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Memories from… Novara, 1968: Eddy Merckx’s first Maglia Rosa


He was already a phenomenon, he was already one of the strongest riders in the peloton. Yet Eddy Merckx, who in May 1968 was only 22 years old, had not yet shown his potential at a Grand Tour. He came to that Giro d’Italia in his gorgeous world champion’s jersey, fresh from his triumph at Paris-Roubaix, and regarded by many as the great favourite, even though he had only ridden one Grand Tour till then, the previous year’s Corsa Rosa, which he had finished 9th with 2 stage wins.

Merckx was visibly nervous and, having been singled out by everyone as the great rival of the Italians, he had no desire to wait, to be patient, or to act on the rebound. Thus, on the second stage, the Campione d’Italia-Novara – which had been preceded by an opening time trial in Campione d’Italia – he immediately showed what he was made of and flew straight into the Maglia Rosa, the first of the 77 he would wear in his career (an absolute record).

That solo action on the second day came as a bit of a shock to everyone, because Grand Tours are elimination races, races for those who manage to save the most energy, hide and tackle the big mountains as fresh as possible. Instead, Merckx surprised Italy and the world at the very first opportunity. Not everyone understood it then, but this guy was about to bring cycling into a new era, the era of the Cannibal.

Novara was about to witness a page of cycling history by opening Eddy’s legendary score of Pink Jerseys. Merckx would “lose” it two days later to Michele Dancelli, only to take it back on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, in Stage 12, and carry it to the end, where he would celebrate his first Giro d’Italia in Naples. He would go on to win the Giro five times.

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