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Claudio Chiappucci interview

A multiple King of the Mountains jersey winner at the Tour de France, Claudio Chiappucci was known for his audacious attacks.

Cyc: You earned the nickname ‘El Diablo’. How did that come about?

Claudio Chiappucci: I got the nickname when I raced in the Tour of Colombia. As usual I was attacking a lot and being very aggressive on the bike and the reporters had never seen a European rider attacking so much. They were very vocal, very loud, and they started shouting at me ‘El Diablo’ - the devil. When I got back to Europe I told the story and the name stuck.

Cyc: Why did you ride the way you did?

CC: It was just my character, but also because I wasn’t very good in the sprint! I thought it was the best way to try to beat riders like Indurain who had very fixed plans and stuck to them. To try to win a stage race against those guys you needed to attack, to take chances.

Cyc: You led the 1990 Tour de France until the penultimate stage. What was it like having a rider like Greg LeMond chasing you down?

CC: I was an emerging rider and LeMond was the big champion. He was the guy in charge of the race, so when I went away on the second stage nobody knew who I was and LeMond let me go. I was just this young rider, but as the race went on he became more concerned because he struggled to drop me. I became a big problem that he had to solve, which he did in the end with help from other guys, but I almost held on.

Cyc: 1990 was your breakthrough year. How did that come about? 

CC: I turned pro in 1985, but in 1986 I had a massive accident at the Tour of Switzerland and I was really badly injured, so I lost almost a year. 1988 was just about building fitness and in 1989 I started to race well again, particularly in the Classics. In 1990 the champions in my team were getting past their peak so I had the chance to move up within the team and have more opportunity. That year at the Giro I came eighth in GC and won the climbers’ jersey, which paved the way for a great Tour.

Cyc: You were on the podium six times at the Grand Tours. Did it bother you not to win?

CC: Not so much, because I knew the major problem for me was the time-trial. Back in those days you had 60km TTs and I just wasn’t big enough to compete with Indurain or LeMond over that sort of distance. There is hardly any time-trialling in Grand Tours these days but I don’t regret how it was back then. The type of courses forced me to always attack, which was how I liked to ride anyway. I know if Indurain hadn’t been around I would have won one of them at some point.

Cyc: Your Stage 13 win in Sestriere at the 1992 Tour de France is the stuff of legend. Was it the best of your career?

CC: In terms of stages races I would definitely say yes. I felt good so I attacked from 14km into the stage, and was alone at the front with 100km to go. This is where I tried to break Indurain, but unfortunately he found riders to help him out. Still, that ride was easy – I was in the zone that day. 

Cyc: There were many big stars during the period you raced. Who did you most admire?

CC: It has to be Indurain. He was such a clean, nice rider. In his career he raced everything and was able to win everything. He had the talent to be successful whatever the situation and I admire that. 

Cyc: Which Italian riders do you admire today? 

CC: Nibali I think. He is versatile. He can go well in the Classics but also in the stage races – this adaptability is a rare thing these days.

Cyc: Do you think the Grand Tours have changed a lot since you raced in them?

CC: Of course. The racing is different, the courses are different and the stages are a lot shorter. Everything is a lot more controlled these days. The race radios have taken away the instinct of racing, which I miss.

Cyc: What elements of modern racing would you have liked to race with?

CC: The bicycle itself I think would make a massive difference.With the light bikes nowadays I would have been able to climb even faster!

Cyc: What are you up to these days?

CC: I still love riding and I’m always on my bike. But now I’m on my phone a lot too, busy organising different projects – like helping out my friend Flavio Zappi with his new clothing range.

Cyc: And what are your plans for the future?

CC: To keep riding!

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