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Giro d’Italia 2021, Stage 16: Sacile – Cortina d’Ampezzo. A wide range of emotions

23/05/2021

Tappa 16: Sacile – Cortina d'Ampezzo. Una tavolozza di emozioni

 Stage 16: Sacile – Cortina d'Ampezzo. A wide range of emotions

These mountains and the Corsa Rosa were meant to be together. An inevitable love story that is repeated every day at dusk, when the setting sun casts a pink glow on the Dolomites, renewing the legend of King Laurin and his rose garden. When his beloved princess Similde was taken away from him forever, Laurin cursed the garden, so that “neither by day nor by night should anyone again glimpse this lovely sight”. A spell that is only cancelled at dawn and at dusk, when the mountains shine pink in the Alpenglow (enroṡadìra).

A regular feature of the Giro since 1937, namely 72 years before being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dolomites have often been the scene of legendary achievements and terrible meltdowns. A wide range of emotions that Laurent Fignon was very familiar with. The Dolomites meant both accomplishment and failure for him. In 1989, he took overall victory battling through the snow on the Marmolada and the Pordoi, healing the wound he had suffered five years before, when a meltdown had cost him the pink jersey at the last stage, and heading for a Tour that he would lose even more deceivably. In 1992, under the pouring rain, Fignon endured an ordeal on the Giau that would mark his farewell to the Giro.

The following day, footage from the national broadcaster Rai showed Fignon cracking spectacularly.

By the time the Frenchman – his thinning blond hair tied in his hallmark ponytail – reached the summit, with 50 kilometres out, he was irritated and well behind the leaders. He put on his white rain jacket, mumbling, and guzzled some food, however failing to warm up or satisfy his hunger. Midway along the descent, he stopped again to change clothes, swapping his white jacket for his teammate’s, Dirk De Wolf – a patchwork of green, red and purple – and off he rode again among the water-drenched meadows. However, his colourful uniform was not enough for him to come out of the darkness: on the Falzarego and on the Campolongo, Fignon placed his fate in the hands of his teammate. De Wolf, who had won the Liège-Bastogne-Liège a few weeks before, became the humblest domestique: encouraging and pushing his comrade. The pair of them painfully climbed along a road that turned into a river amid the heavy rain, weaving side to side, the Flemish holding his right hand on the Frenchman’s back.

By the time they reached the finish in Corvara, 44 minutes behind stage winner Franco Vona, the barriers had been dismantled and the roads had been reopened, and the two were greeted by compassionate applause or cries of derision by the motorists stuck in the queue. Still, Fignon concluded the Giro, and 40 days after that fateful ride on the Giau he sealed his last career achievement, with a 100-km breakaway at the Tour.

After losing the 1989 Tour de France by an endless 8 seconds, Fignon was no longer scared to show his suffering: cycling couldn’t cause him any greater pain than this, he told in an outspoken autobiography in which, however, no mention is made of his meltdown on the Giau. That remained confidential matter between him, De Wolf and the Dolomites, under a laden sky that would have blackened the brightest Alpenglow.

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