2017 marks the 100th Edition of the most beguiling of the Grand Tours; the Giro d’Italia. We’re taking a daily look at some of the key stories from the long, beautiful history of the Corsa Rosa.
We’ll be adding a new story every day of the race…
Stage 21 – 1984 – Fignon’s Final Day Time Trial Tragedy
As the riders of the 100th Giro line up for their final day showdown today, history shows that Time Trials on the last day of Grand Tours are generally contentious affairs. In an already highly contentious race, this final test could be dynamite.
They say that lightning never strikes twice but Tour de France and Giro winner Laurent Fignon felt the sting of Grand Tour defeat in a last-day Time Trial on more than one occasion. His 8 second Champs Elysees loss to Greg Lemond in 1989 unfortunately came to define the man known as Le Professeur and he remained haunted by it until his untimely death at the age if 50 but an almost identical episode 5 years earlier should have been the bitterer of the two pills to swallow…
In 1984 the young Fignon was riding high. He had won the ’83 Tour at his first attempt and, in doing so, emerged from the shadow of his erstwhile team leader Bernard Hinault. Later in ’84 he would win his second Tour with a huge margin. That Spring, the Giro should have been his.
But everything in the Italian race seemed to be arranged to conspire against him. The route was exceptionally flat in order to favour the veteran Italian rider Francesco Moser. One of the few high mountain days on offer was neutered when the Stelvio was reported to be impassable; a fact that remains doubted to this day. On other days Moser was seen drafting cars and getting pushes on the inclines without punishment. Moser’s other rival, the Italian Roberto Visentini quit the race in disgust. Nonetheless Fignon held an 81 second lead on the morning of the final day in fair Verona, where the final act of this Shakespearean-proportioned tragedy played out.
Undoubtedly the Time Trial was Moser’s favoured territory and he should have beaten the Frenchman by a good margin with any outside assistance. But it was alleged that the TV helicopter which filmed each rider assisted the Italian by flying low behind him whilst it flew low and in front of his rival. Fignon lost the stage by almost two and half minutes and Moser climbed to the top step of the podium.
That summer Fignon wreaked havoc at the Tour, winning by over 10 minutes as his career reached its high point at the age of just 23. In an ironic quirk of fate typical of Fignon’s career, he would return from years of injury and win the ’89 Giro, only to lose the Tour in the more infamous TT a few weeks later.
Stage 20 – 1936 to 1946 – Gino Bartali
All double acts have a funny guy and a straight man. We are all supposed to love the funny guy and mostly the straight man is there as a prop, or to be the butt of the jokes. But make no mistake, both are indispensable to the routine.
Gino Bartali – three time winner of the Giro d’Italia – can be viewed as the straight man in the Coppi-Bartali rivalry of Italy’s Golden Age. ‘Gino The Pious’ they called him, and his heavyset features and broken nose were a stark contrast to Fausto’s sunglasses and apparently effortless Dolce Vita stylings.
Whilst the bird-like Fausto fluttered his way through a stratospheric career that was nonetheless beset by society-rocking scandals and injury, Gino was the ever present man of stoic strength, endurance conviction and morality. They contrasted each other perfectly.
Bartali won his first two Giri in 1936 and 1937. He was a young winner – 22 in 1936 – and looked set to dominate for years but the twin arrivals of Coppi; who beat his team leader Bartali in the 1940 Giro; and then the War redefined not only the rest of his career but his whole life.
At huge personal risk Bartali carried messages for the Italian Resistance during the War – hidden in the frame of his bike during training rides – and sheltered a family of Jews to help them escape deportation to the concentration camps.
His narrow win over Coppi at the 1946 Giro cemented his place in history and resparked the rivalry that had dormant during the years of conflict but it would be his last Maglia Rosa. He won the Tour de France again in 1948 and finished runner up three further times – twice to Coppi – in the Giro before his retirement in 1954.
Though he lived until the age of 85, surviving Coppi by some 40 years, it was Bartali’s destiny to have his legacy forever entwined with his rivals’. As double acts go, it was one of the very finest.
