Passo Manghen, a real leg-breaker
No telephone operator gets any service on the Manghen Pass, a clear sign of how immersed one is in the most unspoilt nature when climbing this mountain. It is one of the most beautiful alpine passes in eastern Trentino, which for technical and aesthetic qualities would have nothing to envy to more famous passes, yet many cyclists are unaware of its existence. On the other hand, the Giro d’Italia has included it in its own personal list of favourites since it discovered it in 1976, tackling it six times, most recently in 2019.
The Manghen, which links Valsugana and Val di Fiemme, is one of the few paved passes in the Lagorai chain and can be tackled from two sides, the more famous one from Borgo Valsugana and a slightly less known one from Molina di Fiemme. Featuring straight roads, sharp hairpin bends, wide curves, streams, grasslands and huge fir trees, the climb is one for pure climbers. After all, in 23 km, one goes from the 400 m of Borgo Valsugana to the 2047 m of Manghen. Up until the village of Telve the road climbs gently, after which the gradient begins to get steeper, albeit uneven, with some stretches at 3% and others at 10%. Along the Val Calamento the toughest part of the ascent begins: the last 7 kilometres seem endless, with gradients between 10 and 15%.
The Giro d’Italia has tackled this side five times out of six, the only exception being the very first climb back in 1976, when the Giro chose the other side, Molina di Fiemme (15.7 km at 7.7%). Overall, the two sides are very similar in terms of both toughness and landscape. From the very first appearance, however, it was clear that this was no trivial climb, with illustrious victims such as Eddy Merckx.
In 1975, the “Cannibal” had suffered his first defeat in a Grand Tour – after six seasons in which he had won every three-week race he had participated in, 10 to be exact – at the hands of Frenchman Bernard Thévenet, who had relegated him to second place in the Tour de France. So, in ’76 Merckx went into the Giro with some uncertainty about his strength, which seemed no longer unbeatable. And in fact, the first part of the Corsa Rosa saw him a step behind Felice Gimondi, Johan De Muynck and Fausto Bertoglio, but until stage 20, the 170 km Vigo di Fassa-Terme di Comano, which featured the climbs of Manghen and Bondone, he was in full fight for at least the final podium. The “unveiling” of the Manghen, however, was a tough pill to swallow for the Belgian: Merckx struggled on the hard slopes of the Trentino climb and said goodbye to any hopes of winning the Maglia Rosa. The Giro went to his friend and rival Gimondi. For Merckx, that day marked the beginning of the end of his extraordinary career. That would be his very last Giro d’Italia.
Marco Pantani also put his signature on the Manghen, in the Castelfranco Veneto-Alpe di Pampeago in 1999. The “Pirate”, already in the Maglia Rosa, was coming from a disappointing time trial in Treviso, in which he had lost several seconds to his rivals, in particular Paolo Savoldelli and Laurent Jalabert, who had come within a minute of the Romagna champion. In order to avoid attacks from his opponents, Pantani ordered his team mates to pull hard on the Manghen, catching the day’s breakaway and reducing the group of best riders to a dozen. No one, however, had the courage to attack the Pirate on his own ground – not least because it would have been a fruitless attempt – so Pantani was the first to reach the summit of the Manghen and then, at Pampeago, he completed the job, leaving everyone behind and gaining more than a minute. The next day, in Madonna di Campiglio, Marco would win his last ever stage in the Giro d’Italia.
Listen to the episode of In Cima dedicated to Passo Manghen: