CW’s British performances of 2011: No. 24

Number 24: Russell Downing finishes Giro d’Italia stage after plunging down a ravine
May 2011

Russell Downing must have known, in the back of his mind, that the Giro d’Italia might be his one and only opportunity to complete a grand tour and become a giant of the road.

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The 32-year-old Team Sky rider was overlooked when it came to selecting the squads for the big three stage races in 2010. When it was confirmed he would be riding the Giro in May, he was determined to be more than just a number.

This year’s race was a particularly savage edition and opportunities were few and far between. It wasn’t until the 18th stage that Downing managed to carve out a realistic shot at a stage win, getting clear in the final hour with a group of riders before finding that he just didn’t have it in the legs.

The following day, he had to call on every ounce of his determination simply to make sure reached Milan. On the descent of the Mottarone during stage 19, he had to swerve when the rider he was following overshot a corner.

Downing hit the crash barrier and was catapulted down a ravine. He fell about 20 metres before a tree broke his fall. His bike fell even further.

He scrambled back up to the road and with some help rescued his bike. After a quick check that nothing was broken he got back on. Another couple of corners down the road he realised his shoe plate was broken, which caused him to hit the barrier. That left his bike broken so he had to wait for a spare. Then he had to change his shoe before he sprinted back up to the last group on the road and safety.

On the final climb, a brutal 28 kilometres up to Macugnaga, he kept losing touch with the grupetto. At the finish, he was more than 27 minutes down on the stage winner Paolo Tiralongo, and only just inside the time limit. But he had done it. He’d survived.

After that it was a case of surviving Sestrieres and finishing the time trial in Milan before he could add his name to the list of British riders who have completed one of the grand tours.

Related links

Cycling Weekly’s British performances of 2011 advent calendar