by admin

article by Nicola Pucci

Veneto of Altavilla Vicentina, where he was born on 2 January 1937, Imerio Massignan belongs to that large group of excellent runners who, in their career, lacked the wit to rise to the rank of champion. And yes that he was one of the best performing climbers for much of the 1960s.

In fact, the physique might not have seemed like that of a mountain chamois, long-limbed (1.80 metres) and bony (formal weight 66/67 kg), and instead, when the road reared up, he was truly formidable at carrying the bike to altitude. And this despite the fact that he had one leg shorter than the other, producing a very particular pedal stroke.

Massignan made a name for himself as an amateur, winning the Bologna-Raticosa in April 1959. That success convinces his fellow countryman and illustrious fan Tullio Campagnolo (the inventor of the bicycle gear), to report it to the dean of professional sports directors, Eberardo Pavesi said “Lawyer“, historical father of the Legnano team which can be considered the reference team for Italian cycling until the seventies. As Pavesi sees Massignan, he immediately baptizes him “dry leg“, and he was so enthusiastic about it that he immediately made his professional debut.

Imerio repays the Avvocat’s trust with a surprising yet exciting performance in the Giro d’Italia. In fact, he finishes fifth, behind champions of the caliber of Gaul, Anquetil, Ronchini and Van Looy. In the mountains he proves himself capable of beating everyone, even the legendary Charly Gaul. Massignan’s ascent on the Little Saint Bernard is memorable, where he bends only to the divine acuteness of the “Angel of the Mountain” Gaul, engaged in the then successful feat of winning the Giro d’Italia leaving the king of the time trials, Jacques Anquetil, over 6 minutes behind.

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The great Luxembourger doesn’t take long to say that the horizon of the mountains has found another chamois. “Massignan is one – Gaul says immediately after the pink triumph – which will make everyone suffer uphill, including me, and it proved it the day I won the Giro!“.

With the blessing of the greatest climber of the time, Massignan, a typical high mountain runner and therefore of great stage races, he returned to the Giro the following year, proving even more competitive. In fourth place behind Anquetil, Nencini and Gaul, he adds an unfortunate feat on Gavia (it was the last year in which that mythical hill was climbed, to find it again we had to wait until 1987), a climb, obviously unpaved, with impressive gradients and a landscape that gives goosebumps. Massignan, on that mountain, manages to be better even than Gaul, taking the lead over the top, but four punctures deny him the deserved victory and at the finish line in Bormio he reaches 14″ from the Pfaffenthal sample. A shame, also because those setbacks cost him, in addition to the stage, also the final podium of the Giro, only 15″ away right from Luxembourgish. The rider from Vicenza, however, is now a magnificent reality in Italian cycling, already capable of gathering a large group of fans and enthusiasm.

With the characteristics of a thoroughbred climber, Massignan took part in the Tour de France for the first time in 1960, where he finished tenth in the final general classification, but won the Mountain Grand Prixconsecrating himself, in front of the refined French audience, as a runner of international level.

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Another great demonstration of his value comes unexpectedly from Road World Championships in Hohenstein, Eastern Germany, in August, where he finished in fourth place (beaten in the sprint by riders such as Van Looy, Darrigade and Cerami) and first of the Italians.

In 1961, those physical problems that would later limit his performance in the continuation of his career began to appear and he showed up at the Giro not in optimal conditions, finishing eleventh.however failing to emerge from the lot of the best uphill.

At the Tour de France, however, his condition was decidedly better, and he produced the masterpiece of his career, separating everyone and going on to win Luchon’s Superbagneres stage on a day tormented by a snowstorm.. In the mountains, he proves once again irrepressible, winning the final ranking reserved for climbers for the second consecutive year, coming fourth in the general ranking final behind Anquetil, Carlesi and Gaul. And at the end of the season, at the Giro di Lombardia, he fought an exciting duel with Vito Taccone on the rotten slopes of the Muro di Sormano, finishing second.

1962 could be the year of the breakthrough at the Giro of Italyand we’re close to seeing Massignan fail to do so completely. At the Corsa Rosa he won the final classification of the GPM and finished second in the general ranking, behind the regular runner Franco Balmamion who beat him by 3’57”. With the support of the “Twist shape” triumphed alone in the GP Lavis in Trento and in the Tour de France, run with the usual regularity, he was instead seventh, but had to bow to Federico Bahamontes in the climbers’ ranking.

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If luck is blind, bad luck sees very well” and alas makes its imperious appearance in 1963, through the dangerous and heavy forms of nephritis which reach such a state of acuteness that Imerio Massignan also misses the following seasononly finding time to place seventh in the 1963 Giro.

Imerio returned to racing in 1965, no longer at Legnanobut with the yellow jersey ofIgnis of Commendator Borghi. Massignan, certainly no longer the climber he was before, but always capable, especially in small stage races, of leaving a markrepays the trust ofIgnis, going on to win, alone, the third stage of the Tour of Cataloniaafter having separated, one at a time, all the best Spanish climbers, also imposing himself in the points classification thanks to the third place obtained in the hamlets of Tarragona, San Feliu de Guixols and Barcellona. At the Giro d’Italia he finished in ninth place, but it was clear that the illness had significantly undermined his physique.

Imerio is always an excellent runner, but those qualities that in the past had allowed him to act as a great protagonist are no longer the same. Massignan thus placed himself at the service of captains and young up-and-comers, extending his career until 1971, thus failing to add the success that would have elected him among the greats of the pedal.

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