Part 6: Turning Through the Clouds
Among the jagged peaks of the Italian Alps, the weather can close in fast. The road to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, at 2,340m, is one of the highest in Europe, and sits beneath the three striking rock battlements for which the mountain is named – literally, the three peaks of Lavaredo.
In the 1968 Giro d’Italia, Eddy Merckx produced one of the rides that would contribute to his already growing legend. He was 22 years old and had already won Milan-San Remo twice, Paris – Roubaix and the Volta a Catalunya. But riding in the high mountains of a Grand Tour is something else. In the spring of 1968, while all around Europe student protest swelled and threatened to overturn the political establishment, Merckx’s Italian Faema team instructed him to ride the Giro instead of the Tour de France. He won the second and eighth stages, and on stage 12 from Gorizia to Tre Cime di Lavaredo the Cannibal got an opportunity to prove his climbing ability.
On that June day in 1968, the cold rain falling on the lower slopes turned into snow higher up. A breakaway of 12 had gained a lengthy lead but when Merckx gave chase, aided by a team-mate, their lead soon evaporated. Wearing a short-sleeve rainbow jersey (he’d won the Worlds the previous September in Heerlen, Netherlands), gloves and a cotton cap, Merckx powered up the 7.5km climb and all the other favourites fell away. Felice Gimondi was reduced to tears as he lost 6 minutes and any chance of winning the Giro.
As he crossed the line, Faema team helpers threw blankets over their star and rushed him off towards warm clothing. Behind the riders were drenched in misery as they toiled ever upwards. Later, Merckx would state that it was one of the finest moments in his career. It certainly kick-started his Grand Tour dominance. He rolled into Napoli almost two weeks later in the maglia rosa, and not only did Merckx win the overall classification by over 5 minutes, he also took the Climbers and Points competitions too, by handsome margins.
Yet as we know, the Cannibal was only just starting to feel hungry…
In its 101 editions the Giro d’Italia has entertained, enthralled and excited. It has become synonymous with explosive racing through spectacular landscapes. And it has created many stories, encompassing every human emotion we can imagine. As the 2018 race spins its way towards Rome, Soigneur brings you seven stories from the race’s beautiful history.
Una bella historia Part 1: Breaking Away
Una bella historia Part 2: The Maestro
Una bella historia Part 3: A badger in the snow
Una bella historia Part 4: Angels with dirty faces
Una bella historia Part 5: Staring at the ceiling