Everyone knows that the mountains of Trentino Alto-Adige have been defining the Giro for 70 years. That's because, for the most part at least, the snows have cleared by the time the race comes around. However in the 1930s, when asphalted roads were but a dream this far north, one man was tough enough (and foolhardy enough) to imagine he might make it as a bike rider.
His name was Riccardo Menapace and he came from Termeno. He won the 1936 Milan-Munich stage race, and two years later got a start at the Giro. Mussolini forbade big stars like Gino Bartali from riding that year, instead delegating them to ride the Tour de France. It meant more places for the much-maligned independents, and Menapace seized his chance. He finished the race third amongst the independents, but after the war took Austrian nationality. He was good enough to win the Tour of Austria in 1949 and 1950, the latter aged 35. Tough as old boots.
SEE, HEAR, FEEL...
We've made reference to the passing of the great framebuilding tradition. However a few of the artisans carry on regardless, and in Caldenazo resides perhaps the most celebrated of all. Dario Pegoretti produces stunning racing frames in "traditional" steel, but there is nothing traditional about him, his bikes or the extraordinary paint-jobs which are his trademark. They're inspired by his love of the music that reverberates around his workshop, so amongst other we have the "Big Leg Emma", in deference to the Frank Zappa track.
You won't find a Pegoretti bike in the carbon-obsessed, weight-fixated Giro peloton, and he refuses to conform to the dreary expedience of the mass-marketeers. That doesn't mean, however, that his bikes aren't some of the most comfortable, evocative and downright sumptuous creations around.
MOMENT IN TIME
Charly Gaul's 1956 epic to Monte Bondone is perhaps the most storied of all Giro stages. No less than 44 succumbed to the blizzard, and it's widely believed that many of those who didn't were bussed up the mountain in team cars. Legend has it that they were dropped off in view of the finish, and rode the final couple of kilometres to the line. What we do know is that the whole fiasco was universally condemned by riders, journalists and officials alike.
Tour de France director Jacques Goddet complained that, "You can't ask them to do such inhuman things, particularly in a stage race where they have to ride again the following day. […] Secondly, is this sort of excessive effort not the reason they increasingly resort to the "bombs" that they seem to have abused during this tragic day?"
Doping? Why it's as old as cycling itself…
The San Pellegrino will be ridden at tempo, with 60-80 riders going over the top together. Then there will be attacks on the second climb because there are mountains points to be won, and some will fancy their chances of getting to the finish.
The GC riders won't do anything until the last climb, and my guess is that 30-40 of them will hit it together. It's 16 kilometres long and consistently steep, but I'm not sure it will have a major effect on the race. They've two huge days ahead of them so I don't think anything much will happen until maybe the last couple of kilometres. That could change if one of the maglia rosa contenders is having a really bad day, but I doubt it. For me the winner will be a climber who has no GC aspirations, and the blue jersey might be won here.