The pink dream came to an end this Sunday for Attila Valter, on the gravel road of Campo Felice. In what was a very intense ninth stage of the Giro, the Hungarian held on to his leader’s jersey until the last two kilometers of the final climb before cracking a little. Nobody was able to prevent Egan Bernal’s to take the win and the maglia rosa in Rocca di Cambio anyway. Now fifth overall, Attila Valter still has a lot to go for in this Giro, like the rest of the Groupama-FDJ cycling team.
“The team can be proud”, Attila Valter
Attila Valter hoped to bring his pink jersey until the first rest day. To do that however, he had to “survive” the mountains stage 9 of the Giro between Castel di Sangro and Campo Felice. Around 3,500 vertical meters were on the menu this Sunday, and it wasn’t long before the riders made their way to the first slopes. Then started a long sequence of breakaway attempts. With the attackers having the momentum on this 2021 edition, many riders wanted to get involved in the breakaway and the fight therefore lasted for… 75 kilometers. “We weren’t surprised by race pace at the start,” said Philippe Mauduit. “To be honest, as long as our rider can hold on in such situations, it’s already a good thing. They showed they were there. Maybe they weren’t completely at the front, but in that kind of scenario, you also let the others do a bit because everyone is chasing everyone. They handled the situation in a rather good way”. “It was brutal for me, but also for all the riders I think, summed up Attila. Everyone really wanted to be in the breakaway, as if the stage victory was guaranteed. So it was very hard”. After two hours of furious racing and no rest, seventeen men managed to go away and the best placed among them in the overall standings was more than five minutes behind the pink jersey.
The Groupama-FDJ cycling team then calmly took things in hand and put its eight riders at the head of the peloton. “It was important and reassuring for Attila to still have the whole team around him after this tough start,” added Philippe. Thanks to Antoine Duchesne, the gap was maintained around three minutes in the second categorized climb, and then came the long climb to Ovindoli, fifty kilometers from the finish. “We wanted to slow down the pace a bit but when we did, the guys got passed by other guys who wanted to stay not too far from the breakaway,” Philippe said. “Therefore, they had to fight to keep their position and consequently maintain a good tempo. They really did their best”. After this penultimate climb, the young Hungarian could still count on five of his teammates in a bunch quite reduced following the acceleration of Ineos. “The last couple of days, the guys have been super amazing,” said Attila. “I think everyone even did more than they thought they could. We were all together when the breakaway went while only half of the peloton was there. Antoine started to pull, Romain did the downhills. On the last long climb, Simon and Lars kept me in good position. Rudy was there all day by my side. Matteo was there in the final to support and cheer me, and I needed it! Seb was there in the very last part in order not to lose too much time. Everyone did his job perfectly on a hard day. They could have finished in the gruppetto under other circumstances, but we fought hard for the jersey. The team can be proud”.
“Happy that all this happened”, Attila Valter
With about ten kilometres to go, the bunch started to increase the pace even more and Attila Valter slowly dropped back in the group. “I have to admit that even before the last climb I knew there was a high chance that I would lose the jersey,” he said. “I knew it was steep at the end, and on the gravel part, it’s really easy to gain ten seconds. Not to mention the bonus seconds. I managed to hold on until the tunnel, then tried to recover a bit and I gave my best on the gravel road. It wasn’t enough to keep the jersey but I wanted to show that I didn’t want to give it away so easily and I fought to the line. I suffered the whole stage, I was a little tired from the last few days and I did not have my best day on the bike”. Dropped from the favourites group with less than two kilometers to go, Attila Valter eventually finished the stage in 25th place, 49 seconds behind Egan Bernal. “Even if I had somehow made it on the podium today, I would still have lost the jersey to an incredible Egan Bernal,” said Attila. “I think there is no shame in losing the jersey after such a hard stage. I’m still fifth overall after nine stages. If I had been told that before the Giro, I would have signed for sure”. “We fought to keep the jersey and we don’t have to be ashamed of our performance,” said Lars van den Berg. “Obviously, we were a bit disappointed when we crossed the line because we are competitors, but we must also remember that moment of joy when Attila took the jersey and the three days we spent defending it all together”.
For Attila Valter, the pink adventure therefore came to an end on Saturday, but without any bitterness. “For sure I’m happy, I had three beautiful days,” he said. “I’m also glad I have a little more time now to think about these three days, because I haven’t had much time lately. It’s really hard to find the right balance between staying focused on the race and enjoying the moment, which was the greatest of my life so far. I was not sad when at the finish today, but mostly happy that it all happened.” Philippe Mauduit added: “I want to remember the work of all the staff, who have been extraordinary and who did great. I also remember the riders’ attitude, as they were united around Attila and his jersey. They fought hard every day. I only remember positive things from the last three days. The Giro is not over but we will complete the first half tomorrow, and this first half has been successful. They have certainly given a lot of energy in this first week but we will try to stay active and look to other things”. “I want every rider to have his chance,” concluded Attila. “Personally, I never imagined being in such a good position after nine days. The goal now is to stay there as long as possible, but if I happen to have a bad day, I also know that I have the legs on this Giro to play a stage victory from a breakaway”.