Grit, courage, tactical savvy, amazing climbing and downhill skills, Gastone Nencini was all this and more. The “Lion of Mugello”, so nicknamed for his determination, won a Giro d’Italia and a Tour de France and is to this day, together with Raphaël Géminiani, the only rider to have managed to finish in the top 10 in all three Grand Tours in the same year.
However, in 1959, the Tuscan rider was going through his most complicated season since turning professional. He started the Giro d’Italia, which he had won two years earlier, with just one victory in his bag (a stage in the Gran Premio Ciclomotoristico) and after just a few stages he was already out of the GC. The goal, at that point, was to try and win a stage and the opportunity presented itself in the 206-kilometre Napoli-Vasto, an unprecedented finish for the Corsa Rosa.
After the start in Naples, the stage got into full swing after the supply point in Agnone, when five riders outfoxed the rest of the peloton, exhausted by the high pace set on the climbs and the pouring rain: Antonio Dal Col, Imerio Massignan, Graziano Battistini, Guido Boni and, of course, Nencini took the lead. The tortuous finale towards Vasto surprised everyone, especially the final wall leading to the finish line.
The Italian newspapers of the time, of which we provide a translation, well summarised how those kilometres unfolded: “attack by Battistini, Boni gives way. Nencini catches up with Battistini and overtakes him, while Massignan also loses contact. The action of the black and white G.S. Carpano is truly irresistible. Nencini pops up at the head of the finishing straight, located on a steep climb, with a margin of a few metres, which he manages to increase before crossing the finish line with 6″ on Battistini, 12″ on Massignan and 19″ on Boni”.
“Did you see that? And who could have expected a finish like that – said Nencini immediately after the finish – I almost got caught like a beginner. Battistini surprised me in the penultimate bend, God only knows how much I had to struggle to catch him. I really didn’t think I could make it and when, with a last desperate attack, I took the lead on the final uphill straight, I no longer had the courage to turn around and study the situation, I feared that at any moment the Legnanista would come back and overtake me again. My legs were stiff and not only due to the sprint”.
For the Lion of Mugello, that was the best answer to those who thought he was finished, as well as the beginning of a new dawn: the following year he would finish 2nd in the Giro d’Italia, just 28″ behind Jacques Anquetil, and win the Tour de France.