If Damiano Caruso was a British cyclist his nickname would almost certainly be ‘Robbo.’ As in ‘Robinson’ Caruso. A play on the lead character of Daniel Defoe’s classic eighteenth century tale of shipwreck and self-sufficiency.
Because he’s Italian, it’s probably something more poetic. Almost certainly something to do with loyalty, dependability, or companionship.
Because Caruso, aged thirty-three, and until this morning without a World Tour win to his name, is a career-long domestique. A trusty lieutenant. A man who shepherded the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso to their biggest wins.
When his domestique Pello Bilbao peeled off, spent, having ridden for his leader until six kilometres from the summit of today’s finishing climb, Caruso slapped him passionately on the back.
It was a lovely moment. Heartfelt. A display of appreciation for his efforts.
It was a gesture that said: “we are the same, you and I…and to repay your sacrifice I will now ride away implausibly up the road and take the biggest win of my career, on Stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia, and cement my second place overall just for the hell of it!”
And then he pedalled off and did exactly that.
On a day of high-altitude mountains, criss-crossing the Swiss-Italian border, in amongst the snow, and with Simon Yates and Egan Bernal eyeing each other up for signs of weakness, Caruso rode like a man rather taken with this whole leadership business.
The original leader of the Bahrain Victorious team, Mikel Landa, crashed out way back in the first week. Since then Caruso has hovered to this elevated and very un-Caruso like position.
Today, with a cheeky move off the descent of the San Bernadino pass, he and his teammate linked up with Romain Bardet and his pal Michael Storer, and left Bernal and Yates to their staring contest.
When Bardet cracked in the dying kilometres, only a late chase from an apparently revived Bernal, after his slight wobbles in recent days, threatened the win. No-one with a heart beating in their chest and even a vague working knowledge of the concept of the underdog wanted ol’ Robbo to get caught.
And so, barring weirdness during tomorrows time-trial, Egan Bernal will win this Giro d’Italia and Caruso and Yates will round out the podium.Embed from Getty Images
For Yates to claw back the near-three minutes today was going to take a full implosion from Bernal; instead, the Colombian appeared (relatively) serene. In the context of four-thousand metres of climbing, in the highest Alpine mountains, at the back end of a tough, tough Giro, of course.
On the final climb to Alpe Motta his teammate Dani Martinez dropped every last one of young Egan’s rivals (including Yates, barring Caruso, of course) and left his leader to one last effort to the summit. Bernal rolled across the line in second place, twenty-four seconds behind the Italian. He owes his mate Martinez a beer.
All of which makes it a day for the domestique: Caruso with the win – Bilbao and Martinez with the starring support roles – and reminds us that this sport, for all its faults, delivers a depth of heart and humanity that few others do.
Lunga vita Caruso, Bernal, and the Giro d’Italia.
(Top Image: Charles JACQUES from Cernay la ville, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)