Stage 19 – 1999 – Extortion, EPO & Expulsion: Pantani’s fall from grace
Marco Pantani is perhaps the most tragic hero of the recent history of pro-cycling. Hugely charismatic and endlessly watchable, his panache in the high mountains and unforgettable climbing style is lauded by nearly all cycling fans. His tragic demise and emotional stability is lamented just as widely. However, Pantani’s legend will always be blighted by the scourge of doping, and the endless allegations of EPO usage.
The origins of the tragedy of Il Pirata can be traced back to a single moment in time but the ripples emanating out from that point still move today. Following his Giro-Tour Double in 1998, Pantani was two days from victory in the 1999 Giro when his world collapsed around him. With clear echoes of Merckx in Savona, the magnolia rosa was thrown off the race for failing a haematocrit test; the closest thing the organisers of the time had for testing for EPO..
Suggestions of foul play have long-surrounded Pantani’s ejections and, in many quarters, have only got louder of the years. In 2014 – fifteen years after the incident which brought down Italy’s darling (and a full ten years after Marco’s death) – his old team, Mercatone Uno, appealed to the police to investigate further the circumstances behind the failed test.
The team, along with Pantani’s family and local police, believed that medical staff performing the tests were bribed by the Neapolitan mafia to rig the result in order to avoid paying out on huge illegal bets based on Pantani winning the tour. After a two-year investigation, the case was officially closed in 2016, arriving at the conclusion that Pantani had indeed doped, and that there was insufficient evidence to claim a case of conspiracy and extortion by the authorities.
Nonetheless, the mystery around the case, just like Pantani’s legend and panche, will continue through the ages.
Stage 18 – 1931 – The First Pink Jersey
Despite being the definitive icon of the Giro D’Italia, the pink race leader’s jersey, or Maglia Rosa, was not introduced to the race until 1931, the 19th edition of the race.
The idea was that of Armando Cougnet; the journalist who had founded and organised the Giro since its inception. It was not a totally original idea however, as he took its inspiration from his ‘rival’ race the Tour De France, which had introduced their Maillot Jaune – the yellow jersey – back in 1919.
Just as the French organising newspaper L’Auto chose yellow for their jersey as a means of symbolising the yellow shade of their publication, the Giro leader’s jersey was pink, in order to reflect the colour of the paper used for La Gazetta Dello Sport.
The first pink jersey was contested by a largely Italian peloton in the 1931 race. Learco Guerra was the first rider to ever don the shirt after winning stage one, but the overall victory, and award of the maglia rosa, fell to Francesco Camusso.
Jerseys back in 1931 were as far from the sleek, aerodynamic lycra jerseys of today as the heavy singlespeed steel bike used by Camusso was from the Giant TCR Advanced setup being used by the current leader of the 2017 race, Tom Dumoulin.
Jerseys of the era were wool, a material chosen for it’s sweat wicking and absorption properties. However, the fabric was heavy and thick, and when it rained, it was like carrying a wet towel on your shoulders.
It was not until the 1940s that jersey design was first improved, when Armando Castelli custom-sewed silken jerseys for the likes of Gino Bartalli and Fausto Coppi. Castelli still makes top end cycle clothing today and the brand is worn in this years Giro by Team Sky.
Stage 17 – 1948 – The narrowest of Victories.
The very modern concept of ‘marginal gains’ can perhaps be applied to the 1948 Giro, in which Fiorenzo Magni won by 11 seconds; the smallest ever winning margin in Giro history.
Magni’s victory was contentious to say the least. Despite establishing a legitimate and significant 13 minute lead during Stage 9 over his most significant rivals, Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, his final placing in the Maglia Rosa was mired in a highly controversial seventeenth stage.
Prior to the stage, Bartali had fallen out of GC contention, whereas Coppi had started to haul back his deficit on the two GC leaders: Magni, who was in second place, and Ezio Cecchi, who started the day with lead of just over two minutes on Magni. Coppi produced a magnificent winning performance over the Falzarego and Pordoi passes on Stage 17 to slash his deficit but Magni’s existing time buffer over the Campionissimo, and his superior performance on the day over Cecchi, was sufficient to move the him into the pink jersey.
