The Giro d’Italia may not have made it to Budapest this year, but Hungary made it to Italy anyway.
Attila Valter is the lone Hungarian rider in the race, and the 22-year-old WorldTour rookie is flying his nation’s flag with pride. While the Giro had to cancel the race’s planned grande partenza in Budapest, the 22-year-old CCC Team talent is sitting 24th overall in his first grand tour, ensuring Hungary stays front and center through the three weeks in Italy.
As the leading light of a new wave of interest in cycling in Hungary, the tall, lean climber is hoping to inspire a new generation of talent from his homeland.
“Year by year, there’s more and more interest in cycling, especially now it gets a lot of publicity with the Giro,” he told reporters ahead of stage 17 of the race Wednesday. “Of course it’s not like football or like cycling is in Italy, but now many people are watching and following. I think in a few years it can be like, like in Slovakia – Sagan changed everything there.
“I hope me and other riders can make it similar in Hungary. It’s not easy but I hope I can inspire.”
Cycling is on the up in Valter’s nation, with the Tour of Hungary attracting five WorldTour teams to its five-stage event this summer. Fittingly enough, Valter won the final stage and the overall of the 2.1 race after finishing second at the national time trial the week before.
Valter had only raced one WorldTour stage race, August’s Tour of Poland, before being thrown into the deep end at the Giro. The 2019 graduate of CCC’s Development Team is having a tough ride at his first-ever grand tour, but ironically, he has hope for the hardest stages.
“I was expecting super hard days, but it’s much harder than I thought,” he said. “If I just take out the second week, it’s harder than for example Tour of Poland, and it’s just the middle of a grand tour so it’s incredible.
“This final week will be harder but somehow, if it’s harder it’s better because for me,” he said. “These small climbs, twists and turns, going full gas every time is really tiring for me. Maybe when we have 20km climbs and I just have to go tempo, that can be much, much better for me.”
Valter hung tough through the first high mountain stage Wednesday, finishing 38th at the line atop Madonna di Campiglio, a more-than-respectable 5 minutes back on the GC group. He has two more major tests to come.
“I hope I survive this week because it will be really brutal,” he said Wednesday. “But if I finish – and I really hope I will – I’m sure I will, then the words ‘hard’ and ‘tired’ will be different from before.”
Whether the youngster makes it to Milano or not, he’s brought a taste of Hungary to the Giro even though the race didn’t make it to Budapest.
“I really hope next year or maybe 2022 we can organize this [the Budapest grande partenza] because I think will be a spectacular start,” he said proudly.
Such is Valter’s promise that he’s one of the lucky riders on the troubled CCC Team to have a contract in his pocket for 2021, with a two-year deal with Groupama-FDJ. Whether the Giro ever makes it to Budapest or not, Valter will ensure Hungary remains at the top of pro cycling a few more years yet.