With the start of the Giro d'Italia just a few days away, I've been thinking of some of the grand tour's greatest moments. Among the greatest is Charley Gaul's heroic ride on the stage to Monte Bondone in 1956, brilliantly depicted By John Wilcockson in this 2006 VeloNews piece.
"Starting what was that year’s final
mountain stage, Gaul wasn’t even in the top 10 after he had flatted
three times the previous day. He was lying in 24th place, a distant 16 minutes behind race leader Pasquale Fornara of Italy.
The 242km stage started from Merano in the Dolomites in cold, wet weather. Gaul made his first attack with Bahamontes on the day’s first climb, the Costalunga. They were reeled in on the descent, but Gaul attacked again on the second climb, the Passo Rolle. This time, the Angel of the Mountains really took flight and by the top of the pass race leader Fornara, suffering in the awful conditions, was four minutes behind. But Gaul then had more bad luck. Two punctures cost him six minutes and he was well behind the leaders when he reached the foot of the day’s third giant climb, the Brocon, as the rain redoubled in ferocity.
Over this third climb in a stage that would take the leaders nine hours to complete, Gaul again turned on his climbing power. He passed Fornara and set about chasing the other top Italians, Fiorenzo Magni and Nino De Filippis. The Luxembourger continued his relentless progress into a violent head wind. With about 40km to go, he had passed Magni, caught De Filippis and was only two minutes behind the leader on the road, Bruno Monti.
At this point, with Fornara almost five minutes behind, De Filippis was the virtual race leader. But once Gaul passed him, De Filippis suddenly lost all his willpower in the horrendous weather. He could barely turn the pedals and was soon re-caught by the Fornara group. De Filippis could go any further. He stopped, collapsed and was then carried into his Bianchi team car.
By the time Gaul reached the wet streets of Trento, at that foot of the 14km ascent to the ridge-like summit of Monte Bondone, the frail-looking 23-year-old climber was looking strong enough to win the stage and perhaps take over the pink jersey.
On the early slopes of the climb, where the grade was at 10 percent, the rain began turning to snow and later to a full blizzard, blown by gusting winds. The maglia rosa, Fornara, was overcome by the freezing temperatures and took refuge in a farmhouse. Others rode to a standstill, while some riders stopped to dip their freezing hands in bowls of hot water offered by spectators. Only 43 of the day’s 89 starters would reach the Bondone’s 5413-foot summit, and some of those arrived in cars (and were allowed to start the next day).
Gaul — about whom French rival Raphaël Geminiani once said, “he has the skin of a hippo” — plowed a lone furrow through the tempest. He arrived at the summit finish almost eight minutes ahead of the second man, Alessandro Fantini, and 12:15 ahead of defending champion Magni. His face a wrinkled mess, his hands and feet turned blue, Gaul had won the stage and taken the Giro lead by 3:27 over Magni. Never in the history of the Italian race had one man come from so far back to win the overall title in a single day. Gaul had to have his clothes cut from his frigid body before he was immersed in a hot bath at his hotel. Two days later he was crowned the champion of the 1956 Giro d’Italia."
- via http://