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Memories from… Sappada, 1987: Roche vs Visentini, the great betrayal


There are days that define a race, that define a rider, that define a sporting era. 6 June 1987 is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and epic dates in the glorious history of the Giro d’Italia, because it encapsulates one of the most controversial and debated events ever.

In Stage 15, the Lido di Jesolo – Sappada, the reigning champion Roberto Visentini was in the Maglia Rosa. Two days earlier, in the San Marino time trial, he had smashed the competition, laying the foundations for the conquest of his second Giro. His team, Carrera Jeans, however, also had in its ranks a thoroughbred such as Stephen Roche, already designated captain for the Tour de France, who had won a stage in that Giro, worn the Maglia Rosa for 10 days and was second in the general classification at 2’42” from his team-mate.

The stage took a strange turn right from the start, when Roche surprisingly joined the first breakaway attempt of the day, ignoring the instructions of sports director Davide Boifava, and found his team chasing him with frothing at the mouth. “I did not attack Visentini, I simply followed the attacks of others,” said Roche at the end of the stage. “I rather wonder if it is normal for me to be chased by my own team mates. Boifava came and told me to stop but I just don’t understand why, I wasn’t pulling, I was just making a few changes. A year ago, with my knee out, I helped Visentini win the Giro, why can’t it happen with me this year?”

After the first breakaway attempt, with Carrera Jeans exhausted by the long chase, the sprints resumed and Roche, once again, was in one of them. Maglia Rosa Visentini was forced to whip the two domestiques Massimo Ghirotto and Claudio Chiappucci, while Belgian Eddy Schepers pulled back and sided with Roche. It was total anarchy and just when Roche was caught again, Visentini, nervously destroyed, went into crisis on the climb towards Sappada, and ended up losing 6’50”, waving goodbye to the Maglia Rosa and any ambition to fight for the general classification.

Amidst all this controversy, Stephen Roche flew into the Maglia Rosa: “I hope someone goes home,” said Visentini, infuriated and drained, “I’m mainly interested in honesty, I don’t think there has been much of that. I had decided to quit in a year, at this point it will be better for me to quit at the end of the season“. Roche would not go home and, indeed, would win that Giro d’Italia, while Visentini would be forced to withdraw from that Giro due to physical problems and would not win any other race in his career (he would hang up his bike in 1990). The Irishman, however, would not stop at the Giro, because he would also win the Tour de France and the World Championship in the same year, as only Eddy Merckx had managed to do.


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