Erik Breukink crushes fools on the Gavia

Unsung Heroes: Erik “Gavia” Breukink

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I do love my Dutchmen. That much I admit. I also admit my love for the Americans with whom I share a passport. These affections are expressed erratically and sporadically, often at high volumes, and sometimes with some unreasonably held or possibly non factual evidence to support my passion.

At this point, my love for the 1988 Giro stage over the Gavia should come as an obvious segue. Andy Hampsten is famous for his epic ride over the Gavia that year to win the General Classification. The 7-Eleven team, relying on the experience of its Midwestern roots, understood that riding over the Gavia in blizzard conditions would require some cold-weather gear. Off to the local ski shops they went to buy warm gloves and wooly hats and the like. The rest of the European peloton figured that Cycling kit was as good as anything, so bugger all that sissy crap.

Uphill was undoubtedly cold, but the real terror arrived once the road pointed downhill and shit got real. I live in Seattle, but grew up in Minneapolis. I have raced in a one-piece spandex suit at -10F. I am here to tell you that the coldest I’ve ever been is riding my bike at near the freezing point in snow/sleet/rain. Below freezing, water freezes and you have the means to combat the cold. Water at its coldest chemical state recruits the fury of the wind to its side and brings the kind of deep tissue, bone chilling cold that doesn’t otherwise exist.

The hell of that descent from the Gavia must lie well beyond any level of cognitive appreciation I can bring to this conversation.

What isn’t commonly appreciated is that Andy didn’t win the stage over the Gavia. He lost Erik Breukink’s wheel somewhere along the way on the way down, likely because Erik’s lack of kit made him even more desperate for the warmth of the finish line. But nevertheless, Erik crushed it that day, in regular kit, seeking shelter from little more than a pair of arm warmers, overshoes, and regular Cycling gloves. He even raised his arms in salute as he crossed the line; having been cold on a bike before, I am most amazed he had the V to withstand the pain of outstretching frozen muscles. But I suppose one does not miss those sorts of opportunities.

Step aside people, the Dutch got this shit. If we can keep the ocean from flooding our country, we can certainly handle a little snow storm on a mountain road. That is all.

// Awesome American Guys // Awesome Dutch Guys // The Hardmen // Unforgettable Rides

  1. Ironically, I have found my Pearl Izumi Gavia gloves to be partially worthless when it gets cold out. Too right on Breukink, anybody with “bro” in their name has got to be cool.




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  2. I think you missed the obvious fact that as soon as he donned his casquette, he was perfectly warm for the descent…




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  3. I think what makes this stage even more legendary is the lack of video/film from the climb. I guess the conditions were just too awful for the video link communications of the day. In 1988 only the switchback corners were paved! Hampsten was 2nd at 7 seconds to Breukink. Delgado was 10th – seven minutes behind him. Van Der Velde who led on the climb finished 47 minutes down at the finish. I think the faces of the riders in the last minute kinda tell it all. Truly an epic for the ages.

    That Panasonic kit was the bomb. The jacket Breukink is wearing on the podium is ace.




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  4. @Haldy

    By the way it was snowing and the way the flakes were coming down, I figured the storm was coming from the north so I reckoned that the conditions would be much worse on the descent. Because of this, I didn’t fly over the top but held back to save some energy for the descent.

    When Breukink caught me at the top, at first, I thought I would follow him on the descent but he was going so slowly when the descent started that I figured I should go in front and make my own mistakes. I learned later that Breukink never put on a jacket. Instead, his team manager, Peter Post followed him down the descent and kept him alert by yelling and cursing at him.

    I only had one gear for the descent, all the others had iced up and I kept thinking that I must keep pedaling to keep that one gear free of ice. The road at the top of the descent was gravel. It was better for descending than asphalt as it did not ice up. I tested it a couple of times to see if it was solid and it was. The spectators on the descent did not know if the race had been cancelled so they were wandering all over the road. On one turn, I almost hit a Carerra team mechanic holding a spare pair of wheels and walking down the middle of the road. I remember he was wearing this beautiful gore-tex full body suit and I really wanted to have it on me!

    As I descended, I got colder and colder. I tried to shut out the cold and concentrate on the road ahead. It was asphalt now, but luckily it was not icy. I tried not to break too hard. When I used the brakes, first I had to break the ice from the rims, then scrape the water off before I got any stopping power.

    I was concerned about hypothermia and just how much colder I could get before I was no longer able to pedal the bike. My arms were basically locked up from the start of the descent, I just tried to keep pedaling to keep my legs moving. At one point, I looked down at my legs and through a layer of ice and lanolin grease, I could see that they were bright red. After that, I didn’t look at my legs again.

