Showing posts with label Marco Pantani. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marco Pantani. Show all posts

1 March 2018

Gastone Nencini – cycling champion

Lion of Mugello won both Tour de France and Giro d’Italia

Gastone Nencini in buoyant mood after winning the Tour de France in 1960
Gastone Nencini in buoyant mood after
winning the Tour de France in 1960
Gastone Nencini, sometimes described as Italy’s forgotten cycling champion, and certainly one of its least heralded, was born on this day in 1930 in Barberino di Mugello, a town in the Tuscan Apennines, about 38km (24 miles) north of Florence.

Nencini won the 1957 Giro d’Italia and the 1960 Tour de France, putting him in the company of only seven Italians to have won the greatest of cycling’s endurance tests.

He followed Ottavio Bottecchia, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi and preceded Felice Gimondi, Marco Pantani and the most recent winner, 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali.

Yet often even cycling fans asked to name the seven Italian champions sometimes forget Nencini, despite his courage and resilience earning him the nickname The Lion of Mugello.

This may be in part because he died very young, a month short of his 50th birthday, after developing a rare disease of the lymphatic system.  Others, in particular members of his family, believe it was his maverick nature, his refusal to comply with the sport’s etiquette, that damaged his reputation.

In his era, some claim, there were unwritten rules in cycling by which the so-called domestiques – i.e. those not expected to be in contention for honours – would ride purely for the benefit of their team, giving the best riders maximum chance of success.

Rival rider Fausto Coppi was accused of plotting against Nencini
Rival rider Fausto Coppi was accused
of plotting against Nencini
Nencini, a powerful all-rounder who was strong in the mountain sections and was a particularly fearless descender, was not willing to be told what to do for the benefit of someone else’s race and became known for ignoring team orders.

This was evident in 1955, in only his second year as a professional, when he put himself in a position to win the Giro d’Italia against the odds, in a field that included three previous champions in Hugo Koblet, Fiorenzo Magni and the five-times winner Coppi.

His family believed that Magni and Coppi were part of a conspiracy on the penultimate stage, the 216km (134 miles) leg from Trento to San Pellegrino Terme, when Nencini suffered multiple punctures but often found the support vehicles were slow to be on hand, meaning that wheel changes, often completed in as little as 15 seconds, sometimes cost him more than a minute.

The two champions drove on hard whenever Nencini had to stop, with the result that Coppi won the stage and Magni regained his place as race leader, which he kept over the final stage into Milan.

Two years later, with both Coppi and Magni absent, Nencini took the title, this time benefitting from a feud between the defending champion, Luxemburg’s Charly Gaul, and the Frenchman Louison Bobet, which saw Gaul determined to wear down Bobet in the closing stages, enabling Nencini to claim the title.

Nencini leads the field in the 1960 Giro d'Italia
Nencini leads the field in the 1960 Giro d'Italia
His 1960 victory in the Tour de France was achieved without winning a single stage, one of only seven winners of the race with that distinction.  This time, he took advantage of the misfortune of the French rider Roger Rivière, who was in a position to win the race when he crashed over a wall trying to keep up with Nencini on a descent, suffering damage to his spine that left him permanently disabled.

Only the Frenchman Henry Anglade was a match for Nencini in a descent. He had come out on top in a one-to-one challenge down an Italian mountain in 1959 but had warned Rivière not to attempt to emulate him. 

After quitting competitive racing, Nencini, whose free-spirited, anti-authority nature also extended to smoking cigarettes and drinking wine with dinner even during races, owned a bike shop and indulged his talent for painting, taking lessons from Pietro Annigoni, who had painted portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John XXIII and President John F Kennedy among others.

He died in hospital in Florence in February, 1980. His memory has been honoured with a plaque mounted on a wall by the roadside at the Futa Pass, which has been part of a Giro d’Italia stage that passes close by Barberino.

Travel tip:

The Castle of Cafaggiolo was a Medici summer residence
The Castle of Cafaggiolo was a Medici
summer residence 
Barberino di Mugello is one of nine municipalities in a pretty area of the Tuscan Apennines close to Lago di Bilancino on the road between Florence and Bologna. The locality was popular in the Renaissance years with the powerful Medici family, the rulers of Florence, who had several residences there including the Castle of Cafaggiolo, a former fortress that was converted into a summer residence by Michelozzo, best known for designing the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence.

The Giro d'Italia traditionally finished with the riders entering the Arena Civica, the neoclassical amphitheatre
The Giro d'Italia traditionally finished with the riders
entering the Arena Civica, the neoclassical amphitheatre
Travel tip:

The Giro d’Italia of today has stages outside Italy – this year, for example, it will start in Jerusalem, in Israel – but traditionally it began and finished in Milan, the riders setting off from Piazzale Loreto and finishing at the Arena Civica, the neoclassical amphitheatre inside the Parco Sempione, behind the Castello Sforzesco. The stadium, commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte soon after he became King of Italy in 1805, was at one time the home of the Milan football club Internazionale. Known nowadays as the Arena Gianni Brera, named after Italy’s most famous football journalist, it is a venue for international athletics, also hosting rugby union as well as Milan's third football team, Brera Calcio FC.

