Dirty Deals Done Dirt Cheap

Vuelta 1985 poster - crdit: lavuelta.comSlipstreaming behind press motorbikes. Dirty deals. Partisan fans. Chauvinistic reporting. The need for a home victory. That just about sums up the Giro d'Italia. But while the Corsa Rosa has earned its place in the annals of cycling for chicanery, upsets and tears, one day in one race stands head and shoulders above almost anything the Italians can offer. And that day happened twenty-six years ago this week. And it happened not in Italy, but in Spain, during the Vuelta a España.

On May 11th 1985 Robert Millar, riding in the colours of the French Peugeot squad, started the penultimate day of the fortieth Vuelta a España with a ten second lead over his closest opponent. At the end of the day, the Scot had a deficit of thirty-six seconds over a rider who'd started the day more than six minutes behind him. That man was Pedro Delgado. Nothing changed on the final day's processional ride into Salamanca and Perico won the first Grand Tour of his career.

It was an upset that ranks up there with some of the best. But rather than celebrating Perico's achievement, the 1985 Vuelta has gone down, alongside the 1984 Giro, as a race in which everyone seemed to be conspiring against one lone foreigner in order to create a home win. It's a race that has, in some quarters, come to be known as 'the Stolen Vuelta,' a race in which (according to Alasdair Fotheringham in Cycle Sport magazine) "possibly one of cycling's biggest ever combines [and] Spanish desire for a home win scuppered the hopes of the foreigner with the earring."

That a Spanish combine contributed to Delgado's success is beyond doubt. But that was not the only reason Millar lost the 1985 Vuelta. Other non-Spanish teams - particularly Peter Post's Dutch Panasonic squad and Jean de Gribaldy's French Skil outfit - failed to come to Millar's aid when their help was asked for. But the root of Millar's defeat lay within his own Peugeot team.

Back in 1985 the early-season cycling calendar looked a little bit different from the one we know today. Over the last fifteen years, we've grown accustomed to the Vuelta being the last of the season's Grand Tours. But the last used to be first. The 1985 Vuelta kicked off on April 23rd, just two days after the penultimate race of the Classic season ended.

To get an idea of what the calendar looked like back then - and who the riders and teams of the moment were - take a look at the key results from the first part of the season:

Date Race 1st 2nd 3rd
March
2
Het Volk Eddy Planckaert
Panasonic
Jacques Hanegraaf
Kwantum
Jos Lieckens
Lotto
March
3-10
Paris Nice Sean Kelly
Skil
Stephen Roche
La Redoute
Frédéric Vichot
Skil
March
9-15
Tirreno-Adriatico Joop Zoetemelk
Kwantum
Acácio Da Silva
Malvor
Stephan Mutter
Carrera
March
16
Milan-Sanremo Hennie Kuiper
Verandalux
Teun Van Vliet
Verandalux
Silvano Ricco
Dromedario
March
18-22
Semaine Catalane José Recio
Kelme
Phil Anderson Panasonic Felipe Yañez
Orbea
March
23-24
Critérium International Stephen Roche
La Redoute
Charly Berard
La Vie Claire
Sean Kelly
Skil
March
26-28
Trois Jours de La Panne Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke
La Redoute
Sean Kelly
Skil
Adri van der Poel
Kwantum
March
26-29
Tour de Midi-Pyrénées  Stephen Roche
La Redoute
Laurent Fignon
Renault
Frédérick Vichot
Skil
March
30
GP E3 Phil Anderson
Panasonic
Jos Lieckens
Lotto
Eddy Planckaert
Panasonic
April
1-5
Vuelta a Paìs Vasco Pello Ruiz Cabestany
Orbea
Greg LeMond
La Vie Claire
Marino Lejarreta
Alpilatte
April
7
Ronde van Vlaanderen Eric Vanderaerden
Panasonic
Phil Anderson
Panasonic
Hennie Kuiper
Verandalux
April
10
Ghent-Wevelgem Eric Vanderaerden
Panasonic
Phil Anderson
Panasonic
Rudy Dhaenens
Hitachi
April
14
Paris-Roubaix Marc Madiot
Renault
Bruno Wojtinek
Renault
Sean Kelly
Skil
April
17
Flèche Wallonne Claude Criquielion
Splendor
Moreno Argentin
Sammontana
Laurent Fignon Renault
April
21
Liège-Bastogne-Liège Moreno Argentin
Sammontana
Claude Criquielion
Splendor
Stephen Roche
La Redoute
Source: Mémoire du Cyclisme

While the Vuelta was on, the rest of the peloton built themselves up for the Giro d'Italia - which started just four days after the Vuelta finished - with races like the Amstel Gold Race (April 27), the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque (May 7-12) and the Tour de Romandie (May 7-12).

* * * * *

The fortieth Vuelta a España began it's three thousand four hundred kilometre tour of Spain in Vallodolid. By the time its final weekend came around the maillot amarillo had been on the shoulders of five different riders. It had started the race on the back of Panasonic's prologue specialist, Bert Oosterbosch, before being passed to a little-heralded twenty-year-old riding for José Miguel Echávarri's Reynolds squad, Miguel Induráin.

From there it passed to Pedro Delgado, then the best-paid Spanish cyclist, riding for Orbea, who - suffering one of the pájaras that seemed to define his Grand Tour career - blew up as the race crossed the Asturian-Cantabrian border. The lead then passed to Perico's Orbea team-mate, Pello Ruiz Cabestany. Then Peugeot's Scottish escaladore, Robert Millar, donned the maillot amarillo a week out from home.