    About 10km into the descent, Mike Neel in the team car caught up with me. There wasn’t much he could do, the snow had turned to a cold rain, all I cared about was getting down to a place which was warm and I could stop.

    At about 6km to go, Breukink caught me, but I was totally blocked and could not respond. Breukink had no rain jacket on, just a jersey, so he could descend faster on the long straight drop into Bormio. There was no bloody way I was going to take my jacket off. – Andy Hampsten




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  5. On this unforgettable day, which La Gazzetta dello Sport dubbed “The day the big men cried,” conditions were so extreme, and time gaps so massive, that organizers did away with the time limit and allowed all who finished to remain classified. – AH




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  6. @emerson

    I had the pleasure of hearing Andy speak about that day and the ’86 tour when the Cascade Bike Club hosted him here in Seattle for a viewing of “Slaying the Badger” earlier this year. He joked that he doesn’t like to talk about that day…it still makes him cold thinking about it!




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  7. @Haldy

    I think you missed the obvious fact that as soon as he donned his casquette, he was perfectly warm for the descent…

    Ah, of course! That wee cotton cap is what saved him, just like his mother told him it would!




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  8. Fantastic post, Frank. I’ve been on the comeback trail of late, and riding in most any conditions, but Sunday…as the rain turned to snow, and back again, and then snow…and as no Giro was being contested…I scheduled a rest day.

    Happily, rest days are freeform fermented malt absorption days, so a semblance of proper form was retained. VLVV




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  9. @frank

    @Haldy

    I think you missed the obvious fact that as soon as he donned his casquette, he was perfectly warm for the descent…

    Ah, of course! That wee cotton cap is what saved him, just like his mother told him it would!

    After all..it protected Hinault as well-




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  10. @frank– and please note…both of those guys had gloves on….




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  11. @Haldy

    Clever retort. May I remind you that both Heinrich and I have fantastic hair of the sort that doesn’t require gloves? I’m sure you don’t understand.




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  12. Great one here Frank. Yes, Breukink gets little mention for winning this stage and doing it with less clothing evidently. He was always a class act.

    Going up is easy when it’s cold. That descent must have really been awful. I’m amazed a skinny wee lad like Andy could keep his bike going straight on the downhill. Brrrrrr.




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  13. @frank

    @Haldy

    Clever retort. May I remind you that both Heinrich and I have fantastic hair of the sort that doesn’t require gloves? I’m sure you don’t understand.

    Well…once upon a time I did.




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  14. @frank

    @Haldy

    Clever retort. May I remind you that both Heinrich and I have fantastic hair of the sort that doesn’t require gloves? I’m sure you don’t understand.

    that makes 3 of us.




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  15. The North Sea is not an ocean.

    Pedantry aside, nice article. That era was truly a golden age of hardmanism.




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  16. The most stunning part of that video footage is that after crossing the line, facing crippling hypothermia, the racers were able to don (and position perfectly) the team casquette. Or at least the soigneur had the presence to prop it up on their heads perfectly.

    Also, I think that is the best I’ve ever seen Bob Roll look.




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  17. Oh, one more thing. That fade-from-blue-to-white bar tape Breukink has is the tits. And he wore a real cap on the podium, not a baseball cap or beanie FFS.

    Happy new year to one and all who visit this site. It’s a veritable haven from many of the horrors of everyday life.




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  18. @Gianni

    And Gianni knows aboot cold; he’s just too shy to let on.

    Mendy




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  19. Goddamn, nothing like a colorful jersey with satiny black shorts. So sharp!

    I don’t mind cycling or other sports in the cold, but I don’t understand how some guys ride without gloves in cold weather. Haussler does it all the time. I can handle cold ears, cold legs, even cold feet, but I need gloves well before it dips to freezing.

    Oh, and last week I rode in a t-shirt and shorts (commuting, relax!) and this morning it was 0. What the hell is going on. Don’t mind cold, but I do mind wild fluctuations.




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  20. @wiscot

    Happy new year to one and all who visit this site. It’s a veritable haven from many of the horrors of everyday life.

    You can say that again. One of my goals for the year is to (try) and tune out all the stuff in my world that pisses me off and that I probably can’t change. I know there is plenty of truly bad stuff going on in the world right now and my life is pretty easy in comparison. But, one of my top goals is just to focus on doing my job well, riding my bike, reading good stuff, eating right, sleeping right, and just letting everything else go.




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  21. Seems Kelly can still deal with Rule #9‘Well, this is just damp, lads’




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