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Giro d’Italia 2021, Stage 18: Rovereto – Stradella. The Russian from the Oltrepo

26/05/2021

Giro d'Italia 2021, Tappa 18: Rovereto – Stradella. Il russo dell'Oltrepo

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.

 

Evgenij had moved to the Oltrepo just two years before, but everyone was calling him Eugenio, already

Even Candido Cannavò suggested that the young Russian talent be renamed, perhaps to bring a bit of Italianness to that Giro which, with the unexpected defeat of Indurain, marked the beginning of a new era. But Berzin already belonged there, and there he stayed. «My house used to be around the world. I was partly in Vyborg, where I was born, partly in Moscow, partly in St. Petersburg. But I’ve never liked big cities so much, there’s too much confusion, too many angry people. Here I feel better, it’s quiet and you’re far from the mess», says Berzin today. He didn’t known how long he would have kept the pink jersey, yet he was fighting so hard to defend it that he barely even realized that he was riding the roads of his town. To those who asked him what his limits were, he replied, «When someone beats me, I will know, but I hope it happens as late as possible».

It never happened to him in that Giro, and it marked the highest point of his career, which would soon decline in the following seasons. Since then, Berzin has been running a car dealer just outside Broni. This year’s Giro will pass by it, and then go back to Stradella, where in 1994 everybody was popping open bottles of Chardonnay Berzino – perhaps not the very afternoon of the stage, but a few days later. «We had the real party at the end of the Giro. To be sure, we even had two: one in Stradella and one in Broni».

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