Despite the route being changed tomorrow and a number of the climbs being taken out, it’s still set to be an epic stage in the Giro d’Italia thanks to the races finish at the iconic Tre Cime di Lavaredo. It’s a climb made famous by a young Eddy Merckx who won up there in 1968 en route to crushing a field of established veterans by 5 minutes overall.
An extract from the book, “The Story of the Giro d’Italia”, Volume 1 tells the story of that day on stage 12 when Merckx — at just 22 years of age but already the reigning World Champion and winner of the Paris-Roubaix, not to mention past winner of the Milan – San Remo (twice), Gent–Wevelgem and Flèche Wallonne — announced himself to the world as a Grand Tour rider and one capiable of winning every kind of race in what would become the greatest cycling career we’ve ever seen. As you’ll see, the conditions then sound very much like the kind of conditions we can expect tomorrow…
Through cold rain and snow (one journalist called the conditions “Dantesque”), clad in a short-sleeve rainbow jersey, wool cap, thick gloves and shorts, Merckx plowed ahead, catching and dropping the break that started the climb with a nine-minute lead. He went on alone to win at the top of Tre Cime di Lavaredo by 40 seconds over Giancarlo Polidori, the only survivor of the initial break, and 54 seconds over third-place Adorni. Further down the mountain there were those who couldn’t take the bitter cold and became little more than pedalling zombies.
The ease with which he ascended the day’s stiff slopes left his competitors shaking their heads in disbelief. One newspaper writer said Merckx had “climbed like a pursuiter”. He had left Motta and Zilioli more than four minutes behind while Gimondi conceded 6 minutes 25 seconds. Merckx later wrote that he rated the 1968 Tre Cime di Lavaredo stage win as his best-ever day in the mountains and one of the three greatest points of his career along with his 1969 Tour de France victory and gaining the World Hour Record.
Merckx took the maglia rosa that day and would keep it until the end of the Giro. It was his first Grand Tour win … He would go on to win another 11 over the next six years.
There’s nobody like that in this years Giro and we arrive at Tre Cime di Lavaredo on the penultimate day of the Giro with the general classification seemingly won, but that doesn’t mean we can’t expect to see fireworks. Will Vincenzo Nibali ram home his advantage and in the spirit of Merckx, go up the climb alone to victory? Or will someone else ride to glory and etch their name in Giro legend? It’s going to be worth watching.