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Pordoi: alliance and rivalry

24/04/2022

The 10 most iconic climbs of the Corsa Rosa: the Pordoi

Starting from 21st March we have started to go thorough the 10 most iconic climbs of the Giro d’Italia with a dedicated section with tales, facts and statistics for each one.

After the Kolovrat, it’s the turn of the Pordoi.

Alliance and rivalry

The narrative of the Passo Pordoi is so closely entwined to that of the Giro d’Italia, and so deeply rooted in our collective memory, that it seems nearly impossible to remember when the two first met each other.

Yet, obviously, there is a date: June 5, 1940. It was Giro stage 17, from Pieve di Cadore to Ortisei.

Coppi was a rookie back then. He had set off from Milan serving as a domestique for Bartali. One stage after another, however, the two switched roles, and that day Fausto was the one in the leader’s jersey, while Gino was there to support him.

The two kicked clear together, opening a large gap behind them.

Early on the Pordoi, however, the young Coppi appeared to be in trouble. It felt as if he would rather quit, ditch his bike and jump on his team car, than face that final climb. Bartali waited for him, urged him to continue, and threw snow at him to get him back on his feet, which Coppi eventually did. Bartali cleared the climb first, eventually taking the stage, whereas Coppi staked a claim on overall victory, with help from his top-class domestique.

That scene, alone, would be enough to explain how closely tied the Pordoi is to the Corsa Rosa. Fausto’s collapse along those slopes, on the year of his first Giro win, and the birth of a relation that was bound to become the greatest rivalry in the history of cycling and beyond.

That, alone, would be enough, but many other episodes further strengthened that bond. June 12, 1947 was one of these.

The stage travelled 194 kilometres across the Dolomites from Pieve di Cadore to Trento, taking in climbs up the Falzarego and the Pordoi.

Bartali was in the leader’s jersey, and Coppi ranked second overall, 2’40” behind him.

That stage was perhaps the last chance to turn the GC.

The two kicked clear early on, as they did seven years before. By the time they reached the Falzarego, they were standing alone at the front.

Along the climb, however, Ginettaccio dropped his chain. Taking advantage of the situation, his former teammate pulled off one of his most epic and extraordinary achievements.

He cleared the Falzarego alone, gained on along the valley, and opened an unbridgeable gap on the Pordoi. He crossed the line in Trento after a 150-km solo break, 4’24” ahead of Magni, the runner‑up, and – most importantly – snatching the leader’s jersey from Bartali.

After that day, the Giro d’Italia tackled the Passo Pordoi 38 more times, including four as stage finish and 13 as Cima Coppi. The pass increasingly became a permanent fixture, a mandatory crossing point for riders and cycling enthusiasts alike, so that it seems almost impossible to recall when its legend was born. But now we know where it all came from – the alliance (and rivalry) between two of the greatest aces of Italian cycling.

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