On Thursday, a tough stage led to an historic day in stage 6 of the Giro. Already riding with the white jersey for two days, Attila Valter left his mark even more on the Giro 2021, in Ascoli Piceno, by conquering the iconic pink jersey. At only 22, he then became the first ever Hungarian to wear a leader’s jersey on a Grand Tour. This is also quite an accomplishment for the Groupama-FDJ cycling team, since they had not taken the “maglia rosa” since Bradley McGee, seventeen years ago.
“The guys said straight away: Attila is in front!”, Philippe Mauduit
With the white jersey on his shoulders since the finish in Sestola on stage 4, Attila Valter was already living a little dream on the Giro. He probably didn’t imagine how big that dream would become on Thursday, towards Ascoli Piceno. Still, he was happy to talk about it at the start of stage 6. “It’s good to joke about it in the morning, but to really believe in it is a different story,” he said later, referring to these early interviews. “We had something to play today, but at the start we didn’t talk about it because there was a hard day ahead and we didn’t want to put pressure on him,” added Philippe. At the start, the young Hungarian just had to stay in the bunch that went quite hard initially, in order to neutralize too big breakaways. There in a first move, Rudy Molard and Sébastien Reichenbach finally got caught, and it was then Simon Guglielmi who took over and managed to slip into the right breakaway after about twenty kilometres. The former Conti’s rider went away with seven men, and they were able to take a five-minute lead in the first part of the race. This all happened before the weather really got bad in the first climb of the day, making it even impossible to broadcast.
Under these terrible conditions, mixing heavy rain and strong wind, the riders started to climb the Forca di Gualdo. Simon Guglielmi remained in the day’s breakaway, but approaching the summit, the bunch literally exploded due to a strong move from the Ineos team. “Everyone knew it could be a decisive moment, and when everyone knows it, it’s just war,” Philippe summarized. “For us, it was really close at that point. Rudy, Seb and Romain were just behind the pink jersey, and it split just ahead of him. Attila was just in front of the pink jersey, and it just split on his wheel. He got through it ok, and that was the main thing. We knew it right away. As soon as I saw the split, I asked who was in front. I saw three blue jerseys behind the pink jersey, and I got a little scared, but the guys immediately said: Attila is in front, Attila is in front! It was a relief. Besides, Simon was still in the break, a minute ahead, so we could stop him to help Attila just in case.” In the very long downhill section, Simon Guglielmi was actually caught by a bunch of around 40 men where the white jersey was still there, in the opposite to the pink jersey Alessandro De Marchi.
“The most beautiful day of my life”, Attila Valter
At the bottom of the last climb (15k at 6%), the group of favourites therefore only included one rider higher than Attila Valter in the general classification: Louis Vervaeke (18 seconds ahead). The group progressively reduced from the back, but the Hungarian from Groupama-FDJ only started to move upper and upper in the bunch. Serious things started in the last four kilometers, as Gino Mäder set off for the stage victory while Attila Valter was still in contact with the very best. He was even among the quickest to react to Egan Bernal’s acceleration 1,500 meters from the finish. Under the red flame, the white jersey made quite an impression being there next to the favourites of this 2021 Giro. He certainly dropped back a little in the final hundred meters, but he still crossed the line only sixteen seconds behind Bernal, Evenepoel or Dan Martin. In the meantime, Louis Vervaeke was losing much more time, and the news came quite quickly. Moments after crossing the line in 12th position, Attila Valter was called to the official podium. Not just to pick up his white jersey, which he managed to retain, but above all to take the pink jersey, which he had just conquered with style at the end of an epic day of racing.
“I couldn’t be more surprised and happier, but yes, I was planning to do it,” said Attila in his first interview. “I knew I had good climbing legs on this Giro and that I could do better than those ahead of me in GC. I just had to hang on with the best climbers today. I was really motivated to do so. I didn’t know everything about the gaps, but I tried to keep eyes on everyone. I knew Vlasov was 24 seconds behind me overall, Remco 28 and Bernal 39. On the last climb I couldn’t think about the pain, I only had the pink jersey in mind. The more the kilometers went by, the more I believed in it. I knew the leaders were going to attack but I had the legs to limit my losses. In these situations, motivation obviously gives extra power. When I crossed the line, I looked at who was around me, and I thought, “I did it” but no one had the official information. After two minutes, someone from the organization said to me: “You have the pink jersey”. It was an incredible feeling. I still can’t believe it’s true. It’s the most beautiful day of my life! I could cry. I am so happy. I just hope to enjoy this jersey with the team as much as possible”.
“Some were wondering what we would be able to do”, Philippe Mauduit
The emotion was also strong among his teammates and staff. “It’s a great moment of joy that brings the team together around a very iconic jersey,” said Philippe. “You just need to watch the list of riders who had the opportunity to wear this jersey. Some will do 15 years in the pros without touching it. To have it on the team tonight is just great, for Attila and the team. I think everyone was a little anxious at the start of this Giro, some were wondering what we would be able to do. Eventually, there were three big breakaways, we were there every time, and tonight we have the pink jersey. We are not going to boast, the Giro is not yet completely successful, but it’s still a good start. And it’s always important to start a Grand Tour in a good way”. Several hundred kilometers away, Marc Madiot also savoured the moment. “I hadn’t seen it coming at all,” he confessed on Thursday night. “I hadn’t even seen him with the rain jackets! Having the pink jersey in the team had not happened to us since Bradley McGee (in 2004, note). It’s good for Attila, who is rewarded today. It’s also a very good thing for the whole team. We didn’t take the start with a group that looked very dominant on paper, but at the end of the day, we’ve already done some great things. The pink jersey is the icing on the cake for this first week of racing. They’re committed, they are in the game and it will open doors for them in the head”.
To Attila, Marc only had two words to say: “Enjoy it”. Tomorrow, in a seventh stage that looks suitable to the sprinters, the 22-year-old will set off with all eyes on him. “In Hungary, it was already incredible with the white jersey, but I think it will get crazy now,” concluded Attila. “My father is in the Tour of Hungary, he told me that at the finish they showed the stage of the Giro and that everyone was supporting me. I’m happy to be the first Hungarian to take this jersey. I hope it will give cycling a big boost in my country”. “For him, the white jersey was a dream,” Philippe recalled. “Tonight he’s in pink, it’s something way bigger. He will dream all night long about his podium and his jersey. Maybe even sleep with it. That’s great for a 22 year old kid.”