Showing posts with label Dolomites. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dolomites. Show all posts

2 June 2018

Roberto Visentini - cyclist

One half of the Giro d’Italia’s most controversial duel

Roberto Visentini had the reputation of a  playboy in a working-class sport
Roberto Visentini had the reputation of a
playboy in a working-class sport
Roberto Visentini, the Italian road racing cyclist who won the 1986 Giro d’Italia but the following year was a central figure in the most controversial race since the historic tour of Italy began, was born on this day in 1957 in Gardone Riviera.

The son of a wealthy undertaker from Brescia, Visentini had been an Italian and a world champion at junior level in 1975 and won the Italian national time-trial championship in 1977 as an amateur, before turning professional in 1978. Despite his success, he was not universally respected by his peers, some of whom felt his penchant for fast cars and a playboy lifestyle were not in keeping with what was traditionally a working-class sport.

The Giro was always his focus. Riding for the Inoxpran team, he was runner-up in the 1983 edition behind his fellow countryman Giuseppe Saronni and looked set to win the event two years later, holding the race leader’s pink jersey for nine consecutive stages to the half-way point, only to become unwell, dropping back to finish 49th overall behind the Frenchman Bernard Hinault.

In 1986, now with the Carrera team, Visentini finally claimed the prize as his own, taking the lead at stage 16 as he turned the tables on Saronni, with the 1984 winner Francesco Moser, another Italian, in third place.

Visentini was the 1986 Giro d'Italia champion
Visentini was the 1986
Giro d'Italia champion
Come 1987, he felt he should begin the Giro, naturally, as team leader, and if he found himself positioned in the race well enough to have a chance of defending his title successfully, expected his teammates to do all they could to support him, as did the team management.

But one member of the team, the ambitious Irishman Stephen Roche, had other ideas. A high-profile signing in 1986, he had endured a wretched first year wrecked by a knee injury. He arrived at the Giro fresh from winning the Tour de Romandie in Switzerland and was in great form. He felt he also had a claim to be team leader.

Much to Visentini’s chagrin, Davide Boifava, the Carrera team manager, was reluctant to name a team leader when the race began in San Remo, announcing that “the road would decide”.

In the event, Visentini won the prologue but Roche claimed the overall lead on the third stage, a time trial between Lerici on the Ligurian coast and Camaiore, just over the border in Tuscany, and defended it for the next nine stages until the race reached Rimini, on the Adriatic coast.

Yet Visentini was never far behind and as the pair prepared for the uphill time trial from Rimini to San Marino, Roche’s lead over the defending champion was just 25 seconds. What’s more, he was suffering some pain after a crash a couple of days earlier.

Stephen Roche was an ambitious rider who failed to see why he should not try to win the Giro in his own right
Stephen Roche was an ambitious rider who failed to see
why he should not try to win the Giro in his own right
Now Visentini made his move and beat Roche decisively in the 46km climb, finishing 2 min 47 sec ahead of his teammate, taking the pink jersey as race leader in the process. He reasoned that with that the road had ‘decided’ and that the Giro was as good as his.

However, Roche was having none of it. There had been an assumption among the journalists reporting the race and the fans watching that an agreement had been reached where Roche would support Visentini in the Giro and the Italian would return the favour in the Tour de France the following month.

But Roche says he saw Visentini give an interview on the night of the San Marino stage in which he said he was not planning to ride in the Tour, something the Italian later denied.

Either way, on stage 15, which took the riders through the Dolomites, Roche broke away from the Carrera group, forming a new leading group with two other riders on the descent of Monte Rest. Despite Boifava sending his second-in-command to drive alongside Roche and tell him to abandon the move, he continued with the move, scrambling down the hill at speeds he admitted later were too fast.

The upshot was that though he did not win the stage his 12th place was enough for him to reclaim the pink jersey.  Encouraged by his Italian supporters, some of whom spat at or attempted to strike Roche as he went past them, Visentini tried to fight back on stage 16, between Sappada in the province of Belluno and Canazei, in Trento, but could not pass Roche. He ultimately faded and abandoned his race after a crash on the penultimate lap.

By the end, despite the opprobrium of the Italian newspapers, many supporters were applauding the Irishman as the stronger rider. Indeed, he went on to win the Tour de France and the road race at the World Championships, the first rider to win all three in the same year.

The career of Visentini, by contrast, went the other way. He never won another significant race and retired in 1990 to take over the running of the family firm, and thereafter had little to do with the sport, pointedly staying away from Carrera team reunions.

Sappada enjoys a picturesque setting in the foothills of the Alps, developed largely by Germans.
Sappada enjoys a picturesque setting in the foothills of
the Alps, developed largely by Germans 
Travel tip:

The small town of Sappada, also known as Bladen, is in an area of rich natural beauty in the Dolomites located at 1,245m (4,085ft) above sea level at the northeastern end of the range, on the border between Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Austria.  A tourist destination in winter and summer, despite being only 130km (81 miles) north of Venice it is largely German-speaking, with a Bavarian dialect known as Sappadino in Italian or Plodarsich in the local vernacular.