More reading:

The tragedy of Marco Pantani

Alfredo Binda - the champion so good he was paid not to race

Gino Bartali - cycling's secret war hero

Also on this day:

1773: The death of Luigi Vanvitelli, designer of the Royal Palace in Caserta and the backdrop to the Trevi Fountain in Rome

1869: The birth of sculptor Pietro Canonica

1926: The birth of movie star Cesare Danova

Selected reading:

Giro d'Italia: The Story of the World's Most Beautiful Bike Race, by Colin O'Brien

Pedalare! Pedalare! A History of Italian Cycling, by John Foot

(Nencini by Harry Pot; 1960 Giro from Dutch National Archives; Coppi by J.D.Noske; Castle by Massimilianogalardi; all via Wikimedia Commons)

13 January 2017

Marco Pantani - tragic cycling champion

Rider from Cesenatico won historic 'double'

Marco Pantani - instantly recognisable in his trademark bandana
Marco Pantani - instantly recognisable in his
trademark bandana
Marco Pantani, the last rider to have won cycling's Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in the same year, was born on this day in 1970. 

Recognised as one of the sport's greatest hill climbers, Pantani completed the historic 'double' in 1998 and remains one of only seven riders to achieve the feat.

A single-mindedly fierce competitor, Pantani had won the amateur version of the Giro - the Girobio - in 1992, after which he turned professional.  Winner of the Young Rider classification at the Tour de France in 1994 and 1995, he might have enjoyed still greater success.

But Pantani's career was blighted by physical injuries and later by scandal after he was disqualified from the 1999 Giro d'Italia just two days from the finish - and with a clear lead - after a blood test revealed irregular results. He died tragically young in 2004.

Growing up, Pantani's home town was the port of Cesenatico, on the Adriatic Coast, about 30 minutes' drive away from Cesena, in Emilia-Romagna.  His mother worked as a chamber maid in hotels in Cesenatico and in neighbouring Bellaria, while his father, Paolo, was an engineer.

His grandfather bought him his first bike, which he would ride alongside the canal near the family home, worrying his mother constantly that he would fall in, but it was after the family moved to a bigger apartment a couple of streets away that his interest in competitive cycling took off.

Pantani in action in the Tour de France in 1997
Pantani, regarded as one of the sport's greatest hill climbers,
 in action in the Tour de France in 1997
Among his new neighbours was Nicola Amaducci, sporting director of the Fausto Coppi Cycling Club.  The club's training rides used to start in a nearby square and one day Marco, then aged just 11, could not resist the urge to tag along, which required him to pedal so hard he almost passed out through exhaustion. Given his lack of experience and fitness, he did surprisingly well and it was not long before he was accepted as a member.

His father wanted him to obtain the educational qualifications to equip him for a career and he was sent to a technical institute in Cesena to study radio technology. But after winning his first race - a 75km hill climb from nearby Forlì to Montecoronaro, a town on the border with Tuscany - Marco convinced him that his ambition to become a professional cyclist was worth pursuing.

His aggressive, attacking style in the saddle made him a favourite with cycling fans.  Instantly recognisable by his shaven head, his earrings and a trademark bandana, he was nicknamed 'Il Pirata' - the Pirate.

After finishing third on his Girobio debut in 1990 and second in 1991 before winning in 1992, injury delayed Pantani's professional debut in the Giro d'Italia until 1994, when he was runner-up. He finished third in his first Tour de France the same summer.

He missed part of the 1995 and 1996 seasons after another serious injury and suffered a setback when the Carrera Jeans sponsorship of his team ended in 1996.  However, he was soon installed as leader of a new team, Mercatone Uno, in whose colours he achieved his famous 'double' in 1998.

The Pantani monument in his home town of Cesenatico
The Pantani monument in his home town of Cesenatico
Coming only a year after the Festina team scandal had raised fears of widespread drug use in cycling, Pantani's 1999 test failure sent shockwaves through the sport and rumours began to spread about the Italian.

The test he failed was not sophisticated enough to detect drugs but the high level of hematocrit in his blood - 52 per cent compared with the maximum permitted 50 per cent - was consistent with values found in athletes using the substance erythropoietin - the hormone better known as EPO.

Pantani never tested positive for any banned substance and was inclined to believe stories that he had been the victim of a doctored test result linked to illegal gambling activities.  However, he was affected by the negative publicity and his performances in subsequent seasons suffered.

He was found dead in a hotel room in Rimini in 2004.  The coroner's verdict was that he died from a cocaine overdose, which has been supported by evidence that he was also taking prescription drugs to combat depression, creating a lethal combination.  An investigation into his possible murder, launched after a long campaign by his parents and others, was closed in 2016.

Travel tip:

Cesenatico is one of many resorts along the Adriatic coast that benefit from wide sandy beaches and is very busy during the summer months.  Originally it served as the port of Cesena, built around the mouth of a canal reputedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci.  It enjoyed a boom period in the early part of the 20th century, when there was an expansion in hotels, including the impressive neoclassical Grand Hotel Cesenatico, built in 1929, which resembles a Liberty-style palace.

The canal in Cesenatico, along side which Pantani used to ride his bike as a boy growing up
The canal in Cesenatico, along side which Pantani
used to ride his bike as a boy growing up
Travel tip:

The life and achievements of Marco Pantani are remembered in a museum and exhibition centre, called Spazio Pantani, which is situated next to Cesenatico's railway station in Viale Cecchini, which contains photographs, memorabilia and video footage dedicated to preserving the memory of the rider.  There is also a monument to Pantani in a park off Viale Carducci.

More reading:

Fiorenzo Magni - three times Giro winner in golden age of Italian cycling

How Attilio Pavesi won Italy's first road cycling Olympic gold

Also on this day:

1898: The birth of the brilliant operatic baritone Carlo Tagliabue

(Picture credits: Pantani portrait by Aldo Bolzan; Tour de France pic by Hein Ciere; Pantani monument by Brianza2008; Cesenatico canal by SimonePascuzzi all via Wikimedia Commons)