With snowstorms, a landslide, and unlucky black cats, 1989 was a drama-filled year for the Giro d’Italia. We dug into our archives to bring you a recap from our June 16, 1989, issue of VeloNews.
With five stages remaining in the 72nd Giro d’Italia, Andy Hampsten was preparing for a final assault on the 2:31 lead held by Frenchman Laurent Fignon. Bad luck in the early team time trial and the cancellation of the Gavia stage worked against Hampsten, who was lying third overall, June 6, behind Fignon and the Italian revelation Flavio Giupponi. But an uphill time trial, June 7, and a final mountain stage three days later looked like giving the 7-Eleven leader an outside chance of victory in the 21-day race.
Hampsten’s whole race tactic was based on conserving his strength for an attack June 5 on the 16th stage, 205km from Trento to Santa Caterina Valfurva. This difficult mountain stage was considered the hardest of the Giro, and was scheduled to cross four passes, including the 8600-foot high Gavia Pass. It was here in 1988 that Hampsten broke clear in a blizzard with the Dutchman Erik Breukink and won the leader’s pink jersey. Hampsten was hoping for a similar result this June 5 — exactly one year after his previous epic ride.
Although rain and possibly some snow were expected on the Gavia, the stage was cancelled because of organizational problems. Overnight, trucks transporting equipment for the race finish were trapped by landslides on the way to the scheduled stage finish; the landslides were not on the race route but a valley road which is the only access to Santa Caterina Valfurva, besides the Gavia. There was a risk that the whole race would have been trapped in view of the bad weather.
There was a mixed reaction in Trento to the cancellation decision by the race jury and organizer Vincenzo Torriani, one hour before the scheduled start. It was at first rumored that avalanches on the Gavia caused the decision. In those circumstances, Hampsten opined, “I’m prepared to ride the stage if it’s physically possible.”
Others were not at all upset: When 1987 Giro winner Stephen Roche and his Irish roommate Paul Kimmage heard the news as they were greasing up at their hotel, “A big cheer went up in the room,” they said. Even Hampsten admitted that it was probably better for most riders to have a rest day following three stages of wet, cold, and snow in the Dolomites.
Missing the Gavia stage was Hampsten’s second stroke of bad luck. The first came on the island of Sicily, May 23, when he lost two vital minutes through a crash in the team time trial stage.
He’d already lost one minute to Fignon and the other race favorites on stage two, which ended with a 10km climb up Mount Etna. Next day, the 7-Eleven team was gunning for a top-three placing in the time trial when Sean Yates, in front, collided with a black cat that decided to cross the wide road just as the team entered the 1km-to-go zone. Yates and four others fell, while Hampsten and the others waited or circled back; five finishers were needed for their stage time, which counted toward individual general classification.
Dag-Otto Lauritzen was the first of the fallen riders to remount, but he was also the most tired; their problems were compounded 500 meters later when Lauritzen’s front tire exploded and he had to ride into the finish on the rim, accompanied by Hampsten, Ron Kiefel, Jens Veggerby and Gerhard Zadrobilek.
Following the team time trial, Hampsten was in 50th place, 3:01 behind race leader Silvano Contini (Malvor), and 2:12 down on Fignon, then in seventh. The 7-Eleven leader moved up to 35th after coming in 10th on the second mountaintop finish at Gran Sasso d’Italia, May 28. Hampsten was then 2:41 behind new race leader Breukink (Panasonic), and still 2:12 behind Fignon.
The first individual time trial, on the Adriatic coast, May 30, saw Hampsten climb to 20th on G.C. He rode strongly in the undulating 37km test to take ninth, only one second slower than Fignon. Breukink’s overall lead was 46 seconds over Roche, with Fignon in third, at 1:01.
Hampsten continued his climb toward the top when the race entered the Dolomites. There was only one climb the first day, but the infamous Tre Cime di Lavaredo is something special. Hampsten used a gear of 39×26 to overcome the 18 percent grades of the final four kilometers, where Lucho Herrera of Colombia scored a fine solo win.
Torrential rain and 35-degree conditions affected many, including the Swiss hope Tony Rominger (Chateau d’Ax). Hampsten finished the dramatic climb in a rainstorm just on the wheels of Fignon and Breukink, and he moved up to ninth on G.C. Roche lost 43 seconds, while Greg LeMond experienced his worst day, losing 17 minutes; his problem was diagnosed as iron deficiency, and a shot of iron saw him bounce back the next day, with his future looking much brighter.
The bad weather continued next day, with heavy snow falling above 2,000 meters altitude — and there were three climbs higher than that. On the second of these peaks, the Marmolada, Herrera launched another attack, imitated by Fignon and the Swiss, Urs Zimmermann (Carrera). Hampsten led the pursuit, and the field exploded behind him. Breukink was among those who could follow Hampsten, who closed on the Fignon group by the summit.
Conditions worsened, and Herrera was dropped on the blinding descent, while Roche struggled to rejoin. Hampsten and Fignon set the tempo on the next pass, the Pordoi, where the racers rode through an avenue of umbrellas protecting the crowds from the snow.
Giupponi made a surprise attack for the gallery, but he was caught on the slush-covered descent by seven others, led by the fearless Hampsten. Breukink, in the pink jersey, was still there, but showing the effects of a major bonk. And when Fignon made a darting attack, followed by Hampsten, on the day’s fifth climb, the 24-year-old Dutchman blew up. Over the final 12km Breukink lost almost six minutes, the pink jersey, and the Giro.
Fignon and Hampsten continued to battle side by side up and down the twisting Campolongo climb and descent, drawing clear Giupponi, Zimmermann, Marco Giovannetti (Seur), and Franco Chioccioli (Del Tongo). On the short, steep climb to the line, Giupponi jumped clear to win his first victory in five pro seasons, a few lengths ahead of Fignon and Hampsten. Phil Anderson came in seventh, at 2:23, after some remarkable descending; Roche was at 3:20, and Breukink at 5:51: A shattered Herrera was even further back, although he took over the King of the Mountains jersey from Rominger, who abandoned along with eight others.
A tired, but radiant Fignon, showing his best form since his winning the 1984 Tour de France, took over the pink jersey, with Giupponi in second, and Hampsten now up to third. Without those two minutes lost in Sicily, the American would have been in second, just 5 seconds down on Fignon — and with his expected bid on the Gavia still to come. But his challenge would have to wait another day.
During the first two weeks of racing, Hampsten lost three teammates: Yates, who retired from fatigue after his crash injuries; Davis Phinney, with a swollen knee; and Veggerby, with ankle tendinitis. All three were hoping to be healed and rested for the Tour de France — which remains Hampsten’s chief goal of the season.