Vuelta a España 1985 Stage Winner GC Leader
Prologue
Tuesday
April 23rd
Valladolid 5.6 km
ITT
Bert Oosterbosch
Panasonic
NL
Bert Oosterbosch
Panasonic
NL
Stage 1
Wednesday
April 24th
Valladolid to Zamora 177 km Eddy Planckaert
Panasonic
Bel
Bert Oosterbosch
Panasonic
NL
Stage 2
Thursday
April 25th
Zamora to Orense 262 km Sean Kelly
Skil
Irl
Miguel Induráin
Reynolds
Sp
Stage 3
Friday
April 26th
Orense to Santiago de Compostella 197 km Giambattista Baronchelli
Supermercati
It
Miguel Induráin
Reynolds
Sp
Stage 4
Saturday
April 27th
Santiago de Compostella to Lugo 162 km Eddy Planckaert
Panasonic
Bel
Miguel Induráin
Reynolds
Sp
Stage 5
Sunday
April 28th
Lugo to Oviedo 238 km Federico Echave
Teka
Sp
Miguel Induráin
Reynolds
Sp
Stage 6
Monday
April 29th
Oviedo to Lagos de Covadonga 145 km Pedro Delgado
Orbea
Sp
Pedro Delgado
Orbea
Sp
Stage 7
Tuesday
April 30th
Cangas de Onis to Alto Campoo 190 km Antonio Agudelo
Varta
Col
Pello Ruiz Cabestany
Orbea
Sp
Stage 8
Wednesday
May 1st
Aguilar de Campoo to Tabacelera Logrono 224 km Angel Camarillo
Zor
Sp
Pello Ruiz Cabestany
Orbea
Sp
Stage 9
Thursday
May 2nd
Tabacelera Logrono to Balneario de Panticosa 253 km Alfons de Wolf
Fagor
Bel
Pello Ruiz Cabestany
Orbea
Sp
Stage 10
Friday
May 3rd
Sabiñánigo to Tremp 209 km Sean Kelly
Skil
Irl
Robert Millar
Peugeot
GB
Rest Day
Saturday
May 4th
Stage 11
Sunday
May 5th
Tremp to Andorra 124 km Francisco Rodríguez
Zor
Col
Robert Millar
Peugeot
GB
Stage 12
Sunday
May 5th
Andorra to Pal 16 km
ITT
Francisco Rodríguez
Zor
Col
Robert Millar
Peugeot
GB
Stage 13
Monday
May 6th
Andorra to San Quirze del Valles 193 km José-Angel Sarrapio
Teka
Sp
Robert Millar
Peugeot
GB
Stage 14 Tuesday
May 7th
Valencia to Benidorm 201 km José Recio
Kelme
Sp
Robert Millar
Peugeot
GB
Stage 15 Wednesday
May 8th
Benidorm to Albacete 208 km Sean Kelly
Skil
Irl
Robert Millar
Peugeot
GB
Stage 16 Thursday
May 9th
Albacete  to Alcalá de Henares 252 km Isidro Suárez
Hueso
Sp
Robert Millar
Peugeot
GB
Stage 17
Friday
May 10th
Alcalá de Henares 43 km
ITT
Pello Ruiz Cabestany
Orbea
Sp
Robert Millar
Peugeot
GB
continued below...

May 11th 1985: Alcalá de Henares to Dyc (200km)

At the start of the penultimate day's racing - two hundred kilometres from Alcalá de Henares to the Destilerías Dyc, on the outskirts of Segovia - Millar had been wearing the maillot amarillo for a week and was leading the Colombian Francisco 'Pacho' Rodríguez (Zor) by ten seconds, with the Basque rider, Pello Ruiz Cabestany (Orbea), a further sixty-five seconds back.

For the Scot, the Vuelta was all but over and the race was his. Even with three puertos ahead of him it seemed hard to imagine a successful challenge being mounted. Quizzed by the media before the stage start, Millar made his plan for the day clear: "I just have to stick to Pacho Rodríguez's wheel and it's done."

If only it had been that simple.

What actually happened that day on the road to the whisky distillery at Dyc is unclear and varies from account to account. The basics of the story do seem to match up across the various accounts though. On the first of the day's three puertos, the Morcuera, Rodríguez tested Millar but gained nothing. At the foot of the second climb, the Cotos, Millar punctured, and spent the whole climb chasing Rodríguez and Ruiz Cabestany. By the time they summitted the final puerto, Los Leones, the race looked to be over and the three men who seemed destined to fill the steps of the final podium in Salamanca the next day congratulated and commiserated with one and other on their mutual fates over the previous three weeks.

By the time Millar rode into Dyc, the podium places had been reshuffled and the three leading riders were leapfrogged by the man who had started in Alcalá de Henares in sixth place, more than six minutes behind the maillot amarillo - Ruiz-Cabestany's Orbea team-mate, Pedro Delgado.

The rough outline of how that happened is this: somewhere before the first puerto, Kelme's José Recio went clear in search of a stage win. He had won the stage into Segovia the previous year and fancied his chances of repeating that performance. After the descent of the Cotos he was joined by Delgado, who was six minutes in arrears of the Scot on GC. Somehow Recio and Delgado managed to open up a lead of nearly seven minutes over the maillot amarillo.

Millar was without any Peugeot team-mates to support any pursuit of Delgado, having burned off the last of them on his chase up the Cotos. Ruiz-Cabestany, who started the day third overall, had no reason to help chase down his own Orbea team-mate. For the man in second place, just ten seconds in arrears, Rodríguez, the wise action was to try and make Millar do all the work to bring back Delgado and then jump him closer to the finish. The role played by the other riders in that group with Millar we'll come back to later. All that matters for the moment is that Millar received no support from them.

That, more or less, is how a rider who was all but written off at the start of the day took a commanding lead of the race, which he successfully defended the next day into Salamanca. The story really is as simple as that. Until you start trying to explain how that near seven-minute lead developed. That's when things get complicated. And, invariably, bias kicks in and you tend to pick sides.

Vuelta a España 1985 Stage Winner GC Leader
...continued
Stage 18
Saturday
May 11th
Alcalá de Henares to Dyc 200 km José Recio
Kelme
Sp
Pedro Delgado
Orbea
Sp
Stage 19
Sunday
May 12th
Dyc to Salamanca 175 km Vladimir Malakov
Union Sovietica
USSR
Pedro Delgado
Orbea
Sp
Source: LaVuelta.com & ABC.es

A Day That Will Live In Infamy

Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!

L'Équipe's Philip Bouvet was to the fore in the chauvinism stakes when it came to reporting the events of May 11th 1985. Having had French victories in the Spanish Tour the previous two years - Bernard Hinault's epic 1983 victory for Cyrille Guimard's Renault squad and Eric Caritoux's unexpected win the next year in the colours of Jean de Gribaldy's Skil squad - Bouvet seemed to be disgusted that Peugeot, one of the most respected teams in the French peloton, could be defeated with such apparent ease. "Millar Sacrificed in the Arena," was how his verdict on the penultimate day's racing was headlined. The body of the article expanded upon that theme of gladiatorial combat:

"[Millar] unclipped his feet from his pedals, stared at the ground and appeared oblivious both to the noise of a crowd that was delirious in his defeat and to the children crowding around him with their thumbs turned downward, aping his defeat. It became unbearable. Millar turned round and tramped off towards the Peugeot team car. He shut the door, and his eyes reddened. As a crowd gathered round the car to bathe in his distress Millar's only option was to bury his head in his hands and to collapse on the seat. The tears probably came next, but if they did, they were ones of dignity."

You can't, of course, make something out of nothing, and Bouvet based much of his story on the opinions of the Peugeot directeur sportif, Roland Berland. "It's rotten," Berland told Bouvet, "the whole peloton was against us. It seems a Spaniard had to win at all costs." Millar, Bouvet declared, had been "the victim of a formidable Spanish coalition."

Not everyone agreed with that reading of events. The Kelme directeur sportif Rafael Carrasco - whose rider, José Recio played such an important role in the day's events - offered this view of what happened that that:

"I wanted Recio to take the stage, and if we could help a Spanish rider win the Vuelta, well, so much the better. In terms of publicity for the team, it was just what we needed. The stage and the Spanish helping the Spanish.

"But it wasn't anything more than that. [Delgado's directeur sportif] Txomin Perurena didn't even turn up until we'd covered half the distance, which shows how improvised the whole thing was."

