How Stephen Roche finished in the pink in the Giro d’Italia
Stephen Roche recalls the 1987 rivalry with Roberto Visentini that almost tore his team apart
It is said that time heals everything, but Roberto Visentini might question that sentiment. Twenty seven years ago Ireland’s Stephen Roche went head to head with him in the Giro d’Italia, wresting the race leader’s jersey from his then team-mate and incurring the wrath of Visentini, their Carrera team and the Italian fans.
Roche was spat at, punched and endured days of abuse from the roadside spectators but battled on and took the final win. As for Visentini, he crashed out of the race on the final weekend, his wrist fractured and his morale destroyed. Roche thought things had settled somewhat in the years since, but the Italian never forgot. It appears he didn’t forgive either.
“Two years ago Carrera had a 25th anniversary for me and the whole ’87 team was there, along with all the riders who rode with Carrera during their 14 year career,” Roche told The Irish Times. “Visentini was obviously invited; he was the only one who was notably missing.
“I spoke him in one or two races I saw him in in 1987 and 1988, and I thought it [their feud] was all forgotten about. But when he was not there at the Carrera reception, I asked a journalist if there was any news from him. He said to me, ‘I spoke to him on the phone yesterday. Well, actually I had to hold the phone about a metre away from my ear because of all the screaming. He was shouting, ‘how can you expect me to go to a meeting like this after all they have done to me?’ So obviously he hasn’t buried the hatchet.”
The Roche-Visentini clash was one of the most vivid examples of what happens when team-mates go head to head against each other in one of cycling’s top events. It followed an episode 10months earlier when the 1985 Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault essentially reneged on a promise made to support his younger La Vie Claire team-mate Greg LeMond in the French race.
Rather than helping LeMond to victory as payback for the American’s support 12 months earlier, Hinault went on the attack, grabbed the yellow jersey and began a civil war. LeMond eventually won out.
The situation with the Carrera team in 1987 had parallels, but was also a little different. Roche was enjoying the best year of his career. Visentini hadn’t done as much in the months before, but wanted to lead as the defending champion.
Both were ferociously ambitious and, as the race unfolded, their duel would provide the compelling drama of that Giro d’Italia. Years later the race is still remembered as one of the standout editions.
“Starting off, Visentini beat me in the prologue,” says Roche. “Then we did a time trial down the Poggio, which I won and leapfrogged him on GC. Carrera then won the team time trial and because I was the highest placed rider on my team, I took over in the pink jersey.
“I thought that made me team leader, but Visentini got the jersey back off me 10 days later in the San Marino time trial. I had crashed two days before. There was a major sprint finish, a whole pile of us came down, and I was hit from behind . . . someone came from behind me and really put his handlebars into my butt . . . I had a very big hematoma on my cheek, which made it very painful to pedal.”