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Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the myth of the Cannibal takes shape

When standing in front of them, one seems to admire three fingers of rock pointing harmoniously towards the sky. The Tre Cime di Lavaredo – consisting of the Grande, which reaches an altitude of 3,000 metres, the Cima Ovest and the Cima Piccola – are without a shadow of a doubt one of the most beautiful and well-known locations of the Dolomites. At the same time, however, it can be said that they are also one of the most iconic locations in the 100-year history of the Giro d’Italia, which has come to the base of the Tre Cime, at Rifugio Auronzo, no less than seven times, all of them offering a great spectacle. First of all because it has always been included as a stage finish, which means that, either for the stage victory or for the GC, the athletes have always faced each other head-on, sparing no energy and attacking left and right in search of glory. Sun, rain or snow, it doesn’t matter, to conquer a legendary goal such as the Tre Cime di Lavaredo riders have always thrown their heart over the obstacle.

The climb is one of those that, due to its characteristics, is bound to make a selection, being extremely hard even if not very long. In addition, this arrival has almost always been the climax of a Dolomite mountain stage – those of which everyone remembers the date, year and protagonists – in which Passo Giau, Passo Tre Croci and some other mythical peaks have been climbed before tackling the final one. The climb is approached directly from the shores of Lake Misurina and for a kilometre and a half the road pulls upwards with an average gradient of over 10% and peaks at 18%. Arriving at Lake Antorno, the road flattens out for a couple of kilometres before climbing again to Malga Rin Bianco for the final, deadly 4 km. The last 4,000 metres, in fact, climb constantly at 12%, exalting those who managed to save some energy earlier and annihilating, instead, those who by now have no more fuel in the tank. It is worth mentioning that this mountain has no pass, no road on the other side, you just get to the top and come down the same way.

And to think that the first time the 3 Cime were tackled, in 1967, the historic pen of La Gazzetta dello Sport, Bruno Raschi, called them the “Mountains of Dishonour”, because of what had happened in the race. That stage on 8 June, in fact, ended in farce: the unprecedented final climb was stormed by fans, and when the riders began the ascent, with Wladimiro Panizza alone in the lead with 3 minutes on everyone, the latter’s flagship tried its best to keep the fans away, while behind it was exactly the opposite, with the riders climbing up attached to cars or motorbikes and the fans giving prolonged pushes to everyone. The result was that Panizza was caught and easily overtaken, Felice Gimondi won the stage, which he did not hesitate to call “shameful”. Eventually, patron Torriani decided to cancel the stage for the purposes of the general classification.

But it couldn’t end like that, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo deserved to be remembered in a different way, so Torriani decided to include them in 1968 as well, so as to draw a definitive line under the previous year’s mess. And no better story could have been written: in the 213 km Gorizia-Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the myth of Eddy Merckx began to take shape. The “Cannibal” attacked on the final climb, in the rain, recovered 9 minutes from 16 breakaway riders, went on to win with abysmal gaps to his rivals, gained the Maglia Rosa, which he kept all the way to the end, and won his first Grand Tour. Gianni Motta and Italo Zilioli came within four minutes, and reigning champion Felice Gimondi, in tears, within six, in what Merckx did not hesitate to call one of his best performances ever.

Six years later Merckx had already won everything he could win, he was already the strongest rider ever and, at the Pordenone-Tre Cime di Lavaredo stage on 6 June 1974, he was obviously wearing his beloved Maglia Rosa, with his sights set on his fifth overall triumph. This time, however, the final ascent was a long struggle: José Manuel Fuente gave another one of his pure climber’s shows, soloing to the stage victory, but Merckx’s opponents were Gimondi and a talented young neo-professional, Gianbattista Baronchelli, who decided to attack the Cannibal and try to overturn the Giro. Merckx lost the wheels of his young rival in the last three kilometres, Baronchelli – who in 1981, in Giovanni Battaglin’s Giro, collapsed on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo due to tracheitis – was also virtual Maglia Rosa for a while, but the Belgian managed to react with a burst of pride in the last few hundred metres, saving the symbol of supremacy by just 12″, just enough to win his fifth Giro.

How to forget, then, when a Sicilian boy wearing the Maglia Rosa, born a few kilometres from the Straits of Messina, emerged in the middle of a blizzard, arms raised and without gloves to celebrate his first triumph at the Giro d’Italia? It was 2013 and Vincenzo Nibali, 24 hours before the grand finale in Brescia, sealed his domination with one of the finest achievements in recent cycling. Attempts to resist him by the Colombian trio, Fabio Duarte, Rigoberto Uran and Carlos Bentancur, who had to fight for second place, were in vain. Among the Shark’s opponents was also Cadel Evans, whose rear brake froze in the final kilometres. After all, in the Dolomites, at an altitude of 2300 metres, you just never know what to expect.

Listen to the In Cima episode dedicated to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo:

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547 m

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Discover the history of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo at the Giro: