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Memories of Monte Bondone, 1956: man pushed to his limits


In the Giro d’Italia’s 100-year history, few mountains have managed to be as cruel and merciless as Monte Bondone. The first time patron Vinenzo Torriani decided to include it in the route, back in 1956, this climb immediately entered cycling history, but also 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 pushed to his limits”, headlined the newspapers the next day.

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