Brother pays tribute to Downing’s ‘heart’

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Russell Downing had to show all his renowned fighting spirit to get through a gruelling day in some of Europe’s highest mountains.

The Team Sky rider, aged 32, from Thurcroft, Rotherham, is in his first Grand Tour at the Giro d’Italia.

And found the steep mountain roads of yesterday’s stage to the Austrian mountain pass of Grossglockner particularly tough.

But brother Dean, also a professional cyclist, says younger sibling Russell has the heart to mix it with the world’s best.

He said: “He’s always had a big heart - he is a massive fighter. During his career he’s had some really bad luck but has always fought his way back.

“He had to work really hard to keep with people to help each other reach the summit. He has been suffering with a bad cold, which is the worst thing to have in the mountains because so much of it is lung power.

“Climbing isn’t Russ’s strength. He’s an excellent sprinter but he’ll hang in there.

“People don’t often realise the different levels of cycling. What Russ is doing is the equivalent of playing for Manchester United.”

Today the Giro begins in the Austrian village of Lienz on a 210km route to the Italian ski resort of Monte Zoncolan. The day ends with two first category climbs, which again will suit race leader Alberto Contador of Spain.

There’s no rest from the mountains tomorrow with another tough day for the riders from Conegliano to Gardeccia/Val di Fassa - a journey of 229km through the Italian Dolomites.