Coppi however had other things on his mind than celebrating his stage victory afterwards. Furious accusations were directed at Magni’s team, Wilier, who Coppi believed had stationed their fans along the Pordoi and had given their man pushes up the mountain. Despite Bianchi’s demands for heavy penalties, the judges failed to see the severity of the situation and only cut two minutes from Magni. Coppi and his team were so frustrated and disappointed by the verdict that they immediately abandoned the race en masse.
Having been docked only two minutes, Magni was now in pink by a mere 11 seconds, a lead he clung onto through the final stages. Had the judges’ opinion of the controversy on the Pordoi been different, the 1948 Giro would have had an entirely different complexion. Whilst Magni celebrated the first of his three Giro wins, the Italian Cycling Federation – showing their usual flair for irony – subsequently decided to suspend Coppi for a month as a result of his abandonment of the race…
Stage 16 – The Lost Boys.
‘Death Walks Among Us’
On the day the Giro100 marks the recent passing of Michele Scarponi, we recall those who have died on the Corsa Rosa.
The Giro road is hard and treacherous. It demands so much and, for most, gives precious little in return, save for the memories of the camaraderie enjoyed and the pain endured. Many riders will also bear a scar or two as reminders of their Giro crashes. Even more affecting those are the stories of those who have fallen but who have not got back up.
Death has visited the Giro peloton on four separate occasions; each time taking a life and with it the potential of the career that is brutally cut short. Each time the rest of riders are left with tears and confusion. Those who have ridden alongside these men must carry on without their friend; their team-mate or their rival. Strangely all four Giro deaths have occurred in the first week of the race, leaving many more days of racing and reflection.
The first Giro d’Italia fatality was Orfeo Ponzin in 1952. A strong but inexperienced climber riding for the Frejus team, he was just 23 when he crashed on a high speed descent. Young Orfeo – who had also crashed out of his first Giro in 1951 – hit a tree and fractured his skull. His story is told, at length and with great emotion, in Herbie Sykes’ “Maglia Rosa – Triumph & Tragedy at the Giro d’Italia”.
By contrast, Juan Manuel Santisteban Lapeire was a vastly experienced Spanish rider who had won stages at the Vuelta over a long career. In 1976 he was riding the Giro for the KAS team when he crashed during Stage 1, fatally hitting his head on an iron guard rail at the side of the road.
A decade later Emilio Ravasio also crashed on the Giro’s first stage. A large number of riders came down some 10km from the finish line and, despite sustaining heavy injuries, Ravasio remounted his bike and finished the stage. Just a few hours afterwards however, he fell into a coma from which he never recovered. He died two weeks later whilst his Atala team mates were still contesting the race.
Most recently, Wouter Weylandt of the Leopard Trek team died instantly after a horrific crash descending the Passo del Bocco on Stage Four of the 2011 Giro. Weylandt, who had spent most of his career at Quick-Step, was a hugely popular member of the pro peloton and who had won a Giro stage a year earlier. His memory is still revered by the Giro organisers who permanently retired the 108 race number he was wearing that day in his honour.
Rest In Peace
Stage 15 – 1950 – Bright Spark: Koblet’s Burning Flame
The first foreign winner of the Giro d’Italia graced the roads with a unrivalled mixture of style and substance but only for a brief period. Hugo Koblet, the handsome Swiss winner of the 1950 Giro, became known as the Pedaleur de Charme for his winnings ways with both the bike and the ladies. He famously always carried a comb and eau de cologne in his race jerseys and was often sighted tidying up his hair even before he crossed the line.
Across two incendiary seasons Koblet beat the likes of Coppi, Bartali and Bobet to take the Giro and then the Tour de France. Until 1950 the top step of the Giro podium had been a strictly Italian affair and the organisers even had a separate jersey for Best Foreign Rider. Koblet won that, the Maglia Rosa and the Mountains prize, seemingly at a canter. A year later the Best Foreign Jersey was gone and the Giro entered a new era as greater and greater numbers of foreign riders took to the Corsa Rosa.
Koblet repeated his dominant performance in 1951, though this time it was the Yellow Jersey of the Tour de France that he took home. But thereafter his career stalled and he never regained the same heights. Marital and financial problems dogged him until the end of his career at the age of 38.
Six months later he was dead; his white Alfa Romeo wrapped around a pear tree in his native Switzerland. An eyewitness said that Koblet passed the tree three times at high speed before crashing into it, leading to speculation that his debt problems finally led to his suicide.
Stage 14 – All Hail The Lion King – Mario Cipollini
With many of the race sprinters tactically exiting the 100th Giro today is seems appropriate to take a look at the most successful Giro sprinter of all time: Mario Cippollini.
When you hear the name Cipollini, the first things you think are probably the distinctive and aggressively designed bikes, the huge personality, and of course, those skinsuits. Having rampaged through the peloton in the late Nineties and early Nooughties, he almost does himself a disservice by having built a persona that distracts from his overwhelming career as a sprinter.
The tifosi sometimes forget that Cipolini’s trophy cabinet is as well stocked as the tales of extravagance, showmanship, and flamboyance that surround him. With the help of his revolutionary leadout train, ‘Super Mario’ became the second most prolific Grand Tour stage winner to this day (behind Merckx – who else), with 57 victories across the Giro, Tour and Vuelta.
‘The Lion King’ tops the podium for Giro wins, with an astonishing 42 victories. Cipo accomplished this accolade in 2003, where he took stage eight and nine before crashing out in stage 10. His mission of surpassing Alfredo Binda’s 41 victories in that year’s Giro was nearly undone by Alessandro Petacchi, his fierce sprint rival who took three of the early sprint stages, threatening to leave Cipo short of the outright title. But Mario would not be denied and he sealed his place in history with his usual flair.
Like so many riders of his generation, Cipollini’s palmares is also blighted by accusations of doping, including by the Italian paper – and founder of the Giro – Gazzetta dello Sport. Even if the founders of the Giro are intent on tainting Super Mario’s victory record at the Giro, his legend will never fade. Every time you see a lead out train in this year’s Giro, you’ve got Cipo to thank for it. But just breathe a sigh of relief that the muscle-print skinsuits have not lasted the course of time.
Stage 13. 1956 – The Third Man – Fiorenzo Magni
They say that in Italy in the Forties and Fifties, the country was totally divided by it’s support for either Coppi or Bartali. So pervasive was the rivalry between these two great champions that the other notable rider of the era is often overlooked. In fact it’s fair to say that were it not for a certain inner tube Fiorenzo Magni would be even well less known.
The rivalry between Coppi and Bartali was never as black and white as history suggests but the shades of grey that surround Magni’s story brings even more difficulty to any sort of canonisation in the cycling world. A three time winner of the Giro, an innovator and a ferociously tough competitor, Magni should have been ripe for idolisation but his support for the Fascist cause during World War II always looms large over his palmares.
It was Magni who brought outside sponsorship to the world of cycling with a ground-breaking deal with Nivea. It is Magni who holds the accolade of being the Giro’s oldest winner – he was 35 when he took his final title in 1955 – but it is his actions in racing to second place the following year that turned him into a true icon of the era.
After breaking his shoulder blade in stage 12 of the 1956 Giro, Magni and his mechanic rigged a piece of inner tube to his handlebars, which Magni held in his teeth to help stabilise the bike and take pressure off his broken bone. Unable to properly operate his brakes he crashed again on Stage 16, this time breaking his arm and awaking in an ambulance taking him to hospital. Incredibly Magni yelled for the driver to stop, got out and carried on riding, eventually finishing the Giro on the second step of the podium behind Charly Gaul.
Whilst Coppi and Bartali needed each other to highlight their differences, Magni always stands apart. Sixty years on The Third Man’s singular legacy continues to fascinate and polarise in equal measure.
Stage 12. 1990. Bugno’s 21 Days in the Pink.
In 1990, Gianni Bugno joined a small collective of riders to have achieved an astonishing feat. The Italian matched Constante Girardengo (1919), Alfredo Binda (1927), and Eddy Merckx (1973) as a rider to have lead the Giro from Stage One all the way through to the final stage.
Bugno, racing for Chateau d’Ax-Salotti, managed this through the essential winning recipe of good fortune and good legs. After nearly losing the jersey in Stage Two, where he clung on to the overall lead by one second, he slowly increased his margin, with one massive performance along the way – his second place in the 68km time trial to Cuneo of Stage 10 – putting him four minutes in front.
Bugno was clearly a strong time trialist, also winning the opening prologue and the TT of the penultimate stage. However, his victory was rooted in his ability to prosper on all terrains, also winning sprints and looking faultless in the mountains.
He finished the Giro 6’ 33” ahead of nearest rival Charly Mottet, to add the Maglia Rosa to a palmares that flourished in the 1990s, where he took back-to back World Championship Road Race wins, and victories at Milan-San Remo and Classica de San Sebastian.
Stage 11. 1965 – The Stelvio becomes the first Cima Coppi
For many, the Giro is the mountains. The endlessly dramatic Italian Alps and Dolomites in their stunning, jagged, snow lined majesty. In 1965, for the first time, a special recognition was given to those brave and strong enough to be first to scale the highest point of the tour.
The Cima Coppi͛ prize winner would receive twice the points in the mountain classification typically awarded to a peak of this size. The award was dedicated to Fausto Coppi – as a tribute to Italy͛s greatest ever cyclist in the mountains.
In 1953, Coppi had taken an incredible victory atop the Stelvio in putting in a devastating attack on his pink jersey rival Hugo Koblet on the penultimate stage of the tour which put him into the lead and led to his fifth and final Giro title.
In 1965, five years after Coppi’s untimely death at the age of 40, the Stelvio became the first Cima Coppi, and fittingly, in a Tour celebrating 100 years of Giro history, the 2017 Cima Coppi is that same peak. At 2,758m, it͛s tough to get higher on a bike in Europe, and the mountain has been bestowed with the prestigious Cima Coppi status six times.
The huge scale of the pass is tempered by the fact that three of its scheduled Cima Coppi appearances have been abandoned; with the notoriously unpredictable nature of springtime weather in the mountains meaning snow stopped play.
The Stelvio’s first outing as Cima Coppi also saw the road lined with deep snowdrifts. However, in those days that wasn’t enough to stop the race and the final few meters that had not been cleared by snowploughs were tackled on foot by riders carrying bikes over their shoulders. That year, Graziano Battistini won a foot race that could well have inspired Chris Froome’s Ventoux efforts.
The Cima Coppi appears on Stage 16 this year and, as usual, the organisers haven’t done things by halves. In this monster 222km stage, riders will tackle the brutishly hard Mortirolo before racing up the Stelvio for the Cima Coppi. They will then drop into Switzerland prior to a second ascent of the Stelvio, this time from a different direction, via the Umbrail Pass.
An epic stage that will go a long way to defining the final story of the race. Coppi would have approved.
Stage 10 – 1987 – Stephen Roche – The Triple Crown
Even before his impressive stage win on Blockhaus and his capture of the race lead, many people had already written off Nairo Quintana’s attempt on the Giro-Tour double this year; claiming it to be a nigh on impossible feat in the modern age. He now looks set to go on to win the 2017 Giro but his every move is being gauged against what he also needs to achieve in France in July. For most, it appears to be a doomed endeavour.
Imagine the uproar were Quintana to have announced an assault on the Triple Crown – the Giro, the Tour, and World Championships. Whilst the Giro-Tour double has been achieved 10 times previously, even in the days of less specialisation only two riders have completed the Triple; Eddie Merckx (1974) and Steven Roche. 30 years ago, in 1987, Roche took the Triple in a season of controversy, incident, and of course, true grit and determination.
In winning the Giro, Roche controversially went against team orders on the 15th stage, attacking solo on a downhill to join the day’s breakaway. This didn’t win him the stage but did mean that he took the Maglia Rosa from his Italian teammate and co-leader, Roberto Visentini, something that served to turn the majority of his team, and the whole of Italy, against him.
Only a few weeks after the Giro, when chasing the Maillot Jaune of Pedro Delgado in the Tour de France, Roche famously collapsed after making a huge effort to limit his losses on the summit finish at La Plagne. Later brushing off the incident as an inevitable consequence of the race, he had to be given oxygen by doctors on the finish line, yet went on to take the lead in the race and arrive in Paris a Giro-Tour Double winner.
At the end of the season Roche came to the World Championships in Austria with the simple intent of working to support his Irish teammate Sean Kelly. When Kelly opted not to chase down a breakaway that Roche had infiltrated as a means of covering and disrupting, the would-be domestique went on to win the title with an audacious long range sprint, gaining the Triple Crown as a result.
Stage 9 – 1969 – The Savona Affair: The Cannibal gets Canned.
In our age of ever-present social media, rolling news and celebrity culture, the general feeling is that famous people have less privacy than their predecessors, but a brief look at the events of May 2nd 1969 shows that, in cycling at least, if anything the opposite is true.
Cycling’s recent history is awash with scandals – most of which have been played out behind closed doors with reporters scrambling around outside hotels trying to get a glimpse of the shamed star, or a snatched quote.. Subterfuge is occasionally employed to spirit away a rider through a back door whilst a press officer or DS holds court out front as a distraction. Even riders who are scandal-free are closeted away in their buses and hotel rooms, shielded from the constant spotlight and questions.
Eddy Merckx had it a bit differently in the 1969 Giro. Leading the race by 1’41” with 7 stages to go and his second Giro win seemingly assured, his world came crashing down in his hotel room in the mountain town of Savona. The race official who broke the news to him that he had failed a doping test was accompanied by two journalists and a TV crew, who recorded the whole shocking scene.
Merckx was thrown off the race and the tears that poured out of the inconsolable young rider were captured for all to see, revealing a very different side to The Cannibal.
Stage 8 – 1949– The Heron Takes flight. Coppi’s epic solo break.
You can’t get much more ‘Giro d’Italia’ than the seventeeth stage of the 1949 Giro.
Coppi vs Bartali. Five huge snow lined passes, including the Izoard and Sestriere.
The great rivals Coppi and Bartali lay second and third respectively on GC, separated by a nine minute margin. Both knew that this Queen stage would prove decisive in the race.
Coppi – known as L’Airone “The Heron” because of his unmistakable angular profile on the bike- made great boasts and threats of his aim of absolute dominance across this monster mountain stage and they proved to be well founded.
On the first climb of the day, with a mere 40km ridden and still a massive 200km to go, he simply floated away from his rivals, and they didn’t see him again until the finish line, with Bartali losing a further 12 minutes.
This crushing solo victory won Coppi the pink jersey, one of the five that went on to compete his palmares and became a key part of the legend of Il Campionissimo. And as if that wasn’t enough, this epic stage was just a part of him winning the Giro and Tour Double in 1949, a feat he replicated three years later in 1952.
Stage 7 – On A Go Slow – The Bernina Strike.
The sheer length of Grand Tours – long hours in the saddle each day and almost a month on the road – means that occasionally grievances are aired very publicly. The arduous conditions and poor treatment that riders were also expected to endure up until quite recently only added to this phenomenon, with stars and teams regularly quitting the race in opposition to something or other. When the whole peloton comes together to protest however, things can get very sticky for the organisers.
By the penultimate day of the 1954 Giro things were not going well at all. Riders had been put out from the start by the longest ever route, the lack of rest days and the fact that Fausto Coppi was being double paid by his team and by the organisers to attend.
When a lowly Swiss rider called Carlo Clerici was thrust into the race lead as a recalcitrant peloton (and a food-poisoned Coppi) refused down a Stage 6 break that eventually won by over 35 minutes, the writing was already on the wall. The race ended as a contest and grew more sluggish with each day, finally descending into farce as the riders took almost 10 hours to complete a 222km on Stage 21 over the Bernina Pass. After the peloton was openly jeered by crowds the following day as they entered Milan, the Italian Cycling Federation later took their revenge by banning their own team from taking part in the Tour de France as punishment.
Stage 6 – 1988 – The Gavia: Hardman Hampsten, 7-Eleven, ski jackets and snowstorms.
The professionalism of cycling has come on leaps and bounds in the last two decades. These days team helpers prepare for every stage by readying a multitude of highly technical rain and wind resistant clothing, (which can be washed and dried in special facilities within the team bus) whilst chefs in a separate catering truck prepare highly specific nutrition for before, during and after the ride. The riders themselves warm up and down on stationary turbo trainers as embedded sports scientists analyse data from every race and training ride.
In 1988 things were a little different. A little bit more ad hoc. On the morning of June 5th , faced with a foreboding stage taking on the climb of the Passo di Gavia, soigneurs from the US 7-Eleven team were to be found in local ski shops frantically buying gloves and jackets for the team to cope with the forecast conditions of freezing snow and piercing winds .
