Tlaxcala de Xicoténcatl. Whoever can pronounce the birthplace of Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio without breaking his or her tongue will earn a bonus point on the next cycling quiz. In fact, in Nahuatl, the original language of Toltec and Aztec, it means ‘place of the tortillas’. It doesn’t get more Mexican. Anything but a place where you would look for one of the most remarkable riders in Giro history. All the more so because Perez Cuapio only started cycling at the age of nineteen. However, he soon showed his qualities as a pocket climber and rode in the crosshairs of his compatriot Miguel Arroyo, former teammate of Mario Cipollini and Andrei Tchmil. Perez Cuapio moved to Italy and found shelter at Bruno Reverberi’s colorful Panaria.
His first Giro in 2000 turned out to be a sof (retired in the eighth stage), but a year later his name was eagerly spoken. Initially because of his performance on the bike, because Perez Cuapio beat Gilberto Simoni in the thirteenth stage. The Italian would lay the foundation for his overall victory that day, but had to restrain his Mexican companion in the final kilometer. After the arrival, Perez Cuapio thought he was a Mexican Romeo and hoped to find his Giulietta through the TV cameras. “Now that I’ve won a stage in the Giro and I’m known, I’m looking for a girlfriend,” he surprised during his winner’s interview. “Even though I am missing two teeth after my crash in the fifth stage, I am a good match. I speak Italian and in love I am as passionate as on my bike in the mountains.”
His striking appeal was not without effect. A year later he went to the Giro as a fiancée. Love gave him wings. In combination with his successful tactics – losing time in the flat stages and time trials to gain more space in the mountains – he captured two stage victories and the mountains classification. For a while, Perez Cuapio also dreamed of a good classification. It quickly turns out to be a utopia. In the mountains he often competed alongside the best climbers such as Simoni, Di Luca, Schleck or Contador, but as soon as the roads leveled out he was too capricious. The pink cloud disappeared. After three victories in his second and third Tour of Italy, he would never raise his arms again in the next six editions.
It final salute there was even one in minor: 140st and penultimate in the final time trial in 2008, almost 6 minutes behind Marco Pinotti. Between Palermo and Milan he had been on the bike more than 2.5 hours longer than overall winner Contador. Still, Perez Cuapio would draw attention to himself one more time in his victorious years. In 2007 he took over the devil’s trident in the stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo during the climb of the Passo Giau. He seemed to urge fellow refugees Ivan Parra, Leonardo Piepoli and Riccardo Riccò to slow down. The last trick. An iconic image with a touch of cynicism. A year later, both Riccò and Piepoli were caught using CERA. As if the devil was involved…
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