article by Nicola Pucci
The Tour de France won on his professional debut in 1965when he was also third in his first participation in the Giro d’Italia, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Lombardy in 1966 (with the addition of Paris-Brussels, a classical era of great lineage and tradition), Giro d’Italia and Grand Prix of Nations (a sort of time trial World Championship) in 1967, Vuelta and a second Grand Prix of Nations in 1968, the encore at the Giro d’Italia in 1969 (marked by Eddy Merckx’s doping disqualification). What is Felice Gimondi missing to enter, definitively if he isn’t already there, the Olympus of cycling greats? Of course, the World Championship.
For that, it’s just a matter of time, you just need to know how to wait and see on 2 September 1973, on the sunny Montjuich circuit, in the streets of Barcelona, the champion from Bergamo placed the high, achieving the most beautiful feat of his memorable career.
87 runners are at the start, competing on a tormented route, 14 kilometers and 627 meters long, to be repeated seventeen times. Marino Basso’s legacy must be taken upwho the year before mocked Franco Bitossi right on the finish line, but on everyone’s lips the name of Eddy Merckx can only be mentioned, already world champion in 1967 in Heerlen and in 1971 in Mendrisio, who is having his usual sensational seasonhaving won, one after the other, Ghent-Wevelgem, Amstel Gold Race, Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, as well as the Vuelta and Giro d’Italia.
The start of the professional race is slower than that of the amateur race, which saw the triumph of Poland, capable of placing two of its representatives, Ryszard Szurkowski and Stanisław Szozda, on the first two steps of the podium. The Italians Polidori, Poggiali, Paolini and Bergamo were at the head of the pack in the first two laps, when a sprint from Luis Ocana, recent winner of the Tour de France orphan of thecannibal“, finds De Schoenmaecker ready, who stops him; the same fate is destined for the Frenchman Danguillaume (who will be third in the Yvoir World Championship in 1975), who in turn is blocked by Battaglin. The average after three laps is 38.386; the first to withdraw is the Australian Watson, while the only Japanese in the race, Kato, pedals alone, clearly behind.
During the fourth lap, downhill, a stone splashes from a wheel and hits Merckx’s left knee, who is assisted in the race and asks for ice. He has a small wound and ointment is applied to his knee. Meanwhile, Martos, Polidori (always passive) and Agostinho go ahead and gain 1’20”, then surrender at the sixth pass.
There are an estimated two hundred thousand spectators on the route. The jury excludes the Swiss Fuchs from the competition for illegal refueling and between the seventh and tenth laps practically nothing happens, except for an unsuccessful sortie by Thevenet.
During the eleventh lap, after 150 kilometers of effort, Merckx breaks through and sprints decisively: the Spaniards Perurena and Ocana, the young and promising Freddy Maertens, the Dutch Zoetemelk and the Italians Gimondi and Battaglin respond to him. The leading seven at the finish line have a lead of 41″. It is the fastest lap (average 41.402 km/h) and the escapees increase their advantage on the next lap (twelfth) passing with a 52″ advantage over Danguillaume and 1’45” over the group. In the meantime, Gosta Pettersson and Verbeeck leave.
The Frenchman Danguillaume, despite his generous attempt, was caught by the group with four laps to go and the lead of the pacesetters was 2’08”. Merckx tries to force again and Battaglin gives up; when crossing the finish line (fourteenth lap) six riders remain in the lead with Battaglin at 25″, Torres at 1’25”, the rest of the group at 3’14”.
During the fifteenth lap he attacks Merckx again, twice. Only Ocana, Gimondi and Maertens resist him. The four pass with 1’43” on Perurena and Zoetemelk, who could not resist the forcing of the Belgian champion, and Torres, and 2’34” on Battaglin who is just ahead of the group.
At the sound of the bell for the last lap the leading four now seem uncatchable. Behind them Perurena gives way, and with Torres and Zoetemelk we find Vianen. On the last climb Ocana tries, but his attempt is short-lived and the four fight for victory in the sprint. Merckx is packed and tired, Ocana off, while Maertens, the youngest (23 years old), first tries to lead for Merckx then tries to counter Gimondi who is the first to reach the finish line with a masterpiece sprint. On the podium, one step below the Bergamo rider, Maertens and then Ocana, with Merckx only fourth. For Italy it is the ninth world title and the encore, just a year after Basso’s victory.
And now, really, wrapped in his beautiful rainbow-colored shirt, Felice Gimondi can deserve a place among the pedal’s elect. Also because, not yet 31 years old, he has some other valuable exploits in store, just to increase the collection of great successes.