Delgado himself denied the allegations of a Spanish conspiracy against the Scot, telling l'Équipe:

"Honestly, I swear that I didn't attack in the hope of winning the Vuelta. I attacked just to put Millar to the test and to help boost the chances of my friend, Cabestany. When Recio and I managed to build up a three minute lead the only thing going through my mind was that I could win the stage, but only the stage!"

But one Spaniard fuelled the flames of Bouvet's claims of Spanish collusion: the Zor directeur sportif, Javier Mínguez. His rider, Pacho Rodríguez, had started the day just ten seconds off the race lead and looked set for at least the second step of the podium come the final day. Delgado's upset kicked him down to the bottom step of the podium.

Though riding for a Spanish team, Rodríguez was Colombian. With the participation of the Colombian Varta squad in the Vuelta - who put their weight behind Rodríguez's efforts after their own team leader, Luco Herrera, pulled out of the race - there was considerable Colombian media interest in the Vuelta. Two different radio stations - Radio Caracol and Radio Nacional de Colombia - covered the race. When Mínguez spoke to the Colombian media after the stage, he played down the disappointment of Rodriguez's podium demotion by declaring himself the man who had won the Vuelta for Delgado:

"As things stood, Pacho was destined for second place and Millar for the title. Anything was preferable to allowing Millar the victory [...] it pained me to hold Pacho back during the last kilometres, but it was necessary to prevent Millar from reaching the pantheon of champions. Have no doubt: I was the artificer of Delgado's victory, and I don't regret my decision."

Do you have be a sceptic and a cynic to scoff at Mínguez's self-aggrandising, see through his words and think he was embroidering his own role in the affair? The fact is that Mínguez was as much caught in Orbea's trap as Millar was. Orbea had a man up the road who was six minutes off the race lead and a man behind who was just over a minute away from overall victory. Whatever Millar and Rodríguez did, Orbea held the better hand.

Rodríguez himself had tried and failed to put time into Millar earlier in the day. If he helped Millar to bring Delgado back there was always the outside chance that Ruiz Cabestany could take advantage of the situation and move ahead of him on GC. If he failed to help Millar there was the danger of Delgado being the one who'd overtake him on GC.

In that sort of situation, the wisest thing Mínguez could have done would have been to reach an agreement with Orbea whereby Rodríguez wouldn't help the chase but - if Delgado didn't open up enough time to take the lead - Rodríguez would be free to see if he could put ten seconds into Millar in the closing kilometres and win the race himself.

Whether that is the agreement Mínguez reached isn't clear, but that some deal was made that day seems beyond doubt. Bouvet, in his l'Équipe report, quotes Delgado:

"I want to thank all the Spanish, especially Javier Mínguez, the team manager of Zor, who deprived Rodríguez [of] an attractive finish in the GC to help boost the chances of a victory for a Spanish rider."

That wasn't the first time Mínguez had been publicly thanked for the role he played in helping someone from an opposing team win the Vuelta.

Baiting The Badger

Cartel83_mediumIn 1983 Bernard Hinault was at the height of his career, with seven Grand Tour victories on his palmarès (four in France, two in Italy, one in Spain). He was a former world champion, winner of three of the five Monuments and had won the season-long Super Prestige Pernod competition each of the previous four seasons. Going into the Vuelta a España his confidence was unbound:

"I know when I'll put on the yellow jersey and, as long as I don't have an accident, no one will take it off me."

Everyone expected Hinault's biggest challenger to be the Italian Giuseppe Saronni, then wearing the rainbow jersey. But while Saronni was happy to take Unipublic's generous appearance fee, he had no interest in overall victory in Spain, as he made abundantly clear:

"I'm coming to the Vuelta to prepare for the Giro, my main goal for this season."

Hinault donned the leader's jersey after the fifth stage, only to lose it the next day. Marino Lejarreta, who had gone abroad to ride for the Italian Alfa Lum squad, dethroned him. Lejarreta then put two minutes into the badger on the thirty-eight kilometre Pyrenean chrono-escalada. Dicen was ecstatic:

"For the French press, who until yesterday were ridiculing our cyclists, this is a lesson."

Two days later, le blaireau bit back, with a Renault attack that was aided by the Belgian Aernodout squad. They wiped out Lejarreta and put Reynolds' Julián Gorospe into the lead. Another Spanish directeur sportif had got wind of Hinault's plan for the stage and told Reynolds' directeur sportif, Echávarri. No one thought to warn Lejarreta's Alfa Lum squad.

Gorospe lost the jersey to Zor's Alberto Fernández, who was himself then sacrificed by his directeur sportif in favour of his team-mate, Álvaro Pino, when a Zor/Kelme alliance shook things up. Toward the end of that stage, Hinault and Saronni were working their own alliance, the Frenchman attacking to claw back some lost time and the Italian blocking behind him. Remarkably, Zor's directeur sportif - Javier Mínguez - complained publicly about the alliance between Hinault and Saronni, claiming that the foreigners were ganging up and playing dirty. That Zor and Kelme had themselves ganged up on the foreigner seemed to slip Mínguez's mind.

Mínguez had reason to be ruffled, because Pino quickly surrendered the lead in the next day's time trial. Hinault won the stage and Echávarri's boy, Gorospe, climbed back into yellow. Mínguez's playing to the gallery though had worked up the crowd, who whistled and booed the badger when he was presented to them as the winner of the time trial.

Hinault responded in style the next day, in a stage the story of which you'll find recounted in Laurent Fignon's We Were Young And Carefree. The Reynolds and Zor riders were blown away, Hinault won the stage, was back in the lead and sealed his second victory in his second Vuelta.

Le blaireau was quick to acknowledge the man who, that day, really was the artificer of victory:

"I dedicate this victory to Mínguez. He said the foreigners were helping me out, but today I've shown, not with words but with the bicycle, that I don't need anyone's help."

The Art of the Deal

Deals have always been a part of cycling. We all know about them even if we don't always know all the details of them. We understand that cycling is a complex sport. It's a team sport in which the lines between the individual and the team are blurred. In sports like football, baseball and basketball it's simply not cricket for one team to sell out to another, though it often happens, in both friendlies and competitive games. In a sport like Formula One, inter-team deals are frowned upon and policed against, to some extent, but you will still sometimes see lesser drivers blocking some teams while letting others pass with ease. In cycling, though technically it's against the rules, everyone knows - and most of us accept - that it goes on all the time.

Tour de LanceIn Tour de Lance Bill Strickland referred to knowledge he'd acquired when ghost-writing Johan Bruyneel's We Might As Well Win, knowledge which he felt he couldn't report. Here's what he said in Tour de Lance:

"I've sat on some serious revelations, things Bruyneel told me about the inner workings of the sport but also things I'd heard from team directors who assumed that because I was close to Bruyneel I must already know what they were talking about. I was surprised to find out that this information was even easier to keep to myself. I knew things to be true that I wished I'd never been told. I knew many more things that could never be proved true or false, and I wanted even more never to have been told those."

Interviewed last year, this was a topic put to Strickland, and he said that some of those revelations concerned deal making:

"Sometimes [Bruyneel] might tell me about agreements on the road between teams or riders, and in some instances that was really dispiriting. We all know it happens, and I think it's a fascinating part of the sport and integral in its way, but some of the exchanges I wish I hadn't heard about. I enjoyed thinking of the races the way I'd seen them."

