Franco Bitossi boasts a whopping 171 career wins, including stage wins at the Tour or the Giro, the Lombardia… just about every race. Nonetheless, he is still remembered by a lost sprint
His career, a success story that started in Termoli, in October 1961. «It was a half-stage of the Tre Giorni del Sud. I remember my first win as if it were yesterday». Bitossi won in Termoli with a perfect sprint, defeating his opponents in the shade of the Castello Svevo, as a medieval king. And just like Frederik II of Swabia, who was crowned as emperor at the age of 18, Bitossi soared to victory straight away, upon his third Pro race, but it took him a while to spread his wings and fly. He first had to deal with a close yet dodgy ‘friend’.
He had always had a crazy heart, from the years he crossed the Arno by boat to go to work, to his early amateur career, when the teams would turn a blind eye to this anomaly. Bitossi had an enlarged heart – the doctors called it cardiac hypertrophy. Occasionally, his heart would start beating like a drum during a race. Stopping and waiting was the only solution. It took him a couple of seasons to understand that, in a stage race, the problem would clear up in just a few days. And eventually in 1964, two and a half years after his first victory in Termoli, he sealed his first overall win at the Giro d’Italia – and he never stopped since then. He took four stages straight away, including a ‘redo’ of the legendary Cuneo-Pinerolo, switching between meltdowns and comebacks, ups and downs, like in an ECG trace. That was his hallmark style.