Alex Massie

The Nobility of Defeat

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As you know, it's Ivan Basso in the picture here and on Saturday, for the first time and on the penultimate stage, in this year's Giro d'Italia he will wear the race leader's Maglia Rosa. He deserves it too. On the Zoncolan and then yesterday on the Mortirolo pass Basso has been the pride of the field in this year's superb Giro.

Increasingly I rather suspect that the Giro is a better and, in some ways, tougher race than the Tour de France. The frequently terrible weather conditions play a part in this but so too do the unforgiving Italian mountains. In any case this has been a Giro to cherish and one that reminds one that, no matter how chequered the stories of the protagonists, cyling is the sport of a certain kind of truth.

Basso may be in Pink this morning but the man he has supplanted, David Arroyo, deserved the palmares today. Sure, he finished three minutes behind Basso and lost the race leader's jersey but he rode above himself and proved himself worthy of the old and valuable and distinguished jersey he was wearing. Few things become a cyclist as finely as the manner in which they lose that which is most precious to them.

This, then, was Arroyo's moment even as it proved his downfall. His courage in the mountains and his nerve - reckless some might say - on the descents were twin monuments to a ride that was as brimful of courage as anyone could wish to see. That it proved not quite enough only added to the piquancy of the fact that it fell short.

But that does not matter. The nobility of failure can, in cycling anyway, be as grand as the glory of victory. Friday may have been the moment that, albeit with the Gavia and the rest of Saturday's monstrous stage to come, Basso seized control but it will be remembered for Arroyo's bravery and guts too.

First place and then the rest nowhere, it is sometimes said. But not in cycling where losing does not necessarily diminish the achievement.

Not that Arroyo was the only hero on Friday. Spare a thought for poor Cadel Evans who has, to all intents, ridden this Giro as an individual, shorn of any support from his BMC team-mates. His effort has been monumental too and, while (probably) in vain, deserves to be celebrated too.

To the victors the prizes, for sure, but the losers win their memories too and rightly so. This has been a terrific Giro and the Tour will have to go some to beat it.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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