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May 13, 2016 – It is safe to say that Italy’s Francesco Moser forged his reputation over the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix. Winning the “Hell of the North” three years consecutively has a way of doing just that. But it could also be said that Moser, nurtured his reputation in his native Giro d’Italia.
By James STARTT, European Associate to Peloton
Since 1973, his first year as a professional, he has rarely missed the legendary three-week race. And although he only won the race once, Moser was one of the race’s biggest forces until he retired in 1998, as he was a constant stage winner and podium finisher. “I’m one of the riders that has worn the pink jersey the most,” Moser said over breakfast in Catanzaro before the start of stage 4 in this year’s Giro. He was speaking of course, about the race’s leader’s jersey, the famed maglia rosa. And while he wasn’t the race’s biggest winner, his omnipresence earned him the nickname “The Sheriff.”
“It took me a long time to win the Giro,” he added. But yeh, I always thought I could.” Indeed 1984 was a renaissance year for Moser, who started out the season by breaking the world hour record set by Eddy Merckx back in 1972. He then stormed to victory in the Milan-San Remo classic before scoring his first and only victory in a grand tour.
In all fairness Moser’s large frame was constant handicap in the high mountains. But the Giro brought out the best in him. It made him dream. In fact, he seemed little interested in the other grand tours and only lined up for the Tour de France and Tour of Spain once each. “Ah but I wore the leaders jersey in both!” he defends with a smile. Moser actually did better than that as he won two stages in the 1975 Tour as well as the white jersey awarded to the best young rider. And he finished second to Fignon in the 1984 Vuelta a España.
“You know I really didn’t have anything against the Tour. It’s just that I was Italian and I was riding for Italian teams,” he explains. “The Giro was our objective. Plus teams were a lot smaller back then. To do both races I would have needed a much bigger team. But that was never my case.”
Yet despite his focus on the Giro, Moser had to wait over a decade to finally win the race, too often outpaced by more established stars like Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Felice Gimondi. But by far his fiercest competition came from his countryman Giuseppe Saronni, a career-long rival.
The two contemporaries were pitted against each other throughout much of their career, and the media played on their rivalry, finding constant analogy to the legendary rivalry of national heroes Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi. But while Bartali and Coppi shared a real mutual respect, there was no love lost between this younger duo. “It’s true what the press wrote,” Moser says. “We were two completely different riders. He (i.e. Saronni) has a difficult character. He’s not very social. And you never know what he is thinking. I try to get along with everyone. We get along fine now. But he keeps to himself.”
Today the 64-year-old Moser is far removed from the cycling industry. He no longer sponsors professional teams and while his elegant steel bikes remain highly collectible, production ceased in 2005. Instead he focuses on his family’s wine business, where three generations of Mosers have produced white, rosé and red wines from the hillside around his native Tento in northern Italy.
But he still returns to the Giro d’Italia every year, where he can be seen riding with other former champions and guests of Mediolanum, an Italian bank that sponsors the best climber jersey. “Oh I still ride,” Moser says. “This year I rode in Argentina, The Canaries and Brasil. No I never stopped riding.”