The Nobility of Defeat

29 May 2010


As you know, it’s Ivan Basso in the picture here and on Saturday, for the first time and on the penultimate stage, in this year’s Giro d’Italia he will wear the race leader’s Maglia Rosa. He deserves it too. On the Zoncolan and then yesterday on the Mortirolo pass Basso has been the pride of the field in this year’s superb Giro.

Increasingly I rather suspect that the Giro is a better and, in some ways, tougher race than the Tour de France. The frequently terrible weather conditions play a part in this but so too do the unforgiving Italian mountains. In any case this has been a Giro to cherish and one that reminds one that, no matter how chequered the stories of the protagonists, cyling is the sport of a certain kind of truth.

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Basso may be in Pink this morning but the man he has supplanted, David Arroyo, deserved the palmares today. Sure, he finished three minutes behind Basso and lost the race leader’s jersey but he rode above himself and proved himself worthy of the old and valuable and distinguished jersey he was wearing. Few things become a cyclist as finely as the manner in which they lose that which is most precious to them.

This, then, was Arroyo’s moment even as it proved his downfall. His courage in the mountains and his nerve – reckless some might say – on the descents were twin monuments to a ride that was as brimful of courage as anyone could wish to see. That it proved not quite enough only added to the piquancy of the fact that it fell short.

But that does not matter. The nobility of failure can, in cycling anyway, be as grand as the glory of victory. Friday may have been the moment that, albeit with the Gavia and the rest of Saturday’s monstrous stage to come, Basso seized control but it will be remembered for Arroyo’s bravery and guts too.

First place and then the rest nowhere, it is sometimes said. But not in cycling where losing does not necessarily diminish the achievement.

Not that Arroyo was the only hero on Friday. Spare a thought for poor Cadel Evans who has, to all intents, ridden this Giro as an individual, shorn of any support from his BMC team-mates. His effort has been monumental too and, while (probably) in vain, deserves to be celebrated too.

To the victors the prizes, for sure, but the losers win their memories too and rightly so. This has been a terrific Giro and the Tour will have to go some to beat it.

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Show comments
  • St Bruno

    5 hours and 29 minutes, fit or what? And the race has 21 day stages. Athletes of the top rank in my book.
    I used to do a lot of cycling back in the early 1960s on my trusty ‘Phillips’ racer, bought it myself with my paper round money. Still, I watch most cycling on TV, most but not all mind. Don’t see much on the BBC though only when drugs are involved and, of course,Lance Armstrong.

    Cadel Evans deserves an ovation more than some 10 second sprinter round a nice warm track, the raw guts of the man day after day is truly inspiring.

    Full marks to Sky and the EuroSport team for their excellent coverage and well informed commentators.

  • styron

    “Basso never could descend” – too true. Even his two year suspension and mea culpa of “attempted doping” – that Basso tried to dope but couldn’t quite make it all the way down to Dr. Fuentes’s clinic – bears this out.
    Basso truly ain’t worthy of Alex’s ill-informed Fawning – better reserved for Dave and his Lib-Dem Domestique (apologies, the cycling analogy got the better of me!)

  • Snowman

    for you Alex, and the experts: no doping involved then, you reckon?

  • shane glackin

    Yep, epic, epic stuff. Basso never could descend, I remember Ricco mocking him for it in more than one interview. So Nibali’s courage in hanging on on the Mortirolo to guide his team-mate down the other side was immense.

    Arroyo’s descent was superb, like watching Savoldelli at his best. Vino was, well, Vino, the uncooperative pantomime villain. Evans and Sastre incredibly gutsy, Scarponi redeeming himself,a nd his career…

    An absolutely cracking stage. And yes, you’re right about the quality of the Giro in the last few years. Zomegnan has done a superb job of finding new climbs, and putting percorsos together in balanced and innovative fashion. No wonder ASO are trying to distract from it with the ToCalifornia.

    They’re just arriving at the Gavia, which is open after all… colour me excited.

  • tommyt

    its been a cracking race this year, and last years wasn’t so bad either. The Giro went through a phase of stultifying the route in order to favour Italian favourites when I was growing up with cycling. In many ways in was the worst of the three grand tours for a good twenty years. The organisers have turned this round over the past decade – come on Lancio if you think youre hard enough, and if any chemical schedule you may have allows in 2011.

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