Gardone Riviera is an elegant resort on Lake Garda
Gardone Riviera is an elegant resort on Lake Garda
Travel tip:

Gardone Riviera is a small resort about one third of the way along the western shore of Lake Garda, in the province of Brescia. Several hotels can be found along the waterfront, as well as a small piazza providing a peaceful lakeside setting to eat lunch or dinner or enjoy an ice cream at an outdoor table. The town was the home of the poet, soldier and revolutionary Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938), who built the extravagant monument named Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, an estate in the hills above Gardone Riviera, which he planned with the help of Giancarlo Maroni. It now houses a military museum and library.

More reading:

The launch of the Giro d'Italia

How Attilio Pavesi became Italy's first Olympic cycling champion on the road

The cycling champion who was a secret war hero

Also on this day:

1882: The death of unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi

The Festa della Repubblica, commemorating Italy becoming a republic in 1946


2 January 2018

Riccardo Cassin – mountaineer

Long life of partisan who was fascinated by mountains

Riccardo Cassin developed a fascination with mountains as a boy
Riccardo Cassin developed a fascination
with mountains as a boy
The climber and war hero Riccardo Cassin was born on this day in 1909 at San Vito al Tagliamento in Friuli.

Despite his daring mountain ascents and his brave conduct against the Germans during the Second World War, he was to live past the age of 100.

By the age of four, Cassin had lost his father, who was killed in a mining accident in Canada. He left school when he was 12 to work for a blacksmith but moved to Lecco when he was 17 to work at a steel plant.

Cassin was to become fascinated by the mountains that tower over the lakes of Lecco, Como and Garda and he started climbing with a group known as the Ragni di Lecco - the Spiders of Lecco.

In 1934 he made his first ascent of the smallest of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the Dolomites. The following year, after repeating another climber’s route on the north west face of the Civetta, he climbed the south eastern ridge of the Trieste Tower and established a new route on the north face of Cima Ovest di Lavaredo.

In 1937 Cassin made his first climb on the granite of the Western Alps. Over the course of three days he made the first ascent of the north east face of Piz Badile in the Val Bregaglia in Switzerland. Two of the climbers accompanying him died of exhaustion and exposure on the descent.

The Tre Cime di Lavaredo, where Cassin embarked on some of his earliest climbing challenges
The Tre Cime di Lavaredo, where Cassin embarked on some
of his earliest climbing challenges
This is known today as the Cassin Route, or Via Cassin and he confirmed his mountaineering prowess by climbing the route again at the age of 78.

His most celebrated first ascent was the Walker Spur on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc massif in 1938, which was universally acknowledged as the toughest Alpine challenge. Even though Cassin knew little about the area before going there he reached the summit and made a successful descent during a violent storm.

Cassin made a total of 2,500 ascents, of which more than 100 were first ascents.

During the Second World War, Cassin fought on the side of the Italian partisans against the Germans. In 1945 along with another partisan he attempted to stop a group of Germans escaping along an alpine pass into Germany. His comrade was shot dead by them but Cassin survived and was later decorated for his heroic actions.

Cassin was supposed to have been part of the Italian expedition that made the first ascent of K2 in the Karakoram, having sketched the route and done all the organisation.  But the expedition leader left him out after sending Cassin for a medical examination in Rome where he was told he had cardiac problems.

The Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc massif, where Cassin scaled the Walker Spur
The Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc
massif, where Cassin scaled the Walker Spur
Cassin realised the expedition leader had felt threatened by his experience and from then on he organised and led expeditions himself, such as the first ascent of Gasherbrum IV in the Karakorum range and an ascent of Jirishanca in the Andes.

In 1961 he led a successful ascent of Mount McKinley in Alaska. The ridge was later named Cassin Ridge in his honour and he received a telegram of congratulations from President Kennedy.

Cassin began designing and producing mountaineering equipment in the 1940s and formed a limited company in 1967. In 1997 the CAMP company bought the Cassin trademark from him.

Cassin wrote two books about climbing and received two honours from the Italian Republic. He became Grand’Ufficiale dell Ordine al merito in 1980 and Cavaliere di Gran Croce Ordine al merito in 1999.

The book, Riccardo Cassin: Cento volti di un grande alpinista, was produced for his 100th birthday, containing 100 testimonials from people who had been associated with him, including President Kennedy.

Cassin died in August 2009, more than seven months after his 100th birthday, in Piano dei Resinelli, Lecco.

The main square - Piazza del Popolo - in San Vito al Tagliamento
The main square - Piazza del Popolo - in
San Vito al Tagliamento
Travel tip:

San Vito al Tagliamento, where Riccardo Cassin was born, is a medieval town in the province of Pordenone in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, about 80 kilometres northwest of Trieste . It still has three towers of its medieval walls and a Duomo with a triptych by Andrea Bellunello. Mussolini’s brother, Arnaldo, taught there for several years and his nephew, Vito, also lived and worked there.

