Monsieur Mont Ventoux

Eros Poli, Martín Farfán, Paolo Fornaciari

For those cyclists who might shop at the Big and Tall shop, we are a minority, we stand out in a pace line, we don’t go up steep hills well but we all should worship at the altar of Eros Poli.

Eros Poli! When one is named John, Poli is already deserving of idolatry. A name like this only fans the flames of my italianophile fever… Eros Poli, it’s fantastic.

The stage started in Montpelier. It was hot and humid. When a 6’4″ domestique solos off the front of the field early in the Mont Ventoux stage in the 1994 Tour, no one except perhaps Eros’s dear mother had any faith in the lad. The cocky climbers must have shaken their heads and smiled. “We will be seeing him soon enough”. He was no climber, too big, huge, a giant among the pros. This was Marco Pantani’s day.

But Eros Poli was a gold medalist in the team time trial, back when the four man team trial was an Olympic road event. The man had a serious engine and he put it to work before the road reached the climb. The peloton was unconcerned and gave him much line as Poli spun his lead up to over 20 minutes by the time he hit the foot of the mountain. The TV announcers were convinced he would be caught soon into the climb and kept up constant natter pronouncing him a hopeless dreamer, not a rider for the big climbs. This was a bold move, I can’t think of such an audacious scheme by any rider in recent tour history.

A ride only becomes audacious if and when the rider pulls it off, otherwise it’s just another attempt to get some TV coverage for your sponsors. Mont Ventoux has an average gradient of 7.8% and is over 20km long and Poli defied all by only losing a minute per kilometer to the likes of a chasing Pantani. With his Briko sunglasses pushed up on his head as he was sweating buckets, his stylishly modified cotton cap hanging on the bars; he suffered as only a big man on a steep, long climb riding solo ahead of the pack could suffer.

Eros was usually a man to lead the grupetto aka “the laughing pack”, and since this was before everyone had a radio earpiece jammed in their heads, the men off the back may not have known one of their own was teaching the climbers a mighty lesson. After crossing the summit Eros cashed in his weight advantage to descend away from all chasing climbers to roll across the finish, alone and in tears, 40km later in Carpentras.

He became my cycling god that day.

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17 Replies to “Monsieur Mont Ventoux”

  1. I remember that stage well. I didn’t know who Poli was, but his name stayed etched in my brain after that. So much so that I was thinking of writing a little ode to him on the eve of Ventoux… but someone beat me to it!

  2. Frank

    Thanks for pointing this post out. So many hidden gems here! I can only dream of achieving guns the likes of the ones on his pistons.

  3. Gianni,

    Will never forget the stage. I am not a big guy, but as someone who spent a lot of time chauffeuring my team mates to the line, I always liked it when a fellow had a chance of his own.

    I do take exception to you calling him a “domestique”. Eros was a “passista” of the highest order. A team position no more or less glamorous than the former, but one that certainly warrants it’s own designation.

    At the fear of overstepping my boundaries, being new to these parts, perhaps “passista” should be included in the lexicon?

    It appears that the number of riders who “Climb well for their weight” is quite crowded. Perhaps some need to decide that they are “passistas” devoted to delivering glory for others.

    Looking back on that day, I wonder how many cappellini he had to go through before perfectly sculpting the one that he wore on his head that day? Maybe I can get him to demonstrate for me, on camera of course, next time I see him.


  4. This just popped up on my random articles, and deserves another look. One of the truly great rides in the Tour. And Eros looked awesome chugging up the Ventoux, but even ore awesome going down the other side.

  5. What a great article!  Thanks Frank for tapping it for a relook in the current threads and Gianni for scripting wayyyyyy back in the prehistoric ages of the V site!

  6. @Buck Rogers

    What a great article! Thanks Frank for tapping it for a relook in the current threads and Gianni for scripting wayyyyyy back in the prehistoric ages of The V site!

    +1  As a 1.9m tall rider (6’3″ for you imperialists) my bikes don’t look as beautifully proportional as the guys who ride 54cms (you can drive a truck through the main triangle), I don’t benefit from the draft in a paceline as much  as the guy behind me and the Italians seem to think I’m a XXL, but Eros gives me hope.

  7. Damn…so godlike that 3rd photo has him with an inverted flat back!  At angles like that it is quite possible that as his brow was sweating, snow and ice were forming on the top of the back of his hips!

  8. @the Engine


    His tuck in pic 3 is amazing! Terminal velocity indeed…

    Blew the top of his hat clean off

    Ha!  That gave me a laugh this morning!  Thanks for that!

  9. Another bump from me; love the way these pop up on the front page… really enjoying the depth around here!

  10. Could this be Quintana, nestled between Froome and Contador this year? Could be his day today!

    Great re-read!

  11. @asyax

    Could this be Quintana, nestled between Froome and Contador this year? Could be his day today!

    Great re-read!

    Pure genius…but no it is froome and purito…it is about time he showed this hand..

  12. His celebration as he approached the finish line was beautiful. The bow and the nonchalant toss of his cap to the crowd was pure class.

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