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Monte Bondone, the Mountain Angel reigns supreme in the storm

In the 100-year history of the Giro d’Italia, few mountains have managed to be as cruel and merciless as Monte Bondone. Just think of the very first time it was included in the route by patron Vincenzo Torriani, in 1956, for a day that has not only made cycling history, but has become the stuff of literature, poetry, epic. When one thinks of old-school cycling, the 242 km Merano-Monte Bondone, the third to last stage of that 1956 Giro, immediately comes to mind, as does the name of the rider who dominated it in the snowstorm: Charly Gaul, the Angel of the Mountain. That morning it was raining in Merano and an icy wind foreshadowed a stage with few survivors, not least because Costalunga, Rolle, Gobbera and Brocon had to be climbed before Bondone. Gaul, shy and reserved off his bike but wild and reckless on it, went on the attack right from the first climbs, while the weather worsened kilometre after kilometre and the riders dropped out one after the other, including the Maglia Rosa Pasquale Fornara, who was forced off his bike by his sports director for fear that he might seriously hurt himself, despite his 16-minute lead over Gaul. A snowstorm broke out on the Bondone, Gaul staggered but continued through the fog and walls of snow and arrived at the finish line as the winner. Partially frostbitten, he had to be pulled off his bike, he fainted, they cut his jersey with a knife and took him to the hotel, where he was soaked in a hot tub for an hour. After a few minutes he came to his senses, and they told him what he had just done: he was the new Maglia Rosa and one step away from winning his first Giro d’Italia. That day, in second place, with a delay of almost eight minutes, came Alessandro Fantini, third at 12 minutes was Fiorenzo Magni who, having a fractured shoulder, was holding the handlebars with a tubular clenched between his teeth. Half the group retired. “Man driven to his limits”, headlined the newspapers the next day.

The extreme experiment was well liked by the fans, so Monte Bondone was also included in the 1957 edition, on the fourth to last day, in the 242 km Como-Monte Bondone. This time, however, everything is different, because the weather is on the side of the riders and in the Maglia Rosa is Gaul himself, ready to return to the mountain that made him a semi-hero. The Luxembourger is the strongest on the climbs, but the tough Louison Bobet and Gastone Nencini are not far behind. That year, for the first time, TV was covering the Giro, so Gaul, the reigning champion and big favourite, wasted no opportunity to show off, attack and stay in front. He felt untouchable in that pink jersey, superior to all, but on the Bondone day he committed a fatal blunder. Around 90 km into the stage he decided to stop for some physiological needs and, while doing so, a small group passed by with all the other favourites who had all stopped together shortly before. According to Bobet’s team-mate Raphaël Géminiani, when Gaul caught the eye of his French rival, he started to mock him so that Bobet, as a proud Frenchman, raised his middle finger and rode straight on, convincing the peloton to turn against the Maglia Rosa. The stage heated up sooner than expected and Gaul was forced to chase the frenzied peloton: at the foot of Bondone he was already exhausted and lost two minutes. At the top he would lose ten, goodbye Maglia Rosa and Giro to Nencini.

After all the excitement of these first two historic appearances, it was inevitable that Monte Bondone would become a landmark of the Giro d’Italia. It has been included in the route a total of 13 times, the latest in 2020, from the Aldeno side. Several roads, in fact, lead to the 1,650 m of altitude of Monte Bondone, but there are essentially three sides worth mentioning: the tougher and more romantic one from Trento (17.3 km at 8.2%), which gave joy and pain to Gaul, the Aldeno side (21.4 km at 6.7%), tackled for the first time in 1973 and conquered by “El Tarangu” José Manuel Fuente and which will return in 2023, and the Valle dei Laghi side (34.4 km at 4.8%), longer but gentler.

For everyone, however, Bondone is the mountain that towers above the city of Trento, and when one thinks of Trento, in cycling, one thinks of Francesco Moser. The Sheriff had already tackled this climb in the 1973 and 1976 editions, but it was not until 1978 that he found himself facing it as a stage finish, with Moser, among other things, second in the GC and in the midst of the fight for the Maglia Rosa. The Bondone was bedlam, two wings of crowds cheering the home champion, who had 45 seconds to recover from the overall leader, Belgian Johan De Muynck. Moser, however, collapsed right on the home climb: Wladimiro Panizza won the stage, De Muynck gained 1’30” and Gianbattista Baronchelli overtook him in the general classification, moving up to second place as the best Italian, while all of Moser’s fans along the climb got in his way and insulted him.

One thing is certain: one is never bored on the Bondone.

Listen to the episode of In Cima dedicated to the Monte Bondone:

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