A Belgian bandit on the Blockhaus
This climb, whose name is apparently suggestive of a German scenery, is actually located almost at the very centre of Italy, nestled in the Maiella massif, in the Abruzzo region.
The name ‘Blockhaus’ – meaning ‘stone house’ in German – is thought to come from an Austrian commander who was stationed atop the mountain, where a stone fortress was standing, with a squad of riflemen to fight banditry in the early years after the Unification of Italy.
Shepherds and bandits left their names and thoughts in a large slab of rock, called the ‘Tavola dei Briganti’, which can still be seen nearby. The most famous engraving, dating back to 1867, goes “1820 marked the birth of Victor Emmanuel II, king of Italy. In the past, 60 was the kingdom of flowers. Today, it is the kingdom of sorrow”.
The Blockhaus first featured in the route of the Giro d’Italia exactly one hundred years later, on 31 May 1967, marking one of the greatest moments in the history of cycling. The hero of the day was a young man from Tielt-Winge, in the Flanders region. Aged less than 22, and on his maiden Giro, he was already twice a Milan-Sanremo winner.
The front-runners on the starting line in Caserta were José Perez (the GC leader), Anquetil, Motta, Gimondi, Adorni, Zilioli and Vito Taccone, the local idol, ‘the chamois of Abruzzo’.
Cheered upon by his people, Taccone attacked first and solo. The finish, however, was still a long way to go, so he had to give in some 13 kilometres before the summit.
As the race continued, the favourites acted strategically and cunningly, examining each other without attacking.
When Schiavon and Zilioli eventually kicked clear, 2,000 metres before the line, the stage seemed to come down to a head-to-head dash between them for the line. Most unexpectedly and much to everyone’s surprise, however, that young Belgian rider aged less than 22 counter-attacked out of the peloton.
He caught up with the attackers and jumped away just before the final kilometre. Nobody could counter his attack. He won by a 10” margin over Zilioli and over the GC leader, Rosa Perez.
That day, many said ‘Victory on the Blockhaus went to a sprinter’, as to emphasize that the ‘others’ – the climbers, the front-runners – played a waiting game.
They still didn’t know that what they had just witnessed was bound to change cycling, forever.
They still didn’t know that the young man who had just conquered the summit of the Blockhaus would eventually become the greatest rider of all time – Eddy Merckx.
The Blockhaus and the Giro d'Italia
- 2022: Stage 9, Isernia – Blockhaus
FIRST RIDER ACROSS THE SUMMIT: JAI HINDLEY
- 2017: Stage 9, Montenero di Bisaccia – Blockhaus della Majella
FIRST RIDER ACROSS THE SUMMIT: Nairo Alexander QUINTANA ROJAS
Quintana took stage victory, after pulling away four times and dropping Nibali and Pinot. Despite trying to catch him three times, Vincenzo gave in on his fourth attempt, and stayed with Pinot. Tom Dumoulin and Bauke Mollema came back along the climb, catching and then passing Nibali. In the stage finale, Pinot jumped ahead of Dumoulin, finishing 24” down on Quintana. Mollema settled for 4th place, at 41” down. Nibali lost one minute. A collision with a police motorcycle at the foot of the closing climb dashed the chances of Sky’s duo, Thomas and Landa, of taking the leader’s jersey. Nearly the entire team was brought down in the crash. By the time Thomas resumed the race, after having his dislocated shoulder popped back in by the race doctor, he was already lagging three minutes behind. At the line, he was left five minutes off the lead.
- 2009: Stage 17, CHIETI – BLOCKHAUS DELLA MAJELLA
FIRST RIDER ACROSS THE SUMMIT: Franco PELLIZOTTI
Pellizotti opened a massive gap, eventually winning the stage. Behind him, Di Luca did all he could to distance himself from Menchov, but only succeeded in taking a 5-second advantage. Garzelli sprinted for second place, snatching bonus seconds from Di Luca, and getting booed by the local public, who was rooting for their fellow regional rider, Di Luca.
- 1984: Stage 5, NUMANA – BLOCKHAUS DELLA MAJELLA
FIRST RIDER ACROSS THE SUMMIT: Moreno ARGENTIN
As Fignon hit the wall, Moser showed unexpected climbing skills, finishing behind Argentin, and snatching the leader’s jersey from the Frenchman.
- 1972: Stage 4,1, FRANCAVILLA AL MARE – BLOCKHAUS DELLA MAJELLA
FIRST RIDER ACROSS THE SUMMIT: Jose Manuel FUENTE
Fuente pulled away with 15 km remaining to the summit, and never looked back. He took stage victory and the leader’s jersey, two and a half minutes ahead of Merckx and 4 minutes ahead of Gimondi.
- 1968: Stage 21, ROCCA DI CAMBIO – BLOCKHAUS DELLA MAJELLA
FIRST RIDER ACROSS THE SUMMIT: Franco BITOSSI
- 1967: Stage 12, CASERTA – BLOCKHAUS DELLA MAJELLA
FIRST RIDER ACROSS THE SUMMIT: Eddy MERCKX
Zilioli attacked at two kilometres out. Merckx, the only one who managed to hold his wheel, ultimately took his first Giro stage.