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Maglia Rosa Competition: And the Winner Is... [Plus a Little History]

Bloomsbury Publishing


As you no doubt recall, this competition started Wednesday and asked you the following questions:

  1. Who is the Eagle of the Canavese?
  2. Who was the Lion of Mugello?
  3. Who is the Spider of the Dolomites? and
  4. In what year did this photo occur?


We had ten qualified entries via the post and Twitter: Fergs01, Andrewp, RMc, brunoP, Fausto Coppis Handsaw, bought with blood, ant1, wannabescattista, bulldogpuncheur, and sebastiandeluded. They each answered the following:

  1. Franco Balmamion
  2. Gastone Nencini
  3. Imerio Massignan
  4. 1956

There was some slight confusion about the third question, because a well-known rock climber named Cesare Maestri also acquired the nickname "Spider of the Dolomites." In the end, I ruled against including those guesses, on the theory that my fourth cousin Angelo might also be known to his friends as "Spider of the Dolomites," and you have to draw the line somewhere. Anyway, Massignan was both a great climber and a skinny, long-limbed guy (probably still is the latter), and the quiz was meant to celebrate the awesomeness of Massignan's moniker.

Balmamion is well-known around here, thanks to Sykes' book "The Eagle of the Canavese," which I recommend. Balmamion is the last man to win two consecutive Giri d'Italia, though as grand tour winners go his career was otherwise remarkably unremarkable. Nencini is a more charismatic character. Not only is he a Giro and Tour de France winner, but there is a famous quote about him by Rafael Geminiani, noting Nencini's legendary descending skills: "The only reason to follow Nencini downhill is if you had a death wish." This almost became a prophecy when Roger Riviere followed Nencini downhill one day and went off the road, breaking his spine. For his part, Nencini didn't live out his days in splendor, being nabbed in the midst of a blood transfusion in 1960, and dying at age 50.

Finally, the story of the 1956 Giro and the climb of Monte Bondone is pure legend. The Bondone was the fourth and final climb of an epic day in South Tyrol, the penultimate stage of the race, and it began in a steady rain that soaked the riders to their skin at the lower elevations, and got nastier as the day wore on. Charly Gaul attacked on the second climb, the Passo Rolle, with the big names in pursuit as they climbed #3, the Brocon, where it started to hail. By the top, the hail and rain turned to snow, which by the conclusion was a blizzard on Monte Bondone.

Hands, feet, brakes... things stopped working. Guys braked on the treacherous Brocon descent by wedging their feet between the front fork and the rim. The saner ones walked down on occasion. Riders abandoned left and right. Those who soldiered on to the summit of Monte Bondone arrived in a shocking state. Gaul, the stage (and Giro) winner, was carried from the line, off his bike, and into a hot bath where he struggled to remain conscious. Fornara, the maglia rosa, abandoned at the urging of his father. The finishers expressed varying stages of delirium, including one Guido Santi, who got in the tub in a frozen, starved state and accidentally tried to eat the soap.

Maglia Rosa covers this epic day from several angles. It's just one of the great stories you can find therein. Order here.