But even this panicked attempt at foresight failed to fully help 7-Eleven leader Andy Hamspten because as he crested the Gavia later that day he was already bordering on delusional. Having started the day 1’18” down on General Classification, when the weather closed in on the foothills of the huge mountain pass, he used his experience of foul weather from training in North Dakota to attack his opponents. At the summit, rather than stopping and putting foot to floor to don his newly-purchased ski jacket and brush the clumps of snow from his hair, he was weaving drunkenly around in a hypothermic daze as his muscles and mind had frozen over from a cruel combination of the weather and the effort of his huge attack.
Despite having descended the Gavia in the blizzard that caused his brakes to seize and his shins to ice over, with 10km of the stage remaining, Hampsten was still in the lead. However, on the flat final drag to the line, finally weighed down by his huge ski jacket, he was overheauled by the chasing Dutchman Erik Breuknik, who went on to take the stage win, but who is rarely remembered as doing so.
Although Hampsten didn’t take the stage that day, he wrote a story that will be re-told for years to come. His iconic ride in the snow won him the accolade of becoming the first American to lead the Giro d’Italia and he carried the Maglia Rosa all the way to the finish.
Stage 5 – Future Winner? – The Mighty Jungels
Bob Jungels gained the Maglia Rosa of the 2017 Giro yesterday when he crossed the line in a select group of riders atop the smoking Mount Etna. Initially touted as a ‘second-tier’ contender for overall victory, Jungels is more than comfortable in a leader’s jersey, as he proved in last year’s Giro.
Despite winning the Luxemburg road champion in 2013, 2015 and again this year, Jungels wasn’t considered even a secondary contender for the GC until he shot to prominence this time last year. In the 2016 Giro, he held the white jersey from stage four all the way into the final in Torino, swapping it only for a 3 day stint in pink as overall leader.
Jungels’ performance in white and pink was astonishing; constantly exceeding expectations, tracking moves and driving breakaways, rather than sitting pretty in the bunch and nursing his jersey. He refused to bow to more experienced and revered rivals, and contested all sorts of stages, with top 10s in all three time trials, a fourth place in a sprint, and competitive placings in every high mountain stage.
Having finished sixth overall last year and won the white jersey for best young rider, Jungels’ team have shown the confidence in his ability to make him their GC leader for 2017. Still only 24, he more than lived up to his team’s expectations when driving the decisive windswept splits in stage three on Sunday, and then finished in the same group as Nibali, Quintana, Thomas and co. on the ashen slopes of Etna yesterday.
Late last year, we were commissioned by Bob’s management company to create a bespoke piece to commemorate his victory in the youg rider’s classification, in a work titled ‘Project White’. Will there be a ‘Project Pink’ created for Bob this year? It’s too early to say just yet, but given the swift rise of the Mighty Jungels maybe we’d better start working on some initial drafts now….
Stage 4 -1924 – The Devil In a Dress
In 1924 something utterly unique occurred; something that had never happened before and would never happen again. A woman rode a Grand Tour.
Taking advantage of a rider strike and a call for entrants by the organisers, Alfonsina Strada dropped the feminine “a’” from her first name and entered the race. A cyclist of considerable talent, Alfonsina had won many races, competed against men in the Giro de Lombardy, and would hold the Women’s Hour record for 26 years. Her ‘deception’ was uncovered the day before the start, but she was allowed to set off and on the first stage she came 74th out of the 90 racers.
Alfonsina’s Giro endeavours attracted huge public interest and, after a series of crashes in atrocious weather caused her to finish outside the time limit on Stage 7, she was allowed to stay in the race, though unable to win official prizes. Following Stage 8 she had to be physically lifted off her bicycle such was her pain and exhaustion. Remarkably, she continued and arrived at the finish in Milan in 36th place, ahead of two riders on time. Legend has it that her achievement helped sell so many newspapers that she ended up being paid more than the race winner. Nonetheless, the “Devil In a Dress” was never allowed to compete again.
