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The Stelvio: Fausto Coppi’s zenith, peak and crowning glory.


The 10 most iconic climbs of the Corsa Rosa: the Stelvio

Starting from 21st March we have started to go thorough the 10 most iconic climbs of the Giro d’Italia with a dedicated section with tales, facts and statistics for each one.

After the Monte Zoncolan, the “Kaiser” or the sublime monster of worldwide cycling, it’s the turn of the Stelvio.

The alpha and the omega

While the Pordoi marked the beginning of Fausto Coppi’s career at the Giro d’Italia – they made their debut together in 1940, the year in which the Campionissimo took his first overall victory – the Stelvio – rising to 2,757 metres in altitude – was the zenith, the peak and crowning glory.

The pass first featured on the route of the Corsa Rosa on June 1st 1953, on the second‑to‑last stage. By then, it looked as if, overall, everything had been settled already. In the previous stage, which finished in Bolzano, Coppi had tried has hard as he could to distance himself from the race leader, Koblet, but to no avail. The two then made a deal, which Koblet agreed to. The Campionissimo promised not to attack him the following day, in return for stage victory. With Fausto sitting 1’59” behind Hugo, the Giro was apparently over.

What happened the following day was one of those incidents that make cycling the most beautiful sport in the world. Despite being in tip-top shape, Coppi – loyal as he was – didn’t feel like breaking any truce, so he decided he would not pull away. However, should his rival attack in the first place, he would feel entitled to respond. So he asked the young Defilippis to step up the pace halfway through that new, brutal climb, which he did. With 12 km remaining to the summit, Defilippis put the hammer down, and Koblet set off to chase him – a terrible, expensive mistake.

The deal was broken. Fausto counterattacked, and proceeded to pass him, as Koblet started falling behind. Coppi cleared that unprecedented climb alone, 2’48” ahead of Bartali, 3’27” ahead of Defilippis and 4’25” ahead of Koblet, who tried to give it all along the closing climb. Riding frantically and taking great risk, the Swiss managed to shave seconds off the gap, however crashing twice on the descent, and finishing 3’28” behind. The Campionissimo took the stage, as well as the fifth overall victory of his astonishingly successful career.

That date, June 1st 1953, marked at the same time the debut of the Stelvio Pass in the history of cycling, and Coppi’s final outstanding achievement at the Giro.

It was the alpha for one and the omega for the other.

That bond, however, has never been broken. Instead, it has grown even stronger. Their names are now inseparably entwined, and everybody thinks of the Stelvio as the most iconic Cima Coppi.

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