Strickland expanded upon the issue of deal making in cycling:

"One of the fascinating things about bike racing, which I love both as a spectator trying to guess what's happening and as a participant (albeit an amateur one who sucks) is the fluid nature of relationships.

"In the simplest combination, when you break away with one opponent you become conspirators against the rest of the pack. You desperately need each other - right up until the point when you will turn on each other in the most vicious way. I like the ambiguity and the uncertainty, the unknowable nature of rivals and allies. This is no moral position; it's simply what it takes to win a bike race.

"Then, from this, it's pretty easy to see how non-fiscal deals might be struck: something like, maybe, ‘Help me win this one and I'll help you win the one in your hometown, when the time comes.' Or even something more strategic: ‘Look, we know you're the better sprinter but I'm going to drop you on the climb before the finish. I'll stay with you if you give me the sprint, so at least you'll get second.'

"From there, it's not such a leap to include money in these sorts of negotiations. So I see the origin of it, the sense. It doesn't necessarily become a criminally or ethically dodgy act - sometimes it might be, sure, but I think a seasoned fan, especially one who's given it a go in the saddle at some point, is able to absorb some of the nuance."

Deal making - like doping - is a topic which has come up quite a lot over the last few months in these bookshelf pieces.

Fallen AngelIn his Fausto Coppi biography, Fallen Angel, William Fotheringham discusses several instances in which Coppi cut deals. One occurred at the 1946 Giro di Lombardia, which Coppi won in a style La Gazzetta dello Sport compared to Alfredo Binda and Costante Giaradengo. Then it was discovered that Coppi had paid Michele Motta 30,000 lire to let him escape from the race-winning break and the columns of the Gazzetta were filled for several days trying to decide whether this was fair or a foul.

But a deal earlier that year, between Coppi and Gino Bartali, shows that money isn't always the immediate motive in some deals. In the 1946 Giro, Coppi and Bartali - who by then were on rival squads, Bianchi and Legnano - were in danger of being upstaged by a young upstart, Vito Ortelli. While neither campionissimo wanted to help the other to win, the last thing they wanted was someone else beating them. Their long-term value would have been undermined. So they agreed to work together to defeat Ortelli, even though that might mean one might help the other to victory.

Sex, Lies & Handlebar TapePaul Howard's biography of Jacques Anquetil, Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape, similarly looks at some of the deals Maître Jacques made. Sometimes these deals are comedy moments, such as a tale l'Équipe's Philippe Brunel told about one edition of the GP di Lugano in which Maître Jacques was paid by the organiser to lose the race, took the money then sold the victory to another rider before deciding sod it, he wanted to win himself after all. But there was also the more serious story of Roger Piel, one of two agents who effectively controlled French cycling in the sixties and seventies, attempting to pay Anquetil not to ride the 1964 Tour de France so that Raymond Poulidor could win.

The Full CycleAnquetil cropped up again in Vin Denson's autobiography, The Full Cycle. Denson had been a member of the Ford France squad in the 1966 Giro d'Italia, which Anquetil sold to Molteni's Gianni Motta. Ford France simply didn't see the point of giving their Italian counterparts the publicity a win would generate. Some months after the race ended, the Ford France riders each received an unexpected bonus cheque, which Denson understood to have come from Molteni.

Cycling Is My LifeDenson also talked of being offered money by Tom Simpson to help him win the 1963 Milan-Sanremo. Simpson himself made no secret of his deal making, discussing the issue openly in his autobiography, Cycling Is My Life. Another contemporary of Simpson's was Shay Elliott, and it's said that he frequently admitted in private to having made more money by arranging other people's victories than by staging his own. Adrian Bell, of Mousehold Press, has told us that this is one aspect of Elliott's life that will be dealt with in their forthcoming biography of the Irishman.

Fall From GraceDeal making was a topic which again came up when we looked at Freddy Maerten's autobiography, Fall From Grace:

"The man in the street tends to associate kermesses with words such as payments and deals. In this, exaggeration knows no bounds. Anyone who thinks he can win a race will have a go, but if he's not sure about it, he pays out to make sure. That's the way it is. On our licences it says we are professional riders. If you think you're not going to win, you'd be a fool to say: ‘I don't need the money.' If you lose, how would you rather go home in the evening to your wife and child: with or without a bit of extra cash?"

Later, Maertens stressed his point, justifying his propensity to buy and sell assistance:

"I don't have to account to the average cycling fan for the fact that I wanted to earn as much as I could. Later on, when I was in financial trouble [in the last years of Maertens' career the taxman was chasing him for unpaid back-taxes] I never saw this average cycling fan standing at my door with a bag of money."

A Man For All SeasonsIn David Walsh's two books about Sean Kelly, he talks openly of deals Kelly made. Some of them we've looked at when talking about the Giro di Lombardia. When we looked at Kelly's successes in the early part of the 1984 season, the art of the deal again cropped up. One of the stories told then was about Kelly not making a deal, in the 1984 Ronde van Vlaanderen, and so losing the race. L'Équipe had been as chauvinistic in their reporting of that race as they were of Millar's misfortunes in the 1985 Vuelta, their headline screaming "Kelly Beaten By Five Cheating Wolves." Then, they were miffed that a Dutch Panasonic rider, Johan Lammerts, had got the better of a man from a French squad, De Gri's Skil team. Others though were less kind to Kelly, and pointedly said he lost that Ronde because he'd sat on his wallet.

While, when discussing Kelly's ability to make a deal, Walsh never once referred to money changing hands, in another book he recounted a tale in which money played a major role. This story concerned a senior American rider in a series of US races, for which the winner received a million dollars, some of which had to be paid out to rival teams who had helped his victory along.

We Were Young And CarefreeWhen it comes to deals in the Vuelta, there's the tale Laurent Fignon told in his autobiography, We Were Young and Carefree:

"[Lucho] Herrera's [Café de Colombia] team manager had a quiet little word with [our directeur sportif Cyrille] Guimard before the last stage [of the 1987 Vuelta a España]. Herrera had only a small lead [sixty-four seconds] on the German Raimund Dietzen and the whole Colombian team was afraid that Dietzen's [Teka] team might attack if the final stage was windy.

"Guimard warned us that the Colombians were offering to pay us not to join in any attacks; as far as we were concerned, we had no intention of attacking anyway, so we accepted the offer: thirty thousand francs per man.

"On that stage, there was a howling gale, three-quarters tailwind, and the Colombians had been right to be nervous: it was just the situation to set up echelons and split the race apart. In fact, if we had wanted to take the initiative we could have blown their scrawny carcasses to the four corners of Spain."

Just looking then at the relatively small number of tales that have been made public and have so far made their way on to the Café bookshelf you get a pretty clear picture of the way deals are made, and how, for the most part, none of the riders concerned had a major problem with this aspect of the sport. But such deals are against the rules.

