Cyclingheroes: Some teams knew before the
start that there was snow at the Gavia. Did the riders of the Panasonic team knew this as well ? And.. was it already
raining at the start in Chiesa Valmenco ?
de Rooij: I believe it was raining during the whole stage, I didn't know that it would snow on the Gavia.
At the start of the Gavia climb it was 16 degrees [Celsius], it was raining and we got rid of all unnecessary clothes and
gave it to the team car. Most of the time I had bad luck because I did not climb with the riders at the front, but way ahead
of the 'groupetto'. So the team cars were always ahead or far behind me..
Cyclingheroes: Before the Gavia you climbed
the Passo Aprica, did you had an idea how things would be on the Gavia?
Theo de Rooij: No. I believe we didn't race
very fast because the group was pretty big as we started to climb the Gavia.
Cyclingheroes: Teun van Vliet was in an early
breakaway, do you remember how the stage developed until the beginning of the Gavia climb ?
Theo de Rooij: No I can't remember anymore.
But the climb and the descending of the Gavia are burned in my mind.
Cyclingheroes: Johan Van Der Velde was the
first rider at the top, but he had to stop as he was shivering from the cold. Did you see him at the descent?
de Rooij: No, I think he was still at the top when I arrived there.
Cyclingheroes: You could almost see nothing
because of the snow and the road had not been paved then. What went through your head during the climb of the Gavia? Were
you affraid or did you just ride ?
Theo de Rooij: I remember very
well the road changing from asphalt into 'terra battuta' [an unpaved country road] during the climb. The tubes sunk into
the mud, the rain changed into snow and various cars had trouble to reach the summit. Some cars didn't make it, spectators
pushed the cars and at some cars there where people sitting on the luggage trunk to get more grip on the slipping
back wheels. About one or two kilometers before the summit, I saw PDM's pr officer Harry Jansen standing at the side
of the road with a padded black ski jacket. I stopped and begged him to give me his jacket because I was wearing not enough
clothes. It was so cold that I felt like I was riding naked through the snow. Harry gave me his jacket but it was
too late, I was blue from the cold.
It was a survival tour. I only could use two gears because my gears were full
with ice. At the summit I changed gears and used my big crank. During the descent I lost a cap and my glasses.
The snow was biting in my eyes and I was holding one hand before my eyes to protect them and looked through
the slits between my fingers. I was steering with the other hand, the road was slippery and no asphalt.
It was very cold, on the moments that I was able to hold my steering
wheel with both hands, I stood up and I strained all my muscles, and while I was screaming for more power,
adrenalin and to produce some warmth, I rode down. Every now and then my whole body was shaking heavily, but
at the next moment I had it under control again. Sometimes I thought I was getting insane...
I told myself that it would be one degree warmer after each kilometer
[1 km. 10%= 100 meters. lower =1 degree]. Suddenly Jesus Suarez-Cuevas [from the Spanish Zahor Chocolates - Macario team]
was riding with me. It appeared that he had put some warm clothes on at the summit, took a bidon with hot tea and cognac
and rode down. He saw my deplorable condition and offered me a sip of hot tea with cognac. I still had one hand before
my eyes, the other one at my steering wheel and was shaking heavily. At first I was affraid to take the bidon because I had
to use the hand that was before my eyes. The snow in my eyes was realy hurting. He was yelling at me that I had to drink and
I took the bidon. A few nips of tea with alcohol had an anastatic effect and soon I felt better.
I was riding on asphalt
again and it was getting warmer. Almost down in the valley I was flying, passing pink jersey holder Franco
Chioccioli, he was wearing a yellow Del Tongo rain coat and was riding 20 km/h...
Cyclingheroes: What was going through your
head after you returned to the hotel and how do you look back to the stage now, 19 years later?
Theo de Rooij: When I arrived at the
luxury hotel I remember how bizarre it was to walk along the luxury reception looking like a mineworker. On dirty and
wet black socks on a beautiful marmor floor. At first I was suffering as all my limbs were getting warm again after my
blood circulation got its act together. My limbs were incredibly itching during and after I took a bath. After
that I was lying on my bed, swollen with pride, proud because I made it.
Cyclingheroes: Did you experience something
similar during your career ?
Theo de Rooij: Yes the 1980 Liège-Bastogne-Liège
was terrible as well but I did not finish that race. In a tour you don't abandon.
After you retired as a pro, you started a career as a sports director. First with the legendary Peter Post and later with
Jan Raas. Both teams had a relation full of tension. Why did you make this move ?
de Rooij: I always respected Jan Raas and vica versa it was the same.
We will probebly never have a stage like the 1988 Gavia again. The finish at Plan de Corones at the 2006 Giro d'Italia
for instance, was postponed. Imagine you would still be a sports director and a stage would have similar circumstances
as the 1988 Gavia stage. What advice would you give your riders?
de Rooij: I am very restrained as it comes to advising in situations like that. The show must go on, dicussions
like that mostly lead to nowhere: One sports director thinks its irresponsible, the next one says: ride. Especially Italians are saying
quickly 'sciopero!' [strike]
Cyclingheroes: With Colle Delle Finistere,
Plan De Corones and Zoncolan the Giro d'Italia has been very tough, spectacular and maybe even dangerous in last couple of
years. Is that a good developement and were do you think is the limit?
Theo de Rooij: Cycling should stay cycling,
don't fiddle to much. But it goes to far to look for 'artificial' obstacles. Climbs that you have to ride with mountainbikes
just don't fit in.