The Tour de France has produced some of the greatest champions cycling has ever seen. It takes more than just the ability to ride with the toughest competitors from around the world. It takes more than just passion to race or the will to survive 3 weeks of grueling punishment and harsh terrain. These boys are tough, made of a certain kind of caliber and mental toughness that we can't define. Little wonder is it that some of the biggest names in cycling had tough pasts and incredible stories of overcoming challenges behind them that often looms larger over what they actually achieved in racing. For example, if you asked me if winning the Tour seven times was the biggest achievement for Lance, I'd probably say it could be. But he beat cancer. He beat cancer and then he won more races. Thats two different things.
What is greater then? - the will to survive and the will to live, to throw a middle finger at death or drinking champagne to victory seven times at the Champs-Élysées.
Anyway, so our little tale today is of Gianni Bugno, a prolific Italian racer of the 90's who was able to do incredibly well in the classics and the grand tours, overshadowed only by Miguel Indurain. Bugno's victory in the Giro d'Italia in 1990 is considered one of the most dominating performances in that race ever - as he led the race from start to finish.
However, Bugno did have his share of problems.
One of his behavioral challenges was extreme timidness. The problem was traced back to his childhood, which he spent with his grandparents in Italy while his parents worked in Switzerland.
Bugno also had an undetected problem. It was Vertigo (symptom of a balance disorder) or the dizziness and fear of falling when he descended from a mountain peak at high speed. Little did he know that a congenital obstruction in his ear canals and a bad crash in the 1988 Giro would affect his performance so drastically in his racing.
He remained timid about it for a while. It was only in the 1989 Milan-Turin classic, when he was first over the top of a climb but struggled and was caught by the pack on the descent that his little secret bared itself before people.
Bugno, ofcourse was very disappointed and extremely confused. It was a tough time for him. After that race he was to say , 'A priest in a soutane (a cassock or priestly garment) could have made it down faster than I did. I felt so dizzy that I slowed down almost to a complete stop.'
As a cure, Bugno was given a month of musical therapy during the off season of 1989-90, a time when he listened intently to Mozart at different speeds and degrees of loudness. Within that short period of time, he would say goodbye to Vertigo.
Soon after that, he visited an allergist, who discovered that he could not tolerate milk products in his diet. Pills were prescribed and his diet was changed. He also began seeing a psychologist who helped resolve his shyness. After he was put into the hands of Claudio Corti,a veteran Italian rider, he was taught how to take charge of his Chateau d'Ax Team.
The once timid rider who had won only a few races in the seasons of '86-'88 was suddenly storming down the Poggio hill to win Milan-San-Remo while other riders took the descent slowly and carefully. He would go on to ride more strongly for Italy and give a pressing statement to the newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, which had, in a very celebrated obituary in 1989, declared Italian cycling dead.
Watch some of Bugno's videos here.
Courtesy : Samuel Abt, Three Weeks to Glory