Viva La Vuelta!Adrian Bell and Lucy Fallon - in their account of the 1985 Spanish Tour in Viva La Vuelta! - make reference to events later that year during the Tour de France. There Bernard Hinault had received such obvious support from his Colombian rival, Lucho Herrera, that the race commissaires felt the need to issue warnings to their respective directeurs sportifs.

Bell and Fallon acidly note that, having made such an issue of inter-team combines in the Vuelta, l'Équipe didn't seem that bothered by the manner in which Herrera was clearly helping Hinault. One Spanish directeur sportif, José Miguel Echávarri, all but called the French hypocrites:

"If you questioned Delgado's victory in the Vuelta because of the collaboration between the Spanish teams, I don't understand why you don't do the same in the case of Hinault and Herrera."

Maglia RosaIn that instance, Herrara and Hinault got away with a warning. But, in Maglia Rosa, Herbie Sykes recounts a tale from the 1953 Giro which resulted in Carlo Clerici being withdrawn from the race.

Clerici was part of the Welter squad, but when his good friend Hugo Koblet crashed, he dropped back to assist Koblet's team-mates as they paced their leader back to the peloton. Koblet at the time was wearing the maglia rosa and had decked it when trying to avoid riding into a young girl who had stepped into the road to pick up a discarded musette. The peloton itself, made aware of Koblet's misfortune, returned his noble gesture and soft peddled until he rejoined them.

Nothing much to write home about, you'd imagine, nothing more than a nice colour story for the Giro's media entourage to fill some space with. Except that someone took umbrage at Clerici helping Koblet and complained to the race commissaires. The commissaires consulted the rules and then consulted Welter's directeur sportif. They didn't want to have to kick Clerici off the race but a complaint had been made. A compromise was reached and Welter voluntarily withdrew their rider from the Giro.

Deals Done And Deals Undone

Ruiz Cabestany - who sacrificed a third place on the 1985 Vuelta podium so that his team-mate, Delgado, could win the race - wrote in his autobiography, Historias de un Ciclista, of his early days in the Vuelta, when he felt that foreign teams came to Spain to bully Spanish riders:

"Apart from getting paid a good starting fee by the organisation, they would accept 'offers' from the team of an escaped rider in return for not chasing him down. The system of these strong teams, especially the Dutch, was to only allow solitary breakaways, letting them build up a considerable leeway. These teams, filled with powerful road-men, were so dominant they could close down the escape in the final kilometres unless they found some other 'interest' in the stage."

One of those Dutch teams referred to by Ruiz Cabestany was Panasonic. In its time, Peter Post's outfit was easily one of the strongest teams in the peloton, possibly the strongest team. While Bernard Tapie had trumpeted his million-dollar baby, Greg LeMond, Panasonic had been a bit more circumspect about their star signing, Australia's Phil Anderson, whose salary was reportedly on a par with the American's. One thing though put a lot of people off Panasonic: they were a bunch of cut-throats.

In Search of Robert MillarIn Richard Moore's In Search of Robert Millar, Peugeot's directeur sportif, Roland Berland, is quoted claiming that Panasonic double-crossed him on that fateful day in the 1985 Vuelta. By the penultimate day of the race the Panasonic squad was reduced to two riders, Gerard Veldscholten and Theo de Rooy. By then they'd got what they wanted from the race - prologue victory and a couple of days in the maillot amarillo for Bert Oosterbosch and a couple of stage wins for Eddy Planckaert. For the rest of the race, they were there to make money.

Veldscholten was in the Millar group when the Scot learned of the inroads Delagdo was making into his lead, and the Dutchman had originally assisted with the chase of Delgado. Then, for some reason, he stopped working. Peugeot had apparently been gazumped by Orbea who offered Panasonic a better deal. Here's how Berland explained it to Moore:

"After the attack of Delgado and Recio had got to a certain stage I called upon the help that I thought I'd been assured the night before. But when I went to the team car of Panasonic I got 'no' for an answer. They didn't keep to their word. Millar would have won if he hadn't been double-crossed. After telling us that they would help they were bought off by the Spanish during the stage."

But - Rodríguez aside - what of the other non-Spaniard in the Millar group, Skil's Eric Guyot, why didn't he help Millar bring back Delgado? Or, more importantly, what happened to Skil's Sean Kelly and Eric Caritoux? They were in a group between Millar and Delgado, Kelly himself trying to go for a fourth stage win.

The Irishman claims that he was only approached for assistance twenty kilometres out from the finish, but that by then it was too late. Given that Millar only lost the race by little more than half a minute, this doesn't quite add up. Had Kelly and Caritoux dropped back to the Millar group couldn't the three Skil riders together have helped the Scot claw back some time, enough time to hold onto the maillot amarillo?

Slipstreaming

Rather than wondering why Kelly chose not to help Millar, most reports concentrate on comments the Irishman made about how difficult it was to close the gap to Delgado and set himself up for the sprint finish. Millar himself reported comments Kelly made:

"Kelly said later that, even with four or five team-mates riding flat out, they still lost two minutes on Delgado and Recio in twenty kilometres, and they'd been out there all day."

Kelly himself gave David Walsh this account:

"From the start it was obvious that the race was receiving greater media coverage that year than in any previous year. This meant that there were more TV cameras and more photographers riding on motorcycles at the front of the peloton. If a rider or small groups of riders made a break near the finish they were given a sheltered escort to the finish."

Kelly was in a group between the Recio-Delgado combine and the Millar group. In his account to Walsh he all but accused the two Spaniards in front of him of benefiting from the motorcycle-mounted media:

"When Delgado and Recio had a lead of one minute and forty seconds on the group I was in with fifty kilometres to go, I felt sure we would recapture them [...] We worked very hard, all the time believing that a stage win was possible. But what happened? The two leaders almost doubled their advantage. That for us was impossible to understand."

When Millar spoke to Sam Abt, days after his defeat, he was far less circumspect than Kelly:

"I don't know if [Delgado] was really flying or riding on a motorbike's slipstream. That's what it's like in Spain when you're Spanish and behind a motorbike."

But the truth here is that this is not a peculiarly Spanish trait. It happens the world over. Only the year before, at the Giro d'Italia, Laurent Fignon accused the Italian media of aiding Francesco Moser's victory at the 1984 Corsa Rosa. In the penultimate day's time trial at that Giro, Moser turned an eighty-one second deficit on Fignon into a sixty-thee second lead. Fignon was crestfallen, as he recalled in We Were Young And Carefree:

"I didn't know where to turn. What made it harder to stomach was the fact that the pilot of the helicopter with the television camera was particularly keen to do his job to the best of his ability by coming as close as he could to get pictures of me, even though he was practically mowing the number off my back with his rotor-blades. Obviously, the turbulence he caused pushed enough wind at me to slow me down a fair bit. Two or thee times I came close to crashing and shook my fist at him."

There is though one other point which needs to be considered when looking at the difficulties Kelly encountered in closing down on Delgado and Recio: his chasing group included two Zor team-mates of Pacho Rodríguez. Mínguez hadn't sent them back to help Rodríguez protect his second-place. But nor did he allow them to contribute to Kelly's attempts to bridge the gap to Recio and Delgado.

