A few weeks ago the news of the extraordinary feat of Vincenzo Nibali, who after winning the Giro d’Italia last year, also won the Tour de France, establishing himself as one of the most extraordinary athletes of his generation. But the history of Italian cycling is full of successes and great personalities, of human stories and hardships, so much so that this sport is perhaps the only one that still today, in terms of journalism and storytelling, manages at least at times to keep up with football. on newspaper.
In particular, the race that most of all warm the hearts of our local enthusiasts is undoubtedly the Giro d’Italia, which crosses our peninsula every year (and beyond) and offers such a variety of landscapes and routes to leave room for everyone. the qualities of the runners.
Not surprisingly, the Giro boasts a very respectable role of honor, in which practically all the greatest cyclists of the last century have signed up. But which were the ones that made us dream the most? Which ones have entered the legend?
Leaving aside the recent successes of Nibali, which we have already had the opportunity to talk about elsewhere and which maybe we will talk about again in the future, here are five winners of the Giro d’Italia among the strongest ever seen on our roads.
1. Alfredo Binda
Of course, there were Bartali and Coppi, who probably created the most beautiful rivalry in the history of cycling.
Even before that, in very remote times, there was Costante Girardengo, so mythical that he was sung in songs (such as Il bandito and the champion by De Gregori). But perhaps the greatest Italian cyclist of the 1920s and 1930s was Alfredo Binda, now unfairly half-forgotten.
Born in 1902, he became a professional at the age of twenty, accumulating in a short time one of the most important Palmares of every era in this sport, with five Giri d’Italia won (in 1925, 1927, 1928, 1929, and 1933, plus a second-placed in 1926 behind Giovanni Brunero), two Milan-Sanremo and three World Championships.
The Winner of Five Laps, Three of Which Are Consecutive
But let’s focus for a moment on the Giro: among all the victories, some stood out more than the others and deserve a few lines.
In 1925, for example, Binda was making his debut at the Giro, and few gave him the favors of the prediction. Many, on the other hand, would have gladly bet on the aforementioned Girardengo, who had won the Giro two years earlier and was considered to be at the top of his career.
Girardengo, in fact, had won the second stage from Turin to Arenzano and had taken the lead in the general classification, consolidating his leadership with the victory also of the stage from Pisa to Rome, which concluded the first third of the competition.
However, everything changed in the fifth stage, in the short path that led from Rome to Naples: Girardengo in fact punctured and suffered the attack of Binda, who managed to gain even five minutes of advantage, taking the lead in the general classification.
Binda then won the next stage and Girardengo’s attempts to reassemble – with the victory of another four stages out of the six still available – did not help, given that the youngest cyclist always controlled the situation easily.
Subsequent victories were less difficult. In ’27 he finished with an advantage of even 27 minutes over the second classified Giovanni Brunero and conquered 12 stages out of 15. The following year he had 18 minutes of advantage and 7 out of 12. In ’33 there were 12 minutes and “only” 6 out of 17 stages.
Finally, the 1929 Giro was more contested, when Domenico Piemontesi managed to contend with him for the title until the end, only to give up in the two final stages.
2. Gino Bartali
Binda was undoubtedly a legendary runner, capable of successes that are very difficult to repeat today; however, it must also be said that he ran the Giro at a time when only Italians still participated in it and that in the end, he had a good fortune, for at least a few years, not to have any rivals within his reach.
The fate of Gino Bartali, born in 1914, was different, an extraordinary runner who, however, had bad luck before seeing the Second World War break outright in the years of his competitive peak, then to have another extraordinary athlete like Fausto Coppi – moreover younger of five years – to contend for the titles. Nevertheless, Bartali’s Palmares is impressive: he won the Giro d’Italia three times (in 1936, 1937, and 1946), also finishing second four times (behind Giovanni Valetti, Hugo Koblet, and Fausto Coppi twice).
He also took home four Milan-Sanremo and two Tour de France, in 1938 and 1948, the second of which is famous for being considered the sporting victory that prevented a revolution in Italy.
The Hero of 1946 and the Birth of the Rivalry With Fausto Coppi
As for the Giro, the first two victories were achieved by a Bartali who was still very young – he was just, respectively, 22 and 23 years old – in routes where still very little space was reserved for the mountains, winning the first time in front of Giuseppe Olmo and the second in front of Giovanni Valetti.
