The Giro heads into an extremely exciting final weekend in which the top three riders are separated by only 21 seconds. Saturday the race climbs the grueling Passo Gavia and the fearsome Passo Mortirolo and the final day features a 17-mile individual time trial. You have to go back 20 years to find a Giro which included both the Gavia Pass and a final stage time trial and guess what, an American won the whole enchilada!
Andy Hampsten's historic victory is most remembered for the stage which has become know as "The Day Strong Men Cried". It was on the slopes of the Gavia Pass, in the midst of a horrific blizzard, that Hampsten showed us the character of a true champion. While almost every other rider in the race was thinking only of survival, Andy rode away from his competitors and into the teeth of a snowstorm that turned the 8600' pass into a chaotic mess.
Conditions were so bad that most riders stopped on top and hopped into their team cars to warm up. But not Hampsten. He knew that the real race was going to be on the descent where the loss of the body heat he was generating going up the 4500' climb was going to end and the shivering would begin. There were no follow vehicles, no race radios, Andy headed down into the 5500' descent all by himself. There would be no help of any kind for him on the way down, he was literally on his own.
This blog isn't long enough to describe the tortuous ordeal in the detail it so rightly deserves, suffice it to say that Andy persevered and took the maglia rosa, the pink jersey signifying the race leader, at the finish. And just to prove that he deserved to be in pink, he and his Team 7-Eleven defended the jersey in the final week which included three mountain stages, a mountain time trial and a final stage time trial near Venice.
If the current media coverage, Versus TV, cycling.tv, the Internet, etc. had been around 20 years ago Andy would be a huge hero in the States. It was an epic win in epic conditions. But, the mild-mannered Hampsten would probably not have wanted all that public attention. He just likes living in Boulder, riding his bike and hanging with his daughter, Emma, girlfriend, Elaine, and his buds.