Join respected author & journalist Herbie Sykes who explains how Gianbattista Baronchelli got to ride the 61st edition of the Giro D'Italia for SCIC.
If there was one thing Giro boss Vincenzo Torriani understood it was lospettacolo – show business.
If therefore, the man in the Italian street wanted Francesco Moser, then Francesco Moser was what he’d jolly well get.
And so to the 61st Giro d’Italia, which is to say to the Torriani-Moser axis, and a healthy dose of Italianate complicity. First up, a little psychological warfare from the champion himself…
“I’ll ride this Giro for one reason and reason only – because I’m contractually obliged. I want to make it absolutely clear, though, that I consider it a personal insult that Torriani has chosen to include three summit finishes. That’s not natural, and it’s not cycling. He seems to want to do everything in his power to make me lose. Does he really prefer that a foreigner wins the Giro? Or a person like Baronchelli?”
Yet another brilliant, brilliant construct. The first of the “summit finishes” was at Ravello, 350 metres above sea level. The second, Monte Trebbio, was a testy climb, but at 575 metres Tre Cime di Lavaredo it categorically was not.
Chide Torriani for having stacked the cards against? Check. Deride Baronchelli as a scrawny, indeterminate interloper? Check. Portray oneself as some sort of sporting David, four-square against the invading hordes? Check. The one and only true Italian patriot? Check.
That had done it. They’d been eating out of his hand. Torriani was impressed. Money for jam.
“Get me Milan! Sports desk! Moser has declaimed!”
“What? You say Moser has declaimed? Call Gianni! Tell him to hold the presses! Tell Sergio to hold the back page on the late edition! And the front one! What? Why? It’sMoser! They’re saying he’s spoken. They’re saying he’s declaimed!”
Next poor, put-upon, Gianbattista Baronchelli, leader of the SCIC Modular Kitchens Professional Cycling Team;
“It’s absurd. How can I be expected to win a Giro d’Italia withfour time trials? It’s clear that Torriani has created this Giro exclusively for Moser. He’s under his spell.”
Not that anybody was listening, obviously.
Poor ‘Tista. He’d been 20 when Eddy Merckx had beaten him, by 12 seconds, at his debut Giro. He’d been virtual maglia rosa that extraordinary afternoon on Tre Cime but Merckx, ultimately, had been Merckx. In extremis he’d done it again, found something deep within that primordial gut of his. ‘Tista had settled, thrillingly, for second place, but that was OK. His time would surely come.
Only his time hadn’t come, had it? Rather his time was going, because Moser was stealing it from him. He’d decided that ‘Tista’s pocket money was going to be his, and ‘Tista was powerless to stop him. Moser was much bigger than ‘Tista, and he’d a very, very big gang behind him.
‘Tista, on the other hand, was a nice young man. He’d no gang because he’d never felt the need for one because he’d been labouring under the misapprehension that cycling was about riding a bike. Moser said he was wet behind the ears, and if Moserone said it they published it. If they published it must have been true because… well because Moser had said it! He was champion of the world, he was one of them, and there was a part of him in all of them. Grande Moserone! Fratelli d’Italia.
A nice man then, but this was Italian cycling. ‘Tista quickly became accustomed to loss, and then conditioned by it. That’s not to say that he didn’t win, because from time to time he did. It was just that when he won he lost as well because… well because he was Baronchelli. Moser was the people’s choice, and he was playing a game ‘Tista didn’t begin to understand.
The few who supported Baronchelli didn’t matter. They were small people from small houses out in the provinces, people of no import. They sided with him because they were him, huddled behind their curtains, timid and tongue-tied and not a little frightened.
The SCIC cycling team had this kid Saronni now, and he was making Torriani uneasy. He was making Moser uneasy too, because he was everything Baronchelli wasn’t. Chubby 20-year-old trackies weren’t supposed to beat him in the prologue at Tirreno, and nor ride away from him on the Colle San Giacomo. They weren’t supposed to win the GC, and they certainly weren’t supposed to finish second at Sanremo after 290 kilometres.
That wasn’t normal, and nor was the way he conducted himself. He didn’t much care for Moser’s chittering, but he wasn’t about to be cowed by it. He much preferred getting along with people, but if that weren’t possible then so be it. And besides, Moser was only human. He wasn’t half as clever as he thought he was and nor, contrary to popular misconception, was he that good on a bike…
In the event, the Belgian Johan De Muynck won the 1978 Giro, with a victory margin over poor Gianbattista Baronchelli of just 59 seconds. Moser collapsed on the one true mountain stage, a behemoth in the Dolomites, whilst ‘Beppe took four stages for SCIC.
‘Tista would never quite conquer the Giro, but Saronni delivered it to SCIC the following year. First he crushed Moser in the time trial at San Marino and then, during an extraordinary post-stage TV interview, refused absolutely to be brow-beaten by him. It was a metaphorical planting of the flag, and it effectively set the course of Italian cycling for the next five years. Saronni vs. Moser was the last authentic turf war in Italian cycling, and irrefutably the most splenetic.
Having reached the holy grail thanks to Saronni, the SCIC kitchen company pulled out of cycling at the end of the 1979 season.
In 1961 Tom Simpson won the Tour of Flanders, something so far no other British male rider has ever done. That may change this weekend, of course, but this is how Simpson did it.
Chris Sidwells looks back at when the world’s best professionals raced on British roads for the very first time.