Much more epic and exciting, however, was the 1946 Giro, the first course after the end of the Second World War, when for the first time the rivalry with Fausto Coppi exploded in all its power.
Also Read:FIVE GREAT SPORTS TO LOSE WEIGHT
In fact, the route included four mountain stages and at the end saw Bartali triumph for just 47 seconds, in a very tight finish that ended on 7 July in Milan, from where he had also started.
Among other things, these were years in which cycling, very popular, was on the one hand an opportunity for redemption for many, and on the other a way to carry out one’s own political demands.
During the twelfth stage that was to lead from Rovigo to Trieste, in fact, the race was interrupted by a series of demonstrators demanding the annexation of Venezia Giulia to Yugoslavia.
While the stage was canceled and Coppi and Bartali taken from their teams and taken to Udine, from where the next race would start, the clashes between the demonstrators and the police forces – also made up of American soldiers – also led to a shooting, which not uncommon in those post-war years.
3. Fausto Coppi
Bartali was one side of the golden age of cycling and Fausto Coppi, his presumed arch-rival, was the other.
Born in 1919 in the province of Alessandria, the rider was one of the most successful cyclists in history and, at the same time, one of the most unfortunate.
He won the Giro d’Italia five times (in 1940, 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953), the Tour de France twice (in 1949 and 1952, making him the first rider in history to win the two trophies in the same year), three times the Milan-Sanremo and once the Paris-Roubaix, as well as a World Championship on the road and two World Championships on the track.
However, he disappeared, just forty years old, in 1960, suffering from malaria, due to an incorrect diagnosis by the doctors who could have cured him quite easily by giving him the right drug.
Perhaps for this extraordinary strength combined with a rare misfortune – and for his biographical facts, which saw him as the protagonist of a controversial extramarital affair with the famous “White Lady” – his figure has entered the myth, becoming emblematic of the cycling champion.
As mentioned, he won the final pink jersey on five occasions. In 1940, at his debut, he became the youngest ever winner of the competition, a record still unbeaten.
In 1947 he took revenge on Gino Bartali, who had been at the top of the general classification up to the last four races, fleeing in the stage that led to Trento and thus conquering the pink jersey.
The masterpiece, however, he scored in 1949, one of his “magical years”. For most of the race, which started from Sicily and then climbed very slowly towards the Alps, the ranking was dominated first by Giordano Cotter and then by Adolfo Leoni, despite Coppi having succeeded in winning the stages of Salerno and Bolzano.
However, it was when he entered his Piedmont that the “champion” made the difference, given that in the mountain stage from Cuneo to Pinerolo he became the protagonist of a 192-kilometer escape, ultimately giving 12 minutes of detachment to the only one who had tried to keep it, just Gino Bartali.
The Last Years
After his victory in ’52, he also achieved another feat in the 1953 Giro, when Hugo Koblet, who had dominated the general classification up to that point, took off on the Stelvio, thus winning the pink jersey at the penultimate stage and triumphantly entering Milan the day after.
The years, however, pass for everyone, and, despite a last great Giro in 1955 (finished in second place, just 13 seconds behind Fiorenzo Magni), Coppi’s career was now drawing to a close, and unfortunately, it’s a tragic ending.
4. Eddy Merckx
We close the page on the golden age of cycling and now take a leap forward a few decades, presenting the only non-Italian rider we have chosen to include in our ranking, the Belgian Eddy Merckx.
Between 1966 and 1976 he completely dominated the world scene, winning 5 Tours of Italy, like many Tour de France, a Vuelta, 7 Milan-Sanremo, 2 Tours of Flanders, 3 Paris-Roubaix, 5 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and 3 Championships. del Mondo (plus an amateur title), so much so that he is considered by some to be the greatest cyclist ever lived. He won the Giro for the first time in 1968 when, having just started racing for the Milanese Faema, he literally dominated the race by winning the general classification, the points classification, and the Mountain Grand Prix, a feat made even more epic by the outcome of the twelfth. stage that led from Gorizia to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
Here the young Belgian managed, under the snow, to catch the fugitive Franco Bitossi who had accumulated a nine-minute lead, and then to detach the pink jersey Michele Dancelli by six minutes, snatching the record from him and never letting go.
