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Thoughts on a troubled Giro
By Lennard Zinn
I had not realized how much I had wanted to believe in Dario Frigo until the news came of his departure from the race. For weeks, I had been attending daily press conferences with him – every day that he was in the pink jersey and after his time trial stage win. I had started mulling over in my mind what I would be writing about him on Sunday night or Monday to wrap up the Giro in VeloNews. I would have been writing, whether he had managed to take back the jersey on the (cancelled) stage 18 or stage 20 or not, about what a breath of fresh air he had been.
This young man’s appeal was enormous. He was serious about his profession yet lighthearted enough to make jokes at his own expense and take in stride the daily discounting of his chances by Simoni and others as a Giro contender. He always answered every question thoughtfully, carefully and respectfully, and his wide-eyed perspective was always refreshing. He would say endearing things like, “It is amazing. You put on this pink jersey and you become a king! All of these years I have seen the fans clamoring for Pantani and Cipollini, and all of a sudden everyone is calling out my name.”
I would have said he was a great spokesman for and representative of the sport of cycling. And I would have said how great it is to see a rivalry between two such clean-cut, professional, straightforward riders as he and Simoni were. The latter slowly came to recognize the enormous ability of the former, and the former maintained his smile and positive attitude in the face of a superlative time trial for the latter that may have put the race on ice.
The day before the raid, Alfredo Martini, the 79-year-old supervisor of the Italian national team and third place in the 1950 Giro, could have been speaking for me when he said, “A rivalry like the healthy and clean one between them can’t do anything except benefit this sport. Cycling makes every day Sunday, that is its beauty, and two positive people like Frigo and Simoni improve this world by making that visible.”
Now, it doesn’t matter what Frigo has ever said or done. I have seen him so many times, in answer to the repeated question of how he suddenly became so good this season, say, “The difference this season is my preparation.”
How he dedicated himself to his training and preparation is now irrelevant, everyone will chalk up all of his success this season to doping. The atmosphere surrounding the race and in the press room has completely changed in nature. Some of the journalists are rubbing their hands together like flies on cowpies.
Others relate each latest piece of news with a quiver in their lip like they might soon break out in tears. How could Frigo have been looking us straight in the eye day after day and lying to us and to the millions of people to whom we pass on his words?
There is a small, elderly Italian journalist who types on a portable manual typewriter in the press room every day. He writes out all of his stories longhand, proofreads them, feeds in a new sheet of paper into his typewriter and one-finger pecks at it, stopping occasionally to lift the paper, re-reading and occasionally whiting-out words. The story broke about Frigo’s possession of doping substances, and he continued to go about his work oblivious to it all.
Journalists ran in and out, talking on cell phones, clamoring to e-mail the latest, clustering in groups around spokespersons in the hallways, yet the elderly man continued to inspect race results and carefully type his story. He finished typing and proofreading, stood up, put away his cigarettes, rearranged his thin white hair, put on his jacket, snapped the hard plastic cover over his typewriter and picked it up by the handle, finally pausing to look around. In passing, he picked up the Fassa Bortolo press release and read about the team breaking off its relationship with its rider following the discovery of doping substances in his room. He stopped in his tracks, set down his typewriter and stood there like he had been frozen. Many minutes later, he still had not moved.
We, who had been so very wrapped up in this race with heroes on two wheels, suddenly found the joy had drained out. Police, who earlier would cheerfully smile and wave our Giro-stickered car through every roadblock, had lost now lost their smiles. Now, while passing a line of cars to get to the finish, a policeman stopped and yelled at the driver of the press car ahead of us, dragged him out of his car, inspected his license and gave him a tongue-lashing. We snuck back into the line of cars of ordinary citizens moving at a snail’s pace – people simply trying to get where they were going along their road now impeded by the presence of the race. Who did we think we were, anyway? Heroes turned to junkies in the eyes of an entire country; adored two days before were no longer princes, and the entourage trying to relate their story had become an insufferable bunch of boors instead of the privileged few who get to be near the champions.
Evidence of the fans’ displeasure was everywhere; banners proclaiming, “Basta Doping” (Enough Doping) dotted the race course instead of the usual words of adoration. Horn-honking and the tearing of banners to move roadblocks had replaced politeness and good cheer.
The atmosphere of a big traveling three-week summer camp is over. The press rooms are now filled beyond capacity with non-cycling journalists, and the questions are about police and drugs, not cycling. The people who do the thankless work day after day of setting up the rooms, the microphones, the electrical and phone lines, the chairs and tables, and then cleaning it all up afterward cannot leave, no matter how hungry and tired they are. Their job of moving the entire facility on to the next stage town and facilitating our work, which was hard but done joyfully, now becomes drudgery performed on little sleep.
The bubble has burst, and now we can see how beautiful and very delicate that bubble was.