Big day at the Giro for Russell Downing

Team Sky’s Russell Downing painfully races his last race in the 2011 Giro

Larry Hickmott writes … It seems like yesterday that I was in Yorkshire with the Downing brothers (Dean and Russell) and Russell was looking forward to his first Grand Tour, the Tour of Italy.

As I write this, he’ll be getting ready for his warm-up at 2pm before he leaves the starting ramp at 2.28pm. If there was an award for ‘combativity in overcoming bad luck and injuries’ then Russell would be a certainty. His first Grand Tour has not just had the hardest course for many a year but many other obstacles have been put in his way, obstacles which he has brushed aside and focused on what he has to do.

After the mechanical problems and a cold earlier in the Giro,the biggest test of his ability to withstand pain came with two stages to go when he crashed over a barrier and smashed his ribs into a tree. The 32-year-old Team Sky rider was descending off the first-category ‘Mottrone’ when a rider’s error immediately in front of him caused him to career over a crash barrier and fall approximately 60 feet into a ravine below. That, amazingly though, did not stop Russell who climbed back up to his bike and carried on, finishing just inside the time limit.

The rider nicknamed ‘Fonzy’ was then taken to hospital where he was examined to make sure nothing was broken as he felt very saw in the rib area and was coughing blood. Bruised ribs was the diagnosis and afterwards he told the Team Sky website, “I was pretty lucky really.”

“There was a Rabobank rider immediately before me who overshot the corner, and that meant that I was catapulted sideways. I hit the barrier and then went straight over it and down about 20 metres into the woods. My bike went even further than me but fortunately I hit a tree, which stopped me falling even further.”

“After dusting myself down ,I managed to scramble up the slope with some help from the fans and get back on my bike, but the fall had broken my shoe plate, which offset my balance, and I crashed into the barrier again about two corners further down the road. That completely broke my bike, so I had to wait for a spare, and then 5km later I had to change my shoe before I could sprint back on to the grupetto and then climb the last 28km to the finish.”

That evening he didn’t know whether he’d be fit enough to start the next day. “I was really nervous when I got back from the hospital and was struggling with my breathing so I wasn’t sure how I was going to be on a bike.”

The next morning though on Twitter came the message “bit sore this morning but I’m going try to finish this bad boy of @giroditalia. Cheers for all the messages. Ouch”.

Russell was not giving in to the pain which anyone who has had rib injuries will know is pretty grim and he started the final road stage which finished up a giant of a climb. Russell takes up the story.

“During the stage, they went hard from the gun as breaks tried to go away and I was yo-yoing off the back and struggling with my breathing. When it settled down, I was  good then so that was nice. There was a big gruppetto for the finish climb and I had Dario (Cioni) looking after me again which was brilliant, the man of the Grand Tours really looked after me.”

“Quite a few people on the last climb were coming up to me who knew I’d had a bad crash and showing their respect which was good. Mr Millar (David) even gave me a pat on the back too so it was all good.”

That stage was a mammoth 242 kilometres which would be hard enough when fit but to complete it when injured shows the guts and determination the South Yorkshire rider has.

Talking to Russell the morning of the final stage he explained that the injuries were bruised ribs and sternum. He’d hurt them when his body slammed into a tree and explained that he was in a lot of pain, especially when breathing hard or worse still, coughing ,saying that every time he coughed, it rattled his sternum so bad…

Russell though when we spoke was only 26 kilometres from finishing his first Grand Tour and despite aching all over, muscles and bones alike, he was looking forward to racing around the streets of Milan.

“I’m really looking forward to it with loads of people cheering me on but I need to stay calm because as soon as I start breathing heavy, that‘s when I‘m in trouble and its giving me pain.”

Going back over the race, despite all his bad luck, he says its been good. “It has still been a great Tour and it was a nice feeling climbing that mountain yesterday knowing it was the last one. The race has been full of highs and lows but that‘s life isn‘t it. One day, I had loads of people saying to me great ride (when he was 8th) and then I had this crashing twice and putting myself in a ravine. It was a nightmare but that’s bike racing.”

As Russell says, highs and lows and a high was the eighth on the stage before the one he almost crashed out of the race on.

Stage 18 was the moment that Russell did his best to win a stage. “It was a bit like a classics course where everyone wanted to race. It went up this cobbled climb and I‘d got in a breakaway just before that and then it split on the cobbles and split again to leave 20 guys but then they didn’t want to race. So then at the bottom of a climb, I attacked and got a little group going. That was good.”

“I did feel pretty good. I had planned to get in breakaways in the Giro but there just hasn’t been that many so to get in that one felt pretty good and I felt this was my day in the Giro so I gave it everything.”

Speaking of giving it everything, I asked Russell about the fatigue he felt after three weeks in a race which is notoriously difficult with the mountains day after day. If ever there was an extreme Grand Tour, this was it!

“It’s strange in that I  don’t feel much different to how I feel in a 10 day tour or something” he explained. “You get to a certain point and the fatigue stays the same and you just get up, get it done and then go again the next day.”

The next day for Russell now will see him at home in Britain as he flies out straight after the stage today and brings his injuries home for some much needed rest and recuperation and time with his partner,  family and friends.  Racing doesn’t figure much on his radar until the middle of the month when he has the Ster Elektrotoer stage race which he did well in during the 2010 edition where he was second on a stage.

For those who want to see him and pass on their congratulations, then you’ll have your chance to do that as well. First at the Smithfield Nocturne on June 11 ( and then the British Road Race Championships in the North East at the end of June.

Thanks to Russell during his first Grand Tour for sharing his experiences with us and good luck to him for the rest of the season.


Russell Downing: One day at a time

Russell Downing’s Giro – Job Done on Stage 10

Giro: Speed Uncomfortable in Grand Tour

Giro: Russell Downing’s Tour of Italy

Giro: Tough start for Russell Downing

Feature: Rotherham Chain Gang

Giro News: Russell Downing Ready to Rock!

Giro: Downing’s First Grand Tour

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