Gianni Bugno, the Italians say, has "La Grinta."
It is more than just a grittiness or a ruggedness. The literal translation is "grim effort or sport's most intense fighting spirit."
In the United States, it might most easily be described as that image of NBA superstar Michael Jordan, tongue clenched between his teeth, flying in like a 747 for a slam-dunk over some poor defenseless defender.
That's "La Grinta."
It's Gianni Bugno coming out of a pack of riders on a torturous climb, charging the air with every determined pump of the pedals, leaving his fellow competitors with no doubt that this is Gianni Bugno who is about to slam-dunk every last one of them.
It is said that that is the Bugno those in the Tour Du Pont will see today or tomorrow, as they continue on an ever more demanding route through the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains.
Bugno (pronounced Boone-yo) is No. 1. The world's best rider, known for his mountain climbing and his time trials, on the world's top team, Gatorade. Since arriving here, he has been greeted with respect, appreciation and some curiosity. Everyone, even fellow competitors, want to see what it is that makes Bugno special.
"I'm interested to see just what Gianni Bugno has in this race," said Motorola rider Phil Anderson, who followed "Z" rider Atle Kvalsvoll and Motorola teammate Dag-Otto Lauritzen to the finish line in Stage 6 yesterday. "I think he's going to find these mountains challenging. The difference between this race and the Tour de France is that you are climbing gradually in the Alps all day. Here, when we are in the mountains, the severity of the steepness is very difficult and I think he will find it just as difficult."
Yesterday, Bugno was still making everyone wait. He is currently 16th overall, 1:48 out of the lead, after finishing in the same pack with Anderson.
Today's Stage 7, an 85-mile journey from Harrisonburg to The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., and tomorrow's 98-mile ride to Wintergreen, Va., that includes a 3,000-foot climb on a 14 percent grade over the final three miles, are expected to suit Bugno's strengths perfectly.
He has yet to win the Tour de France, his best finish being second. But he has won stages in The Tour, among them the notorious Alpe d'Huez stage two years running.
"I feel good and I hope to feel better, as we go further into the mountains," he said via a translator. "It's all in the legs. Mine are not yet in the condition they will be when I get to the Tour de France. I am going all out for the Tour de France this year. That is why I am here, to improve my conditioning.
"But my condition is good. About 70 percent. And my position in the race is good. I'm in a place from which I can reach the top."
Reaching the top is every rider's dream. It is one Bugno has fulfilled, and yet, when he talks about being the world's No. 1, he is surprisingly unimpressed with it. Listening to the 28-year-old, it seems he is willing to put himself through the arduous training sessions and the grueling races not so much for the glory, as for the freedom it gives his soul.
"Being No. 1 doesn't really mean anything," he said. "It's a title, a jersey. I'll have it my whole life, but it's just a title. It is really how you win it that is important."
It is the narrow, twisting back roads on which he does his training that lift his spirit. It is the opportunity to pick up his bike and travel the world, to see new places and new faces that keeps it interesting. He says the opportunity to try something new is part of the reason he is here, instead of resting for the Tour of Italy that begins May 24.
"I've won the Giro d'Italia," he said. "So why not do something new?"
Oh, he is like every competitive athlete, "I want to win everything I can win," he said. And he acknowledged, "Everyone wants to win the world's No. 1 jersey, because there is nothing equal to it."
But again he tempers those thoughts with a self-taught wisdom. "Everyone can't win the jersey and no one can be at their peak always," he said. "That is the reality of it."