Stage 18: Rovereto – Stradella. The Russian from the Oltrepo
Maximilian Sciandri landed a surprise victory in Stradella in 1994. That was the only time the Giro had homed in here. A stage of 221 kilometres that would take the peloton even closer to the final endeavour. The excitement for Marco Pantani’s incredible accomplishment, who had used his superior climbing skills to move up the rankings in the previous two stages, was still tangible. A day to celebrate, along the crowded roads of Stradella. But the banners and the cheering were not for him, nor for the stage winner. All the thrill was for the race leader – the hometown hero, the Russian from the Oltrepo.
Stradella and Broni are just a few kilometres apart. The two towns have always told a single story, with just a hint of competition, as it always happens in the Italian provincia. Stradella and Broni are a land of world-famous accordions (by Mariano Dallapè) and of superior Barbera and Bonarda vineyards, and also the home of two migrant cyclists that shared a common adventure at the Giro. Stradella and Broni were, respectively, the foster home of Emanuele Bombini, the Directeur Sportif at Gewiss, and of Evgenij Berzin, the team captain. Clad in the leader’s jersey since the fourth stage, Berzin was continuing an incredible winning streak that had begun with the Liège-Bastogne-Liège that spring. After he took victory in “La Doyenne”, some local supporters created a fan club at the café in Broni. By mid-Giro, the club had already grown to 500 supporters. They set off to attend the Mortirolo stage, on board 10 buses. When they came back, the race was right on their doorstep.