After the stage finish, Delgado wanted to know why Mínguez hadn't helped the chase, one way or another. His response was simple:

"Hey, Perico, do you remember who came second in the '83 Vuelta? [...] Nor do I, so you can see what coming second or third means: nothing. Congratulations lad."

Spaniards Don't Know How To Ride?

"The Spaniards, they said, did not know how to pedal."
Hemingway

In his comments to Moore, Millar's directeur sportif claimed that Spanish teams had a history of ganging up on foreign riders:

"It was a widespread anti-sporting practice in Spain at the time, even when Hinault was in his prime - although it was a lot harder to get away with stuff like that when Hinault was a main player in a race."

Spanish riders wanting to see a Spanish victor in a Spanish race? How terribly, terribly unsporting of them. Except that it happens in most countries at some time or another. But – while Spaniards had been known to gang-up on foreigners at the Vuelta – in Spain, Spanish riders frequently suffered because of the competition they faced not from the foreign taems but from their own compatriots. And foreign teams profited from this. Adrian Bell and Lucy Fallon, in their Viva La Vuelta!, draw particular attention to this, with reference to events throughout the 1984 season:

"The overriding principle, it seemed, was to prevent the victory of any rider in a rival Spanish team at any cost. It was obsession that had given the Tour of Valencia to the Frenchman Bruno Cornillet and the Catalan Week to the Australian Phil Anderson, after the Spaniards had dominated both races but forgotten about these well-placed foreigners in their zeal to mark each other."

And then the Spaniards all but gifted the 1984 Vuelta to the French rider, Eric Caritoux. Foreign riders, it seemed, didn't even have to try and play the divide and conquer tactic. The Spanish peloton was divided enough without their help. All the foreigners had to do was sit back and conquer. But – of course – you don't just sit back and wait without contingency plans. And those contingency plans often saw foreign teams uniting to divide the spoils between themselves.

At the 1979 Vuelta Freddy Maertens' former directeur sportif at Flandria, Guillaume 'Lomme' Driessens, was in Spain with a group of inexperienced neo-pros riding in the colours of Boule d'Or. Driessens - then a wily septuagenarian - cut a deal with the Miko-Mercier squad, whose star rider was Joop Zoetemelk. The Boule d'Or riders would ride for Zoetemelk when needed, in return for Miko-Mercier helping them get stage wins. By the end of the race, Driessens' boys had a haul of nine stage victories, and the points jersey for Fons de Wolf. Zoetemelk finished the race in the maillot amarillo.

El Mundo Deportivo's indignation wasn't at the deal done by the foreigners, it was at the inability of the Spanish teams to play by the same rules:

"Our directors were incapable of confronting the French-Belgian coalition because tactically they don't come up to the soles of Driessens' shoes."

Zoetemelk, when questioned about the apparent ease of his victory in 1979, had this to say:

"The Spaniards allowed themselves to be carried along by my team without any kind of ambition."

A year earlier, after Hinault's first victory in the Vuelta, Dicen asked him what he thought was wrong with Spanish cycling. His response was simple and direct:

"The Spaniards don't know how to ride. They don't go abroad, except to the Giro and the Tour. And from what I've seen and heard, they're only interested in fighting each other to the death in Spanish races."

Marino Lejarreta, who had left Spain for the Italian Alfa Lum squad, was clear about why he wasn't riding for a home team:

"If I've progressed in my profession, it's thanks to my decision to go abroad. [...] Spanish cycling is different from the rest."

After one stage on the 1984 Vuelta, Noel Dejonckheere, riding for the Spanish Teka squad, offered this comment:

"I've been racing in Spain for five years, and nothing surprises me any more."

Speaking the same day in 1984, Alberto Fernández had this to say:

"It's almost impossible for two Spaniards to reach an agreement in cycling. What's infuriating is that the foreigners laugh at you."

The foreigners laughed their bellies off when Eric Caritoux - an almost unknown French rider parachuted into the Vuelta at the last minute when Jean de Gribaldy discovered that Skil was contracted to ride a race he'd forgotten about - upset all expectations and won the 1984 Vuelta by the tightest ever margin in Grand Tour history.

Famously, De Gri's soigneur Willy Voet, has claimed that Caritoux rode that race à l'eau. But while there may have been no doping associated with the victory, there was a deal. And it was a deal which cut Pedro Delgado to the quick and hastened his education as to how real cycling works.

On the pre-penultimate day's racing, the 1984 Vuelta was going from Vallodolid to Segovia. This was the race's etapa reina, cutting though the Sierra de Madrid. For Delgado, who was within a minute of the race lead, this was both a chance to steal overall victory and an opportunity to win in his native Segovia. He waited until the crest of the final climb before launching a daredevil attack on the descent.

Perico was a demon descender, arse in the air, nose to his front wheel, caution - like his little cotton cap - thrown to the wind. He seemed oblivious to the dangers as he tore down mountains. Momentarily, Caritoux's lead was in danger. Beside him was Alberto Fernández, second overall and just thirty-seven seconds in arrears. Chase and risk being jumped by Fernández, don't chase and hand victory to Delgado, those were Caritoux's options. Then the Italians came to the rescue, in the form of Francesco Moser - hot off a new Hour record and victory in Milan-Sanremo, and tuning up for the Giro - and Simone Masciarelli. Delgado was recaptured, Caritoux stayed in the maillot amarillo and José Recio won the stage into Segovia. Delgado's autobiography, A Golpe de Pedal, records this comment on that day:

"I was filled with a terrible rage and I even asked Moser - him an Italian champion and all - what he stood to gain in chasing me down. [...] That day I found out about alliances in cycling and I felt cheated."

That 1984 Vuelta – and the other Spanish races in which foreign riders had profited from Spanish in-fighting – coloured what happened in 1985 in another way. Having seen Spaniards defeated so effortlessly, the directeurs sportifs of the Spanish squads had to be particularly careful not to be seen attacking one and other, or else the media would be down on them like a ton of bricks.

Tactical Deficiencies

At the end of the stage to the outskirts of Segovia in the 1985 Vuelta, Robert Millar was left feeling like Pedro Delgado on the equivalent stage the year before – filled with a terrible rage and more aware of how alliances in cycling really worked. But despite the role of deals - done, not done and undone - Millar's loss can really only be blamed on one team: Peugeot. Simply put, they fucked up good and proper.

With Millar in the maillot amarillo, Berland took his eyes off the main prize and started looking at the other spoils of war, one of which was the team prize. Millar, analysing what went wrong for Cycle Sport's Alasdair Fotheringham in 1997, had this to say:

"Berland wanted to win the team prize as well so he made the guys in the team do the time trial [the previous day] flat out [and consequently] they all got blasted on the first col the fatal day. Only Pascal Simon was left with me when I punctured at the bottom of the second climb. As the Spaniards had attacked, Simon had to be sacrificed just to get me back to the bunch."

