This stage means business, completing first half of the Giro. It means business with the beauty of a route that includes the breathtaking splendour of Lake Iseo (although the riders will be too busy to appreciate it). And it means business with the sort of difficulty that, after the initial skirmish of the Passo Tre Termini, over a distance of just 30 or so kilometres, carries the hopes and ambitions of the favourites from the 200-metre altitude of Gardone Val Trompia towards the lofty 1,800-metre-high location of Passo Maniva. This is a sort of Disneyland for cycling fans, the almost permanent venue for the “Brixia Tour,” a race that is often decided along this demanding climb.
It passes from the province of Bergamo into that of Brescia, both of which form part of a cradle of cycling – and motorbiking – champions. At the fortieth kilometre, when the slope is still quite gentle, the riders pass for instance through Lovere, the childhood home of the greatest motorcycle champion of all time, Giacomo Agostini, winner of 15 world titles. But for just under 30 kilometres of the most inland stretch of the route, before it turns towards the lake, looking towards Val Brembana, it passes by another cradle of cycling talent, Sedrina, the birthplace of Felice Gimondi.
There was a period in the history of sport, in the 1960s, when three young men who were born in the province of Bergamo just a few weeks apart in the same year (1942) became icons in three exciting disciplines. They were namely: Giacinto Facchetti, captain of the only Italian national football team to win the European Championship, Giacomo Agostini, the dominant figure in the motorcycling world for an entire decade, and Felice Gimondi, who lorded it over the cycling circuit in stage races and the important classics until the arrival of Eddy Merckx changed the game completely. Their stories and their glorious achievements were linked by two key concepts – talent and commitment. And it was this tough, consistent, systematic commitment that fuelled their long careers (Felice Gimondi won the Tour de France in 1965, took the UCI Road World Championship title in 1973 and won his third and final Giro d’Italia in 1976).
And 11 June is a wonderful “birthday” for Felice, as it’s the date of his first victory in the Giro d’Italia. This was in 1967 two years after his success in the Tour de France. And, seeing as the description “Under 23” evokes the idea of enthusiastic amateurs, perhaps we should also mention that this was three years after his triumph in another French race, the Tour de l’Avenir, which first brought him to the attention of a worldwide audience. Today’s winner – and whoever it is will certainly be one of the contenders in the final victory – will have yet another reason to feel they are following in Felice’s footsteps.