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Stephen Roche: Triple Crown 25 Years On

by Pete Cossins

As the 95th Giro d'Italia gets under way in Denmark, it is an appropriate to time to look back 25 years to one of the most controversial editions of the corsa rosa, a race that set one man on the road towards an achievement that has never been equalled since.

Stephen Roche started that year's Giro as one of the big favourites having won the Tour of Romandy just a few days before. Strangely, the other rider heavily tipped for victory was one of his own team-mates on the Carrera team, Roberto Visentini.

Roche went into the race viewing himself and Visentini as co-favourites, expecting the road to decide which of them was the strongest. However, Visentini had several things in his favour. For a start, he was the defending champion. He was also an Italian leading the Italian Carrera team, which had its headquarters in his home town.

He expected to be Carrera's outright leader, and that Roche would have that same position at the Tour de France six weeks later.
Something, or someone, had to give, but for most of the race it was unclear which of Carrera's two headliners would yield first. Roche took an early lead and held it. Visentini stuck in his slipstream and waited for an opportunity to make his move. 

In the end, that opportunity came in a time trial at San Marino after two increasingly tense weeks. Visentini stomped all over his rivals, Roche included, and declared himself Carrera's leader. Roche would, said Visentini, help the Italian secure the title. Asked if he would return the favour at the Tour, Visentini shook his head and said no, he was planning to spend July at the beach. Watching this exchange on TV in his hotel room, Roche worked out a plan of his own.

It unfolded on what has become one of the most memorable days in grand tour history. On a hilly stage to Sappada, Roche took off down a descent and went so quick that he caught up with two breakaway riders. Expecting Carrera's rivals to chase, and to tire themselves in doing so, Roche was stunned to hear that Visentini and the Carrera team were leading the pursuit. Rather than easing off, Roche increased his pace. 

The battle between Carrera's two leaders continued over two passes. On the second, Visentini cracked. Roche wilted but drove himself on. On the line, he took the lead by just a handful of seconds. But there was uproar. His team, the Italian media and the fans were incensed. The fact that he held the lead may have been the only thing that prevented him being pulled off the race by Carrera. As for Visentini, who lost six minutes that day and effectively his title, he was beside himself with anger.

Over subsequent days, Roche defended his lead in perhaps the most venomous and threatening atmosphere of any post-war grand tour. The more fans abused him, the stronger he got. It was, one experienced observer recently claimed, the greatest major tour performance he had ever seen. Roche took on his team, the media, the system and Italy's hyperventilating fans and won.

It was the first step towards the Irishman winning 'the triple crown' - the Giro, Tour de France and World Championships. In three months, he claimed them all, only the second rider to do so after the incredible Eddy Merckx. 

Next month sees the publication of Roche's autobiography, Born to Ride, which details his career in the sport and his life since retirement, focusing on that one great year 25 years ago. Still a huge fan of the sport, Roche will also be providing his expert insight into events at this year's race via his blog at, with his insight also appearing here on

As was the case in his racing career, he won't pull his punches!

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