The Cannibal Who Won Any Race That Came His Way
The following year Merckx seemed destined to repeat itself, but when he was already wearing the pink jersey he was tested positive for a doping test for an amphetamine, which would have been taken during a minor stage anyway.
Disqualified – despite the fact that the press was entirely on his side – he just had time to return to racing to compete (and win big, given that he gave the runner-up almost 18 minutes behind) his first Tour.
At the Giro he returned to impose himself in ’70 over the eternal rival Gimondi, in ’72 over the good climber Fuente, in ’73 – in which he wore the pink jersey from the first to the last stage, a feat that was successful beyond him only in Girardengo, Binda (but it was completely different cycling, and the stages were much fewer) and Gianni Bugno – again on Felice Gimondi.
Towards the End of His Career
In 1974, the year of his last title, things got more complicated.
Precisely in the season in which the Belgian was looking for his fifth Giro and would also win the Tour and the World Championship on the road, scoring a historic hat-trick, his victory in Italy was seriously questioned by a young cyclist who had just turned pro. Baronchelli, who at the end of the Giro was just 12 seconds behind the pink jersey.
By now the star of the Cannibal, who had dominated every race far and wide, was beginning to fade: the following year, having now won all the laps in which he had participated since 1968, he decided to skip the Italian race and to aim for all about the Tour, where he had the opportunity to win the sixth title and break every record.
Also Read: THE FIVE HIGHEST-PAID ATHLETES IN THE WORLD IN 2014
After having jumped to the top of the general classification, an unfortunate stage with a lot of blow to the abdomen inflicted by a spectator on the track allowed his pursuers to approach him in the standings and then overcome him in the following stages when the intake of painkillers and anticoagulants it had now impaired performance.
From that moment on he could no longer repeat himself at his usual levels and withdrew from the competition shortly after.
5. Marco Pantani
So far we have presented riders with impressive Palmares, who boasted repeated victories in the Giro and also in all the other major competitions; however, we decided to end with a cyclist who perhaps, compared to those great champions, won much less, but still managed to leave an indelible mark on the history of the Giro: Marco Pantani.
Born in Cesena in 1970, he is the only Italian besides Fausto Coppi to have won the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year, as well as the last Italian winner of the Tour before Nibali.
Al di là delle vittorie e dei meriti sportivi, però, Pantani seppe far innamorare la gente per il suo carattere tenace e la sua forza di volontà, rese poi così tragiche dalla sua sfortunata fine.
The Unfortunate Champion
After some good performances in the amateur Giro d’Italia, the young Romagnolo turned professional in 1993, making himself noticed in the stage competition already the following year, when he conquered two mountain stages and finished in second place overall, behind the Russian Berzin and ahead of Miguel Indurain, third, confirming the promises also with a third place in the Tour.
The year after a bad injury kept him away from the Giro and bad luck fell on him also in 1997, when he had to retire from the competition due to a muscle laceration caused by a fall due to the sudden crossing of a cat on his way. .
However, he was able to make up for it in the following year, with a historic enterprise. In the Giro he also managed to do well in the time trials, keeping his main rival, the Russian Tonkov at bay, and winning the pink jersey and the climbers classification for the first time.
At the Tour he then managed to score a double, imposing himself on that Jan Ullrich who in previous years had always broken him.
The Problems and the Fall
However, he did not have time to enjoy his victories for a long time: already in 1999 the decline began, not so much for sporting reasons in the strict sense, but for media and doping issues.
During a Giro in which he was dominating, when there were only two stages left to arrive in Milan, Pantani was in fact excluded from the race for a hematocrit value higher than the permitted one (52% against the 50% allowed), to which suspicions and inferences were added. by a series of characters whose reliability has often been questioned.
The cyclist was overwhelmed more by the shame in the newspapers than by the disqualification, which was minimal and which would have allowed him to race already in the next Tour. He returned to the Giro, out of shape and with poor results, in 2000, while he did better in France, where seriously worried Lance Armstrong in a couple of stages, but then he had to retire.
Overwhelmed by depression, he could no longer repeat himself at the levels of the late 1990s and died of a cocaine overdose in 2004.
Leave a Reply