Simon himself thought this sacrifice was the wrong thing to do. He'd figured he would be of no help to Millar on the climb, but that he could help on the descent and in the valley afterwards. So he rode on as his team leader changed wheels. But Berland called him back, threatening to sack him there and then if he didn't wait for the Scot:

"That was Berland, panicking. So I waited, but I couldn't help [Millar] much; he was too strong. The tactics weren't good. If I had ridden conservatively and waited for Robert to catch me, I could have ridden hard in the valley."

Millar's English team-mate, Sean Yates, had this to say to Moore about Berland:

"Berland was a fucking idiot. To be a manager and to be confronted by that situation ... he should have been aware that there was more than one scenario that could happen that day and he should have got something sorted. It was a fiasco."

It wasn't just Peugeot riders who criticised Berland and saw him as the architect of Millar's defeat. Ruiz Cabestany had this to say on the subject:

"When Berland tried to start making deals twenty kilometres from the finish, everything had been agreed upon. And you don't go back on deals."

That Berland left it too late to do a deal that could have saved the maillot amarillo Millar agrees on:

"Berland had seen the Peugeot riders being dropped when they went backwards on the first col, so he should have known to do something then. [...] According to Berland all the options were already taken by the time he realised the situation. There were no possibilities left well before the final hour. "

The High LifeOf Berland's role in the débâcle, Millar had this to say in the ITV documentary The High Life:

"It was Berland's fault. Everyone who was there knew I should have won. Berland knows I should have won it. It's kind of common knowledge in Europe that other teams can be bought to give you help in certain races if your team gets into trouble. It's up to the directeur sportif to deal with these kinds of matters because it would be a bit hard for me to go and talk to directeurs sportifs to try to get their teams to ride, because it's not my level. It's between the managers. And it's up to him to realise what the right time is to do his job."

Berland had, of course, done a deal with Panasonic, which he claims they reneged on. But Graeme Fife, in his Tour de France, claims that Berland also screwed up by refusing assistance offered by Fagor directeur sportif Luis Ocaña. Why Berland refused Ocaña's offer is not clear. Maybe he was still miffed at the Spaniard for an ambush Fagor had surprised him with a couple of days earlier as the race sped through a feed zone on the road to Alcalá de Henares. Or maybe Berland simply believed that the race was in the bag.

But Berland's deficiencies shouldn't detract from Millar's own role in events that day. The rider too has a role to play in making deals and alliances on the road. In 1985 though, Millar was somewhat inexperienced, as he later acknowledged:

"I was naïve and new to being leader in the race. It wasn't like I was the patron in the Tour of Spain or anything like that. If I'd known then what I do now I would have reached some agreements. [...] I was still learning so all this was new to me."

At the end of the 1985 season Millar drew a veil over his six-year relationship with Peugeot. The team he switched to? Panasonic.

Never Say Never

In the immediate aftermath of that Vuelta, there was scuttlebutt about Millar never riding in Spain again. As well as losing the race, he'd been subjected to abuse from the home fans, as he told the media:

"The crowds throw things at you and spit at you because they want a Spaniard to win."

Millar was not the first rider this happened to nor was he the last - Caritoux suffered similar problems the year before, Kelly would face them in 1987 and 1988. Nor is Spain unique in this regard. It's the ugly side of cycling fandom which those who smugly declare cycling fans superior to all others conveniently overlook.

Millar stood out from the other members of the peloton a little. He was gruff and didn't have much time for media muppets. But that wasn't what caught attention in Spain. There he came to be identified by the stud he wore in his left earlobe. El Pendientes, he was called, with one roadside banner reading: "Españoles, valientes. Que no gane El Pendientes!" (Brave Spaniards, don't let the one with the earring win!)

Millar spoke about this to Cycle Sport in 1997:

"The Spanish public hadn't seen anyone with an earring before, so it was a great new thing to them. They hadn't long been out of the Franco era so probably some of them harked back to the good old days. I was more famous for having an earring than for being a bike rider, in fact they still relate to that today."

The threat to never ride in Spain again was never actually made by Millar, a point he stressed to Cycle Sport:

"I never said that at all, though somebody thought it would look more spectacular if that was in their story. The words never came out of my mouth or even entered my head. I would have been crazy to deny myself the chance of winning a major race like the Vuelta."

Winning magazine, 1988Not only did Millar return to Spain, he also rode for a Spanish team, Fagor, for the 1988 season. Interviewed by Kenny Pryde for Winning, before the start of that season, the Scot offered this take on the three Grand Tours, their relative positions in the pecking order, and his appreciation of the Vuelta:

"I still prefer to ride the Tour of Spain rather than the Tour of Italy - but that doesn't mean that the Tour of Spain is a better race. The Tour of Italy is better than the Tour de France from a rider's point of view: it's better organised. From the organisational point of view, the Tour of Spain is the worst of the big three races.

"From the racing point of view though, I like the style of racing in Spain better because you do what you want every day. It gets a bit out of hand because nobody seems to have any control over the race except the riders, and even then sometimes they don't seem to know what they are doing. [...] I like Spain, I feel more comfortable there, even though the Giro has more prestige and it is a superior race in some ways."

Payback

Delgado's follow-ups to that 1985 Vuelta have added to the richness of cycling's strange history, particularly in 1988 and 1989. The former was the year of the Delgado affaire, the failed dope test that wasn't. The latter saw yet more allegations of dirty dealing at the Vuelta.

In 1989, the Colombians were a bit miffed that one of their stars, Kelme's Fabio Parra, had been 'cheated' of victory. Funnily, the day that happened was again a stage that ended in Dyc. Starting the day, Perico had a narrow lead over Parra and, when the Colombian attacked over the Navacerrada, an upset looked to be on the cards. Up the road ahead of him, Parra had a Kelme team-mate who was in the company of another Colombian, one of Postobón's riders. You don't have to be a tactical genius to work out how the day should have ended: the stage for Postobón, the Vuelta for Kelme.

But Kelme weren't the only ones cutting deals that day and Perico, with assistance from Alfa Lum's Sergei Ivanov, was able to neutralise Parra's attack. When, before the start of the next day's stage, a Colombian TV crew filmed a white envelope passing from the hands of Delgado to Ivanov, Perico was again accused of buying a victory. He, of course, denied the charge, insisting that - contrary to Colombian reports that the envelope contained $2,500 - he was doing nothing more than passing his address to Ivanov, so that the Russian could come and visit him when next he was in Spain. If nothing else, you really do have to admire Delgado's brass neck.

Do Unto Others

Cycling Weekly Giro cover - yes, the National 25 does merit a bigger headline than the GiroAs for Millar himself, well he got to play a starring role in Stephen Roche's treacherous toppling of his own Carrera team-mate, Roberto Visentini, in the 1987 Giro d'Italia. Did we cry tears that day for the Italian and condemn all those who ganged up on him? Did we fuck.

Rather than going into the story of that Giro in detail here, let's leave that for another day. The important point is the role Millar played. Having toppled his own team-mate - and ostensible team leader - from the maglia rosa, Roche was in the pink, but only by a narrow margin. And he couldn't guarantee that his own team-mates wouldn't do unto him as he had done unto Visentini. So Roche called on some favours. One was with the Fagor squad of Jean Claude Bagot, with whom he had set up a deal for just such an eventuality earlier in the race. Millar - then riding in the colours of Panasonic - was also one of those who came to the Irishman's aid.

