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Memories from… Pompei, 1974: Sercu’s strength and the odd rest day


The Giro d’Italia editions of the first half of the 1970s were dominated by Belgian riders. Not merely because of Eddy Merckx’s supremacy, but also because the Flemish sprinters represented the elite of the world’s fast wheels. They would win an average of nine or ten stages in every edition, almost half.

Let us tell you about one of those, Stage 3 of the 1974 Giro d’Italia, the Formia – Pompeii, the last time the Corsa Rosa arrived in this amazing location.

Stage win went to Patrick Sercu, who overtook Giacinto Santambrogio and team-mate and fellow Belgian Roger De Vlaeminck shortly before the finish line. The Maglia Rosa was being worn by another Belgian, Wilfried Reybrouck, completing the Flamish domination. The latter experienced a very short but intense Giro, as he won the opening stage, wore the Maglia Rosa for two days and on the third day went out of time and was forced to pull out of the race.

Sercu was one of those racers who could not possibly exist in modern cycling: all power and muscle. He was a great pistard, world champion in the sprint and Olympic champion in the stationary KM, but his favourite ground was six-day races, where he earned 88 victories and the well-deserved nickname “The King of the Six Days”. To this he added 13 stage victories in the Giro and 7 in the Tour de France, all sprints of course.

After his first stage win in 1974 (he would go on to win two more), the Giro headed from Pompei to Sorrento and then stopped for the first rest day, on a Sunday. That was a bit of an odd choice on the part of the organisation, since it was far from customary to schedule the rest day after just three stages. The Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s oldest and most read newspapers, interviewed a few riders to find out who agreed with that choice and who didn’t, and it turned out that Merckx, Zilioli, Bitossi and Motta were happy to rest, while Gimondi, Baronchelli and Moser would have preferred to race. The best answer, however, came from Marino Basso: “Normally, I would have been against it, but you can’t say no to a nice trip to Capri”.


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