Cycling: Tafi rides through hell to heaven
Monday 12 April 1999
The Italian national champion, who was second last year behind his team- mate Franco Ballerini and third in 1996 behind another team-mate, Belgian Johan Museeuw, this time took his own chance by breaking away 25 miles from the finish.
His victory in the 171-mile World Cup race, known as the "Hell of the North" and run yesterday in windy but dry conditions, was the fourth by a Mapei rider in five years.
It was also the third time Mapei had swept the podium places as Tafi's Belgian team-mates, Tom Steels and Wilfried Peeters, were second and third. The victory was all the sweeter for the 33-year-old from Florence because on two previous occasions he had been forced to sacrifice his chances to another rider. In 1996, he crossed the line in tears after the Mapei director, Patrick Lefevere, decided he should allow Museeuw to win. Last year, he worked hard to help Ballerini win his second victory.
This year, circumstances were on his side. Ballerini left to join Lampre at the end of last season and he was too isolated on Sunday to stand a chance.
Museeuw had a terrible crash in the gruelling Wallers-Armeberg "trench" last year and he decided not to take any risks this season and work for Tafi.
"This morning Lefevere told me it was my turn and the team did a great job for me," the Italian said. "Once again, Mapei showed we were a great team."
It was at the end of the infamous trench - a long cobbled climb lined by deep ruts in the middle of a forest - that Tafi made his move. He first led the chase behind a group of early breakaways led by Steels, the winner of Ghent-Wevelgem last week, and, despite a puncture with just over 30 miles left, shook off his rivals one by one.
Andrei Tchmil, the Milan-San Remo winner who won the "Hell" in 1994, was among the first favourites to lose ground. Ballerini quickly followed. And, with 25 miles left, two of the most promising riders in the bunch, Belgium's Franck Vandenbroucke and the American champion George Hincapie, were still in contention in a small group led by Tafi.
Steels, Peeters, and two Paris-Roubaix specialists, the Dutchman Leo Van Bon and the Belgian Jo Planckaert, were also in the group. But when Tafi struck the final blow at another classic spot of the race, le Carrefour de l'Arbre, none of his rivals could reply.
Tafi, a former winner of the Tour of Lombardy, remained on his own for the last hour of the race and he was never threatened on the run to the finish.
Latest in Sport
West Ham United vs Astra Giurgiu match report: Slaven Bilic sent off after Hammers throw away lead
Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Manchester United? 'My next move will be a surprise' says PSG striker
Ashes 2015 live: Latest score and updates with Australia on the brink of humiliating defeat after Jimmy Anderson claims David Warner wicket
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: Steve Finn claims five wickets as England close in on beating Australia in third Test inside three days at Edgbaston
- 1 Stuart Baggs dies: Apprentice star 'The Brand' found dead aged 27
- 2 As the world mourned the death of Cecil the lion, five endangered elephants were killed in Kenya
- 3 Amazon Prime - how to cancel: after Top Gear hiring, instructions on how to leave premium service
- 4 What is halal meat and why is it controversial?
- 5 Living in Spain and commuting to London 'cheaper than actually working in London'
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
While we fixate on Calais, the UK Government is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
£35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...
£17000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Several opportunities to join t...
£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a small, busy team s...
£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT Support c...