As well as being worried about what his own team-mates might do, Roche also had to face the wrath of the tifosi, who were not pleased, not pleased at all, to see an Italian toppled by a foreigner. Here's some of how Millar described what happened to Winning the following year:

"Yes, they had a lot of problems with crowd control in the mountain stages, and I'd been in the same situation myself in Spain, not as serious as it was in Italy the day after Stephen had taken the jersey from Visentini - people were really hostile and I'd never seen anything like it before. Something similar in Spain yes, but only in isolated pockets of maybe ten or twenty people in a certain place, but not two or three thousand people all waiting on a mountain just to beat the shit out of you and spit on you.

"Well, I rode at the front and Steve rode in the middle of the group, which was the only thing he could do. But it wasn't for that reason that Steve won the race. Even if I had attacked, he would still have come with us, it wouldn't have made a difference. Besides, I couldn't see any advantage for any team if someone hit Roche and myself, or if [my Panansonic team-mate Erik] Breukink or Visentini had won - there wouldn't have been any prestige, they wouldn't have got anything out of a victory like that. People would just have said that they only won because some maniac hit Steve.

"It was only one day it was really hostile and after that it wasn't so dangerous, even on the last mountain. A lot of stories came out saying we had ridden for him because he was in the middle of the group; but when you see two thousand people wanting to beat up a guy you've known for ten years you say, 'Wait a minute!' I wasn't going to ride away from him up the hill because he had Schepers with him anyway. Schepers was probably riding better than we were that day, so if Steve rode in the middle, well - that was that."

The way Millar described it, it was something that just happened, he was just giving a guy he'd raced against when they were both amateurs a dig out. And, in My Road to Victory, Roche denies actually asking Millar for help:

"When I was in trouble with the Italians, Bob was a great help. I never asked him, he just saw what was happening and decided to help in whatever way he could."

But talking to Richard Moore, Roche's loyal mechanic, Patrick Valcke - who knew Millar from his own time as mechanic with Peugeot - made it clear that Millar had been asked for his assistance:

"We were in the shit. We had only Eddy Schepers helping Stephen, and the Italians wanted Visentini to win. We had to go looking for someone who would help Stephen in the mountains. So we went to see Bob. His answer? 'Ok.' That was his answer - 'Ok.'"

There is one aspect of Millar's aid to Roche in that Giro that is often overlooked, and it's an aspect which adds extra confusion to understanding how things work in the pro peloton sometimes. As well as both having been former Peugeot riders, and as well as both being Celts, Millar and Roche were also linked in another fashion: they shared an agent, the Irishman Frank Quinn.

In the sixties and seventies, the role of the two French super-agents, Roger Piel and Daniel Dousset, was well known. In order to manage - massage - the value of their stars, they often dictated the way others rode for, or against, them. Races - big races - were won and lost on their word. Quinn was far from being a super-agent, but his stable in those days included Millar and Roche, as well as Kelly, Paul Kimmage, Martin Earley and Malcolm Elliott. And, while Kelly hadn't come to Millar's aid in the 1985 Vuelta, Millar wasn't slow to help when the Irishman asked for his assistance in winning the Vuelta in 1988. As Quinn told Richard Moore:

"They co-operated in a lot of races, more than anyone will ever find out about."

Here We Go Again

Sprinter_mediumAs at the 1985 Vuelta, Millar once again found himself 'cheated' of victory at the 1988 Tour de France. Here though it was just a stage - Blagnac to Guzet Neige - not the overall race. Here's how Millar's Fagor team-mate, Malcolm Elliott, recounted the day's events in his autobiography, Sprinter:

"It turned out that [Massimo] Ghirotto, Millar and Philippe Bouvatier were approaching the finish together and winding up for the sprint when they came to the deviation for the team cars. There was one gendarme standing there and he wasn't particularly clear with his signals. Bouvatier and Millar followed the cars down the deviation, leaving Ghirotto, who'd been dropped, to carry on and take the stage. As soon as he realised what had happened Millar turned round and sprinted after him, but it was too late. It was an absolute disaster for Millar because he always claimed he was on top of the gear, and he felt he was going to win it."

Roule BritanniaWilliam Fotheringham, in his Roule Britannia, also blamed the gendarme:

"[Millar] was set for victory, ready to outsprint the Frenchman Philippe Bouvatier in the final three hundred metres, when Bouvatier was misdirected by a policeman and rode down the diversion intended for team cars and other race vehicles. Millar followed him, and by the time they had realised their mistake it was too late to prevent victory going to the Italian Massimo Ghirotto."

Others similarly repeat the claim that Bouvatier and Millar were misdirected off the course, including Geoffrey Wheatcroft in his Le Tour and Graeme Fife in his Tour de France. Millar himself accused the gendarme of misdirecting them.

Notably, one British cycling journalist disagrees with the view that the gendarme was at fault. Phil Liggett had this to say to Richard Moore:

"He wasn't sent off course. I remember it was the famous gendarme with the moustache; he'd done thirty Tours. The next day Robert was in the papers saying the gendarme had sent him off course; so this gendarme went up to him and said, 'Robert, why did you say that about me? You're telling everyone I sent you off course.' He didn't. He did what he did every day - he was pointing to the cars to leave the course, not the riders."

Generally though, the British media declared Millar the moral victor and shed tears in his honour. But this time the Scot didn't have l'Équipe on his side. They had a French rider to root for and Millar was riding for a Spanish team. When Ghirotto said after the stage that he thought victory should have gone to Bouvatier he was applauded. And when he said he wanted the booty he won for finishing first - which that year included a Peugeot car for each stage winner - to be awarded to Bouvatier, the granite heart of the Tour organisers melted. They gave both riders a Peugeot.

Millar? Well he was left to ride down from the moral high ground empty handed. Again.

Chutzpah

At the end of it all then, nothing that happened that day twenty-six years ago was particularly out of the ordinary. Everything that happened had happened countless times before, in countless races, wherever races were held. How you view those events - whether you believe the story of a 'stolen' Vuelta or whether you think this view of Millar's defeat is simply down to biased reporting - that's for you to decide.

But, to show that that bias cuts both ways, let's close with a report of how that day was reported in the Spanish media:

"One of the most unnerving things was the way the partisan Spanish TV guys commentated on the whole affair. One of them even managed, live on air, to suddenly transform himself into the PR officer for [Orbea directeur sportif] Domingo Perurena, saying, 'In the name of Perurena I want to thank all of the other team managers for their help.'"

The author of that blast against media bias? L'Équipe's Philippe Bouvet.

* * * * *

In Search of Robert MillarViva La Vuelta!Sources: Two books are key to the above. Adrian Bell and Lucy Fallon's Viva La Vuelta! and Richard Moore's In Search of Robert Millar. Where quotes haven't been attributed elsewhere, they generally come from one or other of these two books. Both should - in my mind - be on every cycling bookshelf.

Other sources are as named / linked to in the text.

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