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Big Ring: Andy Hampsten and the 1988 Giro

VeloNews | Andy Hampsten and the 1988 Pink Jersey

How do you define an epic? It’s a noun grossly over-used by sportswriters, particularly those who write about cycling. Through the years, European journalists have described heroic deeds by brave athletes on bicycles with gushing prose that was rarely deserved. They even titled road racing’s formative years The Heroic Era.

Admittedly, in the long decades before live radio and television commentary brought reality to the grand tours and classics, cycling fans only learned about races through the written word. And journalists depended on selling newspapers to make a living. The better the story, the higher the sales. It’s no wonder they turned ordinary performances into extraordinary feats.

On reflection, were the daylong slogs through blinding rainstorms on muddy roads any more heroic than what miners did in their everyday jobs at the coalface? How meaningful was, say, Tour de France contender Eugène Christophe’s carrying his heavy steel bike down the Col du Tourmalet and repairing the forks at a blacksmith’s forge? Or did the survivors of “epic” editions in Paris-Roubaix really deserve the lavish praise heaped upon them by an adoring media?

That’s not to say that the riders who excelled in harsh conditions were not deserving of their recognition as exceptional individuals. But a true sports epic is one in which, besides having to battle the elements, the contestants go to the limit of their physical and mental capacities while still competing for the victory in a major competition. All of those ingredients came together on June 5, 1988 on stage 14 of the 1988 Giro d’Italia.

Andy Hampsten on the GaviaOver the past couple of weeks, there has been an excellent series of articles celebrating the 20th anniversary of Andy Hampsten’s win in the 1988 Giro d’Italia, starting with the grueling stage over the Passo Gavia, in which Hampsten finished second on the day (behind the Netherlands’ Erik Breukink), but with the maglia rosa of the overall leader, which he held until the conclusion of the Giro several days later.

I’m actually surprised the Reverend Big Ring hasn’t posted a sermon about this yet … but he has been busy finishing the new chapel and preparing to move his wisdom from the Hells to the Golden ones, if all goes well … so I find myself in the position of leading the prayer service.

Let us pray:

I believe in Hampsten, the Climber Almighty,
    the Creator of heavenly tours,
    and in the Landshark of steel, on which he rode:

Who was conceived of the skinny legs,
    born of the massive lungs,
    suffered on the Passo Gavia,
    was frozen, yet not buried by snow.

He ascended into hell.

The fourth day He arose again in the mountains.

He ascended onto Vetriolo Terme
    and crushed the mighty Dutchman,
    in the manner of the Cannibal Merckx.

I believe in the Big Ring, the holy cycling church,
    the communion of riders,
    the forgiveness of admitted dopers,
    the resurrection of the clean riders,
    and road racing everlasting.


Now head on over to to read the entire series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Then go to to read Cold comfort: Hampsten’s day on the Gavia.