
In a bizarre footnote to his involvement with the darker side of cycling, Ugrumov lived in an apartment directly across the street from the hotel where Marco Pantani met his death, and was planning to pay the Pirate a visit after he was told of the deteriorating mental and physical state of his former climbing foe. He never got to make that visit, and we’ll never know if it would have made any difference to Pantani’s fate. What we do know though, is that Piotr Ugrumov was one of the few riders who could challenge, and beat, the sport’s best climber on the biggest mountains of Italy and France. Just how he achieved such feats, well, could it be all in the numbers?