Stage 3 – 1927-29 – The Unstoppable Binda
When looking into the dim and distant past of Grand Tour racing, the notion of dominance is sometimes a difficult thing to quantify. First and second placings on a stage were sometimes separated by hours, breakaways ran for hundreds of kilometres and riders from the same teams regularly occupied multiple spots on podiums. But who is the most dominant Giro performer of all time? Alfredo Binda makes a strong case..
After beating the original Campionissimo, Constante Giradengo, in 1925 at his first Giro outing, Binda became so dominant that by 1930 the organisers resorted to paying him not to attend in order to keep the race interesting. The stats from his three previous outings speak for themselves: In 1927 Binda won an incredible 12 of the 15 possible stages and lead the overall GC by 27’ 24”. In 1928 he won 7 of 12 stages and took the overall by 18’ 3″.
The 1929 edition – the last before he was ‘persuaded’ to ride the 1930 Tour de France instead – saw Binda win his 3rd consecutive Giro, clinching 9 of the 14 stages and claiming 1st place by a meagre (by his standard) 3’ 44″.
His dominance was total – five Giro’s and 3 World championships in total- and should have sealed his place in Italian folklore. But, unlike Giradengo, Coppi and Bartali, he never managed to win over the hearts of the Italian tifosi to anything like the same degree. He declared that he had no interest in producing ‘spectacular racing’, saying that only winning mattered. This attitude did not appeal to the Italian public and he remained aloof, despite his prodigious success.
Stage 2 – 2014 – Fall From Grace: Garmin-Sharp’s Team Time Trial Farce
Wiggins, Millar, Vande Velde, Zabriskie, Farrar, Hesjedal. Throughout their brief history, Garmin-Sharp had prided themselves on their Team Time Trial prowess. Indeed, the team won the TTT on their first stage of their very first Grand Tour, the 2008 Giro d’Italia. They also notched up wins at TTTs in the 2011 Tour and again at the 2012 Giro. A repeat in 2014 looked to be a shoe-in.
Replete with GC contender Dan Martin, and past 2012 race-winner Ryder Hejsedal co-leading the team, the nine-man 2014 Garmin-Sharp team took to the start line in Belfast, the opening venue of the Italian tour, full of expectation and hope. 21.7km later, at the finish line outside the City Hall, they had been reduced to just five men who limped in way off the pace; their whole Grand tour in shreds.
By the halfway mark the team had already lost one rider due to their searing pace, but far worse was to come. In the blink of an eye, the team was in ruins. Dan Martin touched a wet drain cover, lost control of his front wheel and crashed to the floor, taking out teammates Andre Cardoso, Nathan Haas and Koldo Fernandez on the way. Only four men remained upright – not enough to record a time. They had to sit up and wait..
By the end of the day, Martin and Fenandez had abandoned the race to injury, two more of the team were walking wounded, and Hesjedal, the sole team leader, was 3′ 26″ off the pace already.
Stage 1 – 1914 – The Hardest Grand Tour in History
This year’s Giro covers 3,609.1 km over 21 stages. The 1914 Giro raced 3,162km over just eight stages – nearly 400km per stage. Despite riding bikes with two gears on a flip-flop hub, with brakes made of cork and a total weight of around 15kg, those hardy few that made it all the way to the final finish line still managed an impressive 23km/h
Whilst it’s expected that around 10% of the peloton taken to the start line for Stage One in Alghero today will not finish due to injury or illness, only 10% of the peloton in 1914 finished the tour; of the starting eighty riders only 8 completed the course, with the other 72 riders recording a DNF.
This was a true race of attrition. Nearly every day was blighted by heavy rain throughout, and on one day, the leader of the stage – Giussepi Azzini – was lost in a snowstorm and discovered taking shelter in a barn.
The 1914 Giro D’Italia was not only the hardest ever, but also witnessed the longest breakaway in the event’s history, with Lauro Bordin going solo for 350km before being reeled in. The race was not just hard, but mired in controversy, with fans sabotaging the route with nails in order to assist their favourites, and overturned claims of tows from cars aimed at the eventual racewinner, Alfonso Calzolari.
In the current era, the Giro D’Italia is known to be the toughest of the Grand Tours due to its unpredictable weather and savage mountains. Maybe Nibali, Quintana, Pinot and co. should try the 1914 edition for size.
Our special Limited Edition History of the Giro d’Italia print is now available for pre-order HERE.