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Memories of Valsugana, 1974: Bitossi anticipates Merckx and Gimondi

23/05/2023

The 1974 Giro d’Italia will go down in history as Eddy Merckx‘s fifth and last, as well as perhaps the only one that the Cannibal had to seriosuly fight for. In fact, the Flemish phenomenon arrived in Milan with a mere 12’’ margin on Gianbattista Baronchelli and 33 seconds ahead of Felice Gimondi.

Among the protagonists of that edition was also Franco Bitossi, the “crazy heart” – so nicknamed because of his sudden tachycardia attacks which would sometimes force him to jump off his bike and take a break in the middle of the race. Bitossi took home three stages in that edition. 

After winning the Foggia and Macerata stages, the Tuscan rider also took stage 18, the 190-kilometre Iseo-Sella Valsugana. The uphill finish in the small Trentino town, the strada del Dosso, was chosen because twenty years earlier, one of the founding fathers of the Italian Republic, Alcide De Gasperi, had died there. The final climb proved to be even easier than what was already apparent from the altimetry. Thus, a small group of 14 strong riders came to the finish line, featuring all the GC contenders, with Bitossi outsprinting everyone, including Merckx and Gimondi.

Among those athletes was the formidable Spanish climber José Manuel Fuente, who spent 12 days in the Maglia Rosa in that Giro, winning five stages, but collapsing in the seemingly innocuous Sanremo stage due to a hunger crisis, bidding farewell to his dream – which seemed within his grasp – of beating Merckx. Well, there is a funny anecdote about that day in Valsugana: at the second hairpin bend of the final climb of the Dosso, Fuente explicitly asked a motorbike policeman “when does the Sella climb start?”. When it comes to climbers, “El Tarangu” Fuente is undoubtedly one of the all-time greatest.

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