I can’t believe it’s been so long! It still feels like yesterday. I’m very happy to remember this day because it’s one of the most beautiful memories I have of all my years in cycling. That stage wasn’t the best for our riders. In ’94, the team was built for sprinters, because we had Mario Cipollini and Adriano Baffi and no great climbers for the mountains. So with Ventoux, the stage to Carpentras looked impossible for us.
When Eros went in a solo break, I was driving the team car alongside the mechanic, Stefano Scarselli. We didn’t think for a minute that Eros could have survived that terrible climb. We were sure that the group would catch him at the beginning of Ventoux, but Eros was having a great day, and he went like the wind.
At the start of the climb, the peloton was a long way behind us, but the mountains were never the best place for Eros. He drank so many Coca-Colas that I thought he was going to explode. Once he got out of the forest and into the desert that is the top part of Ventoux, it was very warm but Eros was still making good time. We started to believe that something incredible might happen.
The great climbers of the Tour were behind us, but fighting hard, and they started to claw back the minutes in a short space of time. But we knew that if Eros could just make it to the top of Ventoux alone, he could beat them to the finish. I remember him asking us: “How much time do I have on the group, and what’s happening behind me?” I just told him: “It’s all OK, Eros, all is quiet, go go go!” It was a lie, of course. I can still hear the radio: “Voici le passage à trois kilomètres du sommet. Eros Poli Eros Poli a six minutes d’avance sur trois coureurs: Richard Virenque, Marco Pantani, Miguel Indurain.”
I was terrified that our adventure was nearing an end, but Eros wouldn’t give up. And then we saw the observatory at the top of the mountain. Once he passed the summit, Eros flew downhill and didn’t stop until Carpentras. The party started inside the car before we even crossed the finish line. It was a triumph. To think, that a giant like Eros could climb like that on Ventoux. The French fans were in a trance. It was like he’d won the whole Tour. If you look at the TV footage, you can see our car right behind him as he crossed the line, even though all the team drivers are supposed to pull off on a slip road before the finishing straight. Staying with him was completely forbidden, but we were just so happy, we had to see it right to the end.
I still think about it a lot, and I’m thankful to Eros for that memory. He was always a good guy, all the time smiling, I never heard of him having a problem with anyone. He was a pleasure to work with. He was humble, even though he won an Olympic gold medal, and he was a great rider. He always worked hard for his teammates and was kind to everyone. And my father, who was the general manager of the Mercatone Uno team, always thought highly of him. Both as a rider, and as a man.
Fausto Pezzi was a sports director with the Mercatone Uno team, which was run by his father Luciano.
We return to Provence every year with Eros, to celebrate this special victory in true inGamba style. If you’d like to find out more about the next one, get in touch!