Battaglin – The Man

Circa:1988-1989
Size 53cmx53cm
Gruppo: DuraAce; Mavic wheels (hubs and rims)
Condition: Altoid-level Minty
Consignment price: $1000. No wiggle room. This is a steal.

I once read a question asking whether the aura surrounding certain legendary bicycle makers and their bikes arose from their Midas-like touch or was it shone upon them by the brilliance of their star riders? Il pollo o l’uovo?. Good question.

In this case, I can unequivocally answer, yes. Am I joking? Sure, a little. You can’t answer this question with a yes or no. But, I’ll try to explain.

Honest to god, Where to Begin? Researching this bike drew me deeply into its story.

I’ll divide this article into two parts:

  1. THE MAN
  2. THE BIKE

THE MAN

I’ll start with the name, Battaglin.

If you didn’t grow up watching Il Giro, perched upon the knee of a Tuscan Nonno, who could teach you how to pronounce it, the closest I can get is “Bahttah-yeen”. It is the last name of a bicycle racer/bicycle maker, Giovanni Battaglin. He is alive and well in his home town of Marostica, Italy. Retired from racing, Giovanni with his son, Alex, is making what cognoscenti aver to be some of the best bikes in the world at Officina Battaglin. If you aren’t surprised to hear this, I should probably address you as Dottore, because you should have a Phd. in Cycling history.

As an amateur, young Giovanni was a cycling fenomeno. His pedaling quickly elevated him to the forefront of national prominence in a nation where such a thing is taken very seriously. Much later, as a seasoned professional he achieved what only one other man before and only one man since, have ever done in the history of cycling

But I don’t want to leapfrog to the end. Because his greatest racing feat occurs at the end of his long career. Giovanni’s story is more complex than a simple supernova talent storyline arc. This short blog cannot do justice to its full telling. Just know his story, yes, does recount a rakish Italian racer (one recent writer anointed Battaglin as one of the 20 most stylish racers in cycling history)

Yes, the fork and toe clips are gold.

with world class talent, attaining success. More, though, it is really a saga that unfolds over years, teaching us all the moral value of perseverance.

1973, his first year as a professional, Giovanni raced in the Giro d’Italia. Unfortunately (and I mean this only in the most sarcastic tone possible) he was only able to come in third. Oh, but who edged him out, you ask? Just some guys named Merckx and Gimondi. The Maglia Blanca, Best Young Rider classification, didn’t exist yet, otherwise it would have been awarded to Battaglin. Consider notice served to the cycling world by this rookie. Over years of competition Battaglin achieved many, many highlights: a Tour de France (TDF) stage win one year, TDF King of the Mountains Champion another, and many other stage and race wins, or podiums. But, he also faced significant challenges; tragic crashes, injuries, fatigue, a doping scandal; any of which could have ended a lesser man’s career.

Winning a Grand Tour however, had eluded him. But this is what shows the true mark of a champion. Rising to challenges, never giving up. For at the very end of his career: after 9 straight years competing at the highest level; in the world’s most grueling contests of physical and mental endurance; in an era when the pelotons had racers whose ferocity earned them nicknames like Cannibal and Badger: came Battaglin’s greatest triumphs.

The world’s three most famous cycling races are:

The Tour de France

The Giro d’Italia

The Vuelta a Espana

No single racer has won all three Tours in the same year. Ever.

Until 1981 only one man, Eddy Merckx, had won two.

1981.

The Vuelta a Espana.

April, 21-May, 10

19 stages; 2141 miles; Zero rest days

Champion: Giovanni Battaglin

May 11-12: 2 days between Grand Tours

Giro d’Italia

May 13 Brescia-June 7 Verona; 22 stages; 2421mi; 2 rest days

Champion: Giovanni Battaglin

The stark facts are stunning.

In 1981 Giovanni Battaglin became the second racer ever to have won two Grand Tours in a single year. Schedules of the Grand Tours has been changed. The Vuelta is now run in late summer. There is more time between Tours, so Giovanni’s achievement will never be able to be duplicated exactly. But even allowing for more rest time between Tours, in the 39 years since Battaglin’s Double-Tour championships; only one other racer has joined Merckx and Battaglin, Alberto Contador. This is a very exclusive list.

The Giro win was nothing short of a Gladiatorial triumph. OK nobody died but…

Battaglin, battle weary from the Vuelta campaign, was nowhere near considered a favorite. The racing in the Giro was extremely close. The Maglia Rosa (leader’s pink jersey) was traded eight times, mostly between favorites Francesco Moser and Giuseppe Saronni.  Giovanni only got to see the back of the Pink Jersey until he won the 19th stage. Doing so by unceremoniously dropping the other racers on, in Giovanni’s words, the “brutal ascent of the Tre Cime de Lavaredo”. He held on to the lead for the next two stages by a mere 20 seconds. The final stage was to be a 26 mile individual time trial. Battaglin was a climber, not a time trial specialist. He could fall behind a mere fraction of a second each mile and lose everything. The championship was still up for grabs on the very last stage.

Stage 22, the last stage: Soave to Verona, with the finish line inside an ancient Roman amphitheater, the Arena di Verona. The racers would enter Verona’s colosseo like gladiators. Battaglin grew up, and presently lives, nearby. I can only assume that Battaglin had dreamed, as any Italian boy whom had ever thrown a leg over a bicycle saddle, of winning Il Giro. It’s easy to imagine the stadium filled with rabid tifosi ready to exult in this home-town boy’s glorious victory or groan in agony at his dream crushing failure. This one stage would be the culmination of his boyhood dreams and professional aspirations. The single most important of his life. There would be no team to protect the leaders, set the pace, draft behind or reel in a breakaway. The individual time trial is cycling’s equivalent of hand to hand combat. Each racer on his own. Only the cold face of the clock would serve as Emperor, decisively giving the thumbs up or thumbs down. No pressure.

No spoiler alert. As shown above there was a happy ending to this story. Battaglin did rise to his moment of destiny. He did ride into the ancient stadium, wearing the Maglia Rosa. The crowd did rise up with a roar cheering him to the finish and erupt in joyous celebration as the clock crowned him the victor. Everyone then knew Giovanni would never be stripped of the pink jersey he wore on his back.

He was I’Uomo.

The Man.

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