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August 17, 1997
Rochester Classic: Tricky Tafi

Britain's Rochester Classic and Italy's Andrea Tafi are both suffering from an identity crisis. England's only World Cup cycling race has changed location four times in its brief eight year history. Despite the event's elite international stature, no town or hamlet wants to call the race their own. It started out in Newcastle, moved to Brighton, then Leeds and now resides in Rochester.

Tafi is the worlds sixth ranked cyclist, but you would not know it. He has spent the most of his career in the shadows of others. And even today, as one of the peloton's most consistent riders, he rarely wins. Today though, Tafi teamed up with the Rochester classic, winning the 242 kilometer affair, and thus prompting a vote of confidence for himself as well the race.

With many of the top riders - such as Bjarne Riis, Jan Ullrich, Richard Virenque and Laurent Jalabert - still race-lagged from the Tour de France, a crippled field of 140 starters began this year's race. And despite the race's deflated image , victory here remains coveted; a legitimate bonus for those riders still without victory this season. And just like more prestigious events like the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, Rochester offers the same amount of World Cup points.

Rolf Sörensen knows about the World Cup; he is the current overall leader. Appropriately his major concern was the white leaders jersey. Thus when Tafi along with Jean-Cyril Robin, Stéphane Heulot, Stéphane Barthe, Gianluca Bortolami, Andrea Ferrigato and Andrea Vatteroni scooted up the road 168 kilometers into the race, the Dane appeared unconcerned. Little matter if Ferrigato was the defending champion and Bortolami the 1994 winner here, Sörensen's only concern was maintaining the World Cup lead from his most persistent challenger, Michele Bartoli.

The septet never gained a full minute advantage, but despite the continued chase of Bartoli's MG-Technogym squad, the break was never absorbed. Even when the group splintered on Boxley hill before the race returned to Rochester, they still dangled some 30 seconds in front of the pack.

As the break, now without Robin or Barthe, entered the final three eight kilometer circuits around Rochester, they sat clearly in the peloton's line of fire. But by now, the race was nearly five hours old, and the chasers were just as knackered as the break.

Indeed, knackered was the buzz word for all but Tafi. While the others gritted and groaned over the numerous leg-crunching climbs that speckled the final circuit, Tafi danced out of his saddle, accelerating at will.

Finally with just less than two circuits remaining, Tafi bolted away. Bortolami, Heulot, Ferrigato and Vatteroni remained locked in place. Although their chase kept them clear of the hard-driving peloton, they only saw Tafi from behind as the Italian rolled to one of his greatest career wins.

-- James Startt

1. TAFI, Andrea (Mapei) 242 km in 6:07:42
FERRIGATO, Andrea (Roslotto) 43 sec behind
3. BORTOLAMI, Gianluca (Festina) same time
4. HEULOT, Stéphane (La Française des Jeux) same time
5. VATTERONI, Andrea (Scringo) same time
6. SCIANDRI, Maximilian (La Française des Jeux)
7. PETITO, Roberto (Saeco) 55 sec behind
8. NARDELLO, Daniele (Mapei) same time

Heading for a World Cup win!