Lago di Lecco
Lago di Lecco
Travel tip:

Lecco, where Riccardo Cassin eventually settled, lies at the end of the south eastern branch of Lago di Como, which is known as Lago di Lecco. The Bergamo Alps rise to the north and east of the lake. The writer Alessandro Manzoni lived there for part of his life and based his famous novel, I promessi sposi, there.  

17 September 2016

Reinhold Messner - mountaineer

Climber from Dolomites who conquered Everest

Reinhold Messner, pictured in 2012 at Castel Juval,  one of the sites of his Messner Mountain Museum
Reinhold Messner, pictured in 2012 at Castel Juval,
 one of the sites of his Messner Mountain Museum
Reinhold Messner, the Italian mountaineer who was the first climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen and the first to reach the peak on a solo climb, was born on this day in 1944 in Bressanone, a town in Italy's most northerly region of Alto Adige, which is also known as South Tyrol.

Messner was also the first man to ascend every one of the world's 14 peaks that rise to more than 8,000 metres (26,000 ft) above sea level.

His 1976 ascent of Everest with the Austrian climber Peter Habeler defied numerous doctors and other specialists in the effects of altitude who insisted that scaling the world's highest mountain without extra oxygen was not possible.

Born only 45km from Italy's border with Austria, Messner grew up speaking German and Italian and has also become fluent in English.  His father, Josef, introduced him to climbing and took him to his first summit at the age of five. He soon became familiar with all the peaks of the Dolomites. 

From a family of 10 children - nine of them boys - Messner shared his passion for adventure with brothers Günther and Hubert, with whom he would later cross the Arctic.  He and Günther, two years his junior, began climbing together when Reinhold was 13 and by their early 20s were among the best climbers in Europe.

The Rupal face of Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas, on the  descent from which Messner's brother Gunther sadly died
The Rupal face of Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas, on the
descent from which Messner's brother sadly died
Their partnership ended tragically, however, on Messner's first major Himalayan climb in 1970, after the two had reached the summit of the previously unclimbed Rupal face of Nanga Parbat. Günther was killed in an accident after the two became separated on the descent of the Diamir face. The circumstances of his death were never conclusively established but Reinhold, who himself lost seven toes to frostbite, claims Günther was swept away by an avalanche.

Messner's motivation for attempting Mount Everest without taking supplies of bottled oxygen stemmed from his belief that climbs assisted in that way were not true tests of human capability, that in a way it was cheating.  He pledged that he would ascend Everest "by fair means or not at all." Having succeeded once, he repeated the feat from the Tibetan side in 1980, which gave him the distinction of achieving Everest's first solo summit.

Reinhold Messner pictured at Everest base camp
Reinhold Messner pictured at Everest base camp
He became the first to complete all 14 of the so-called 'eight-thousanders' on 1986, a year ahead of the Polish mountaineer Jerzy Kukuczka.  All 14 are located in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges in Asia and Messner again scaled them all without extra oxygen.

Messner, who has crossed Antarctica on skis, has written 63 books, which include his autobiography Free Spirit: A Climber's Life, his Everest account The Crystal Horizon: Everest – The First Solo Ascent and All 14 Eight-thousanders, all published by Mountaineers Books.

As well as climbing, Messner became interested in politics and from 1999 to 2004 he was Member of the European Parliament for the Italian Green Party (Federazione dei Verdi).

Nowadays, he devotes much of his time to the Messner Mountain Museum project, which consists of five museums in his home region of Alto Adige, established to help educate visitors about the science and history of mountaineering and rock climbing.

Travel tip:

The small city of Bressanone - Brixen in German - became part of Italy only at the end of the First World War. It is characteristically German in its culture, with three quarters of the population of 21,500 speaking German as a first language. Located in a valley where the Eisack and Rienz rivers meet, it is shadowed on one side by Monte Telegrafo (2,504m) and on the other by Monte Pascolo (2,436m).

The Piazza Vescovile in Bressanone with the two towers of the Cathedral in the background
The Piazza Vescovile in Bressanone with the two towers
of the Cathedral in the background
Travel tip:

The third largest city in one of the richest regions in Italy, Bressanone has a cathedral that was rebuilt along Baroque lines in the 18th century but originates in the 10th century, and an unusual round Church of Saint Michael that was built in the 11th century with a Gothic bell tower added in the 15th century. Bressanone is a stop on the railway line from Verona in Italy to Innsbruck in Austria.

More reading:

Walter Bonatti - outstanding career marred by 50-year row

(Photo of Nanga Parbat by Daniel Martin GFDL 1.2)
(Photo at Everest base camp by Sanjay Kodain CC NY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Piazza in Bressanone by Sailko CC BY-SA 3.0)