Cycle Style

Tales from the Grupetto

Giro Di'Italia 2000 | Stage 8, Corinaldo-Prato

By Matt Stephens


Now I think most cycling followers are familiar with the term
'autobus' or 'grupetto'. It's a word used regularly by commentators and
journalists alike and has a firm place tucked away in the lexicon of cycling
terminology. It's a large group of riders at the back of race, distanced by the
peloton primarily by their inability to climb. It's normally full of sprinters,
'domestiques', the injured, the fatigued or those 'just not playing
today thanks'.
Cav grupetto

You will have seen it in this years Giro. Guys like Cav,
Bos, Goss and Farrar toiling over the long passes before crossing the 'Arrivo'
long after most of the Tifosi have sloped back home to Mama's lasagne al forno.
Easy? Nope.  Akin to a Sunday run to the
café? Nulla di simile. A harder day than those en tete'? Sometimes. A battle of
wills and a test of courage against the clock? Unquestionably.

Before I turned pro I imagined that the Grupetto was a cool
place to be.. just tapping along at the back of the race, chatting merrily, swapping
race food, discussing the ever evolving topic of sock length (I'm in the
'white, mid length' brigade myself by the way) and generally enjoying the
spectacular backdrops to the mountain stages where this peculiar group
generally converges as a common consequence of the long harsh gradients. In the
Grupetto team tactics and rivalries are put to one side and a unique
camaraderie flourishes with the theme one common aim; to arrive at the finish
safely and inside the time limit. (Which is set normally at 20% of the winner's
time). On some occasions, and the reason why the group stays together, the
Grupetto will arrive outside the time limit so technically all the riders should
be eliminated. However, the Grupetto generally contains some of the most high profile
riders in the race (most of the sprinters for example) so it is not in the race
organisers interests to eliminate a whole group, so by way of collective
default riders in the Grupetto are saved for at least one more day of pain...

Whenever I see footage of the Grupetto or hear how they just
scraped inside the time limit again I'm reminded of a stage I rode in the Giro D'Italia 2000.It showed me how
vital it was to stick together and also of how deep I could go both physically
and mentally as a 'person', let alone bike rider....

Stage 8 of the 2000 Giro from Corilnaldo to Prato began
calmly, this in part due to the lengthy 251 km we were due to cover which
incorporated three major cols; Valico Di Bocca Trabaria at 91km, Valico di
Spino at 142km with the final cat 1 monster the Passo Della Consuma Provinca Di
Firenze at a leg numbing 198km. Just to add a bit of Italian style spice to
proceedings the eventual distance we covered actually totalled nearer 280 km,
although of course us riders were blissfully unaware of said inaccuracy as we
rolled out of Corinaldo chatting in the warm sunshine over eight hours before
we crossed the line at the 'arrivo'..

The first three hours of the stage were covered at a very
steady 'piano' like tempo. One brave/foolish soul who did attack after only a
few km's was soon brought back to heel with his tail between his legs after a
chorus of multilingual abuse was hurled at him (as well as the contents of a
few riders back pockets) for breaking the peloton's unwritten etiquette rule of
not attacking in an official 'piano' session as 'approved' by the main 'names'
in the race... Please excuse my exuberant use of apostrophes but I think you get
what I mean. Nursing my two injured knees I was more than happy to just spin the
pedals easily for once whilst catching up with the English speaking crowd at
the back of the bunch made up of, amongst others, Axel Merckx (the stage's
eventual victor), Robbie McEwen, Matt White and Bradley McGee as well as my
Linda McCartney teammates..

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