The Giro’s biggest obstacle? The weather

Federico Bahamontes at the Giro d'Italia in 1956

Federico Bahamontes at the Giro d'Italia in 1956 (Image credit: Sirotti)

 "I'm not really up to date with what's going on in the Giro d'Italia this year, but I think the Giro's real difficulty tends to be its poor weather, particularly in comparison with the Vuelta [which moved from April to September] where the weather is much better than it used to be."

"That said back in my day I liked the Giro far better, because of the way it used to be raced. Each Grand Tour has a different feel to it. When it comes to the Giro and the Tour, for example, it was like the difference between Real Madrid and Barcelona when they play football, or bullfighting in Madrid and bullfighting in Seville. But whether it's the Giro or Vuelta that's more important, the Tour remains the top race."

"The problem with the Giro, though, was that you'd get in the Alps and the weather could turn really nasty, you'd even get snow. It got to the point where I thought if you wanted to do well in the Giro, you were better off building up for it going to Belgium and racing in the rain at 70 kilometres an hour in the criteriums over the cobbles there to get a feel for the weather."

"The stage to Mount Bondone [in the 1956 Giro d'Italia, run off in a severe blizzard, ending with Bahamontes abandon and victory for Charly Gaul - Ed] was like that. I could have been in the pink jersey that day but had to quit because of the weather. That day nobody made it to the summit [of the Bondone] on a bike, whatever anybody says. Everybody got in a car, including Charly Gaul."

"Then the next day the organisers came round the team hotels asking who would want to start the stage even if we'd abandoned, because they didn't want a tiny peloton for the last day into Milan."

"There shouldn't be a problem for riders doing the Giro and the Tour, either. Look at my palmares, I managed to race all three in one year [in 1958, finishing 17th and with a stage win in the Giro, eighth and with a stage win the Tour, sixth and King of the Mountains in the Vuelta - Ed.]" And I started all three in 1956, although I lost nearly an hour in the Tour in the first few stages because of an upset stomach, I still managed to get fourth into Paris behind [Roger] Walkowiak."

"The racing back then was very different though. In the Giro all the team leaders would reach an agreement not to go for it until the last 50 kilometres. No doubt about it. And then they'd get annoyed with me because I didn't respect the agreements and I'd start attacking too early, then all hell would break lose all the way to the finish. And they didn't want that."

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In his first blog for Cyclingnews, Federico Martín Bahamontes, six times Tour de France King of the Mountains and rated the all-time greatest ever Tour climber by L'Equipe newspaper last year, explains how he and his fellow pros of the 1950s would tackle the early season.