Goodwood 1982: Saronni conquers the world

27th August 2021
Almost 40 years ago, Goodwood hosted the World Road Race Championships. The men's race was a story of bitter rivalry and a supreme sprint finish.

La fucilata di Goodwood

Ride up into the hills behind Goodwood, pedal past the racecourse, and scan the side of the road with care. Look closely and you'll spot a small plaque by the side of the road.  It marks the finish line of the 1982 UCI World Road Race Championships. This is the spot where Giuseppe Saronni's fearsome finishing kick, dubbed 'la fucilata di Goodwood' – the gunshot of Goodwood – hit its target.


The class of '82

The start list for the 1982 race reads like a 'Who's who' of early '80s cycling. Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche wore the green of Ireland, Hennie Kuiper carried the hopes of Holland, and Freddy Maertens of Belgium looked to repeat his victory from the year before. A fresh-faced Greg Lemond, still four years away from the first of his Tour de France victories, represented the USA, while Britain fielded Sussex's own Sean Yates, alongside Keith Lambert and Graham Jones, among others.

The course covered 18 laps of a 15.3km course including the famous Motor Circuit, for a total distance of 275km (171 miles). The biggest challenge was Kennel Hill, the climb up to the Goodwood Racecourse, with a gradient of up to 10% in places. Any professional would handle this hill with ease at the first attempt, but 18 ascents and the sheer length of the race would be enough to weaken the legs of anyone in poor form.

Even so, it was expected to be a sprinter's race. That made fastmen like Kelly, Maertens, and Saronni the favourites.


Early stages

On a warm September day, 136 riders rolled out to decide who would next wear the rainbow bands of world champion.

Early attacks came and went, but nothing to trouble the favourites. Frenchman Bernard Vallet put his nose in the wind, and built a lead of close to four kilometres. But there was never a realistic chance of riding to victory alone for the whole race. Sweden's Tommy Prim chanced his arm, too, but was brought back to the peloton.

The all-star Italian team, with Moreno Argentin, Francesco Moser and Pierino Gavazzi protecting Saronni, snuffed out challenge after challenge. For once Moser and Saronni put aside their usual bitter rivalry, on a course that Moser knew did not suit him.

The Italian squadra's unity and strength must have been intimidating, and the field of 136 thinned out as the repeated climbing of Kennel Hill became attritional. By the time the final circuit began, just 30 or 40 rider were still in contention.


Stars and strife

The Spanish rider, Marino Lejaretta, had a small lead with one lap to go. Hennie Guiper tried to bridge the gap, and in turn drew out Ireland's Sean Kelly.

As the leaders began the final punishing climb, Lejaretta found the strength to go again, but found himself overhauled by Jack Boyer of the USA.

Cycling is a sport of rules, many of them unwritten. One is that you don't attack a teammate. Yet as Boyer powered up the climb, his fellow American Greg Lemond gave chase.

While the Italians put aside their difference to race as a team, the Americans were divided. Boyer and Lemond had ridden on the same Renault team and didn't get on. In Lemond's view Boyer was not worthy of the rainbow bands.

Watch the video of the finish, and you can see Boyer straining every sinew to open up a gap. Out of the saddle, he looks as if he might twist his bike apart. It's not a pretty riding style, but it's effective, and he has a gap of 20 metres or so. Boyer sits down, glances back, and sees that his closest pursuer is not Saronni but Lemond. He kicks again.

The TV camera pans around the bend at the top of the hill, and the riders are briefly hidden by the crowds. When Boyer reappears, his lead has been cut and he's visibly tiring. Lemond is almost upon him.

Then you see a streak of blue. It's Saronni. He goes once, checks over his shoulder, then goes again.

Nobody can touch him. A decisive gap appears in a moment, and at the line he is five seconds clear of Lemond, with Sean Kelly a further five seconds down the road. Small margins after 275km, perhaps, but an emphatic margin in a sprint finish.

Lemond's turn would come the following year and again in 1989, but on that day there was nobody to match the speed of 'La fucilata di Goodwood'.

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