Join respected author, journalist & launch magazine editor of both Cycle Sport & Procycling William Fotheringham who explains his personal recollections of the Baracchi Trophy and its unfortunate demise into the sport's history books.
It’s not something I put very high on my cv, but I was among the few who witnessed the death rites of the Baracchi Trophy. In 1991 I was sent to report on the final round of that year’s World Cup, a time trial held near Bergamo, which some marketing wizard had christened “Grand Prix des Nations World Cup final, homage to the Baracchi Trophy.”
The World Cup was a still-born idea that the greatest one-day races in the world could be brought together under one umbrella. Briefly, the idea was that the Grand Prix des Nations would be the series finale, with all the winners of the individual rounds invited. Fine in theory but that one stalled because funnily enough none of the riders wanted to turn out in mid-late October in Northern Italy to ride a 40-mile time trial.
The attempted Baracchi connection was the weirdest of all because the Baracchi trophy had always had a very distinctive identity: a two-up invitation time trial of considerable length and difficulty - and hence prestige - held since the Second World War. The mixed marketing messages did none of the three races any good: the Baracchi was never held again and neither was the World Cup finale. The GP des Nations staggered on for a few years.
Back then to the Baracchi, founded in 1941 as a solo time trial run alongside a road race, contested by amateurs and independents. It was run, in conjunction with a local grape harvest festival, by a Bergamo businessman, Giacomo Baracchi, in memory of his father Angelo. Giacomo, commonly known as Mino, was a former footballer, who had played for the local club Atalanta - of which he was briefly the president in the 1960s - and who also ran the motorbike race that followed the line of the walls of the old city of Bergamo, the Circuito della Mura.
In 1946 it was opened to professionals, and in 1949 Mino came up with a unique format: two-man team time trial, road race, track race. It was not until this point that the top professionals of the day began turning up: Fiorenzo Magni was the first winner, along with the less-known Adolfo Grosso. In 1958, the race changed again: stripped down to the two-up time trial, the race had a simple, winning format, and it provided the Italian public with a chance to say farewell to the stars of cycling before the winter.
Back in the era of Coppi, Magni, and Bartali, the intense scrutiny on the stars meant that the Baracchi was a perfect way either to crown a successful year or make up for a disappointing one. For the campioni, it was also a chance to reward a strong gregario with a day in the limelight and a tidy bit of appearance money. It was an invitation race, but far from being an exhibition event; the length of the course - 100 to 112 kilometres - and the rolling terrain around Bergamo saw to that, as did the format. You cannot hide in a two-up time trial.
The case of Jacques Anquetil in 1962 showed the risks if a champion turned up short of form; the story goes that Anquetil, typically, had not wanted to train in the rainy conditions that hit Lombardy the week before the race, while his partner, Rudi Altig, had used a tunnel to stay dry while training.
The French journalist Rene de Latour described what happened late on in the race: “Altig was riding at 30mph at the front — and had been doing so for 15 minutes. Anquetil lost contact and a gap of three lengths appeared between the two partners. When Anquetil lost the wheel, Altig had to ease the pace, wait for his partner to go by, push him powerfully in the back, sprint to the front again after losing 10 yards in the process, and again settle down to a 30mph stint at the front. Altig did this not just once but dozens of times.”
It was, recalled Latour, “one of the most sensational things I have ever seen in any form of cycle racing… as great a physical performance as a world hour record or a classic road race win.” Eddy Merckx suffered similarly in 1969, not long after his horrendous crash in Blois - he should not even have been riding his bike - and had to be pushed to the finish by his little-known gregario Davide Boifava.
My recollection of the race was, at nearly 70 miles, it was a very long distance for a 2 man TT. On race day it was savage!
In the last 10km on the last climb, Gimondi and Rodríguez caught us, Dave was very strong on the climb - always a better climber than me - and he wasn't willing to let them pass!
We rode side by side with me hanging on Dave's wheel and Rodríguez doing the same with Gimondi. Dave was flying, but they put a camera bike between us to keep us apart.
The tifosi were going wild because Gimondi was World Champion. I think we did a great ride that day I am proud of our third place.
Phil Bayton. TI Raleigh 1973.
Baracchi had the imagination, for example, to call upon the Britons Phil Bayton and Dave Lloyd after their lengthy two-up escape in the 1973 Milan-San Remo. “I’ve never seen so many people out at a race before or since,” said Lloyd. “You couldn’t change position on the climbs, people parted in front of you like a wave.”
And Mino had a sense of humour, which prompted him to partner Anquetil with his big rival Raymond Poulidor, and even Francesco Moser with his sworn enemy Giuseppe Saronni. It all made headlines, created a buzz. The result was an event with a victors’ list that reads like a Classic or a Grand Tour, which deserved a better ending than as an appendix to a failed climax to a series that turned out to be a flop.