Stanga recounts Fignon's Gatorade years
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Stanga recounts Fignon's Gatorade years

by Samuel Morrison at 5:49 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Italian team manager recounts memories of working and living with French cyclist

Frenchman Laurent Fignon won the Tour de France twice, the Giro d'Italia, the Milano-Sanremo twice, the Flèche Wallonne and the hearts of cycling fans around the world with his close loss to Greg LeMond at the 1989 Tour de France. Fignon, who died from Cancer Tuesday at the age of 50, had never raced for an Italian team, however, until 1992 and 1993 with Gatorade – his last years as a professional cyclist.

"The sponsor wanted to expand into the French market. I met Laurent, who did not have an agent, a couple of times. It was not hard to agree. The project interested him immediately," Gatorade's team manager, Gianluigi Stanga told Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.

"He was with [French team manager] Cyrille Guimard, I never imagined being able to have a team," Stanga continued.

"He was happy to help Gianni Bugno try to win the Tour de France... It was Gianni who called to give me the news of his death. Gianni did not manage to win the Tour, but still managed to finish third.

"And Laurent proved to be a professional to the end. He did not join the team to relax. He won a stage victory in the Tour in 1992, to Mulhouse, the Tour of Mexico in 1993. To think, he had won two Tours, a Giro, two times Sanremo, but always raced as if it was his first day. And he never gave off the attitude of superiority, not once, really."

Italian Gianni Bugno was reigning world champion when he joined Fignon at Gatorade for the 1993 season. Bugno does not remember the races with Fignon, but the memory of a blond Frenchman joining the team for the first day at the photo shoot. Bugno was impressed.

"Bugno had a certain awe, even if he had also already won the Giro d'Italia already. He appreciated [Fignon's] ability to understand and interpret the particular race tactics."

Fignon raced his last Tour de France in Gatorade's green colours in 1993. He abandoned mid-way through and decided to end his carrier the next month at the GP Plouay. He kept contact with his former boss, though.

"He was certainly not a trivial person. He had many victories and defeats, but also interests and passions. I remember he had a beautiful collection of small-mechanised puppets. Some were ancient, some more than one-hundred years old. We were together when he found one in a shop in Italy, he was so happy. Then, one time, I was at his beautiful home in Paris... He had a passion for parrots and had a couple huge ones flying free for the apartment.

"Oh, and this time at the Moulin Rouge... I was in Paris for a meeting, when he told me he had booked us a table. They received us with full honours. Laurent knew how to live. It was also one of the times I realised just how much he was loved."

Fignon died in Paris Tuesday at the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital. He had revealed prior to last year's Tour de France that he was receiving chemotherapy for his cancer, but continued to work as a commentator at last year's and this year's race.


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