The King of the Mountains Chronicles Part 1: A real cycling odyssey

The “King of the Mountains Chronicles” is a series of 5 previously unreleased interviews with Giovanni Battaglin.

In these interviews, Giovanni tells the untold story of how he won the polka dot jersey at the 1979 Tour de France, giving a unique insight into professional cycling back in the ’80s.

France, June 27, 1979.

Forty years ago.

An extraordinarily interesting Tour de France is about to begin.

A 3720 km long route with 24 Stages, plus the prologue: 9 new stages, 5 new climbs, 5 ITTs, and 2 TTTs.

Three Italian teams were participating that year: Bianchi-Faema, Magniflex-Famcucine, and Inoxpran.

Inoxpran, the team built around Giovanni Battaglin was fresh, young, willing to compete and not too experienced. 

Inoxpran included primarily young athletes, and only two “old men”: Gianfranco Foresti, born in 1950, who entered the pros back in 1974, and Giovanni Battaglin, born in 1951, who had been pro-racing since 1973.

The two experienced riders were responsible for guiding Inoxpran through what will prove to be a real cycling odyssey.

Inoxpran Team at the Tour: Nazzareno Berto, Gianfranco Foresti, Bruno Leali, Riccardo Magrini, Giovanni Mantovani, Luigino Moro, Pasquale Pugliese, Dorino Vanzo and Frenchman Patrick Busolini – who was hired at the last minute to allow the team to participate. 10 riders were needed, and at the time the rules allowed teams to hire riders last minute.

Luciano Bracchi, Gianpaolo Sigurotti, and Niels Christian Fredborg did not take part in the competition, nor did Giacinto Santambrogio–Gimondi’s famous gregarious–who had also spent a few months racing with Inoxpran. He had retired sometime before, after a long career.

Inoxpran’s race was going to be uphill, that year.

Injuries, problems with the TTTs, and an epidemic of conjunctivitis–which literally decimated the team right before the beginning of the Tour.

But we will have time to talk about that in a while.

Add a bad crash and many other difficulties, and you will have their situation figured out.

Giovanni Battaglin arrives at the race after a more than promising beginning of the season.

Let’s hear about it from the man himself.

“The 1979 racing season started off very well, for me.

I usually got to the right condition around May, but that winter I had been training a lot at the gym, I had been cross-country skiing and all sorts of things.

In short, I had trained very well. I felt that my legs were ready to go right at the beginning of the season.

I raced the Trofeo Laigueglia.

At that point, I wanted to understand if my legs were good enough, and I must say I felt pretty good. One of our teammates, Magrini, placed ninth in that race.

After that, it was time for the Tirreno-Adriatico.

The route consisted of just over 900 kilometers, 5 stages–the latter of which were two split stages–plus the prologue.

I led the GC from the third stage to the first split of the fifth.

I ended up third, behind Saronni and Knudsen [who won in 24h40’33 “, ed.], two great riders.

I was already fighting for victory, but De Vlaeminck was the most impressive during that race.

I think he won the Tirreno – Adriatico five or maybe even six times, throughout his career.

And that year he was a killer.

He raced perfectly, always in the first positions, and whenever he started sprinting, it was like watching a fighter jet bursting through the air.

On the last day, in San Benedetto del Tronto, he was unbelievable.

He attacked on every single climb.

His sprints were so fast and aggressive, he wanted to win the stage, to leave our group way behind.

But it did not happen.

We managed to stay put after every sprint, up to the last TT.

At that point I was a little tired, I paid the effort of the previous days and I lost the yellow shirt.

My main goal, though, was to make sure my legs were in good condition.

After that race, we went to Sanremo.

I only raced to train, quietly. I didn’t think it was my kind of race, that’s all.

Then, we did the Gran Premio di Reggio Calabria and then the Trofeo Pantalica. I managed to win both of them.

The Gran Premio di Reggio Calabria was a good race for me, I did well.

There was a climb, the Aspromonte, which led to the inland and then ended at sea level.

I was racing in a group, a big group, there were 70 or 80 riders (150 riders or so participated in the race).

The last part of the road was a series of steep undulations.

I attacked on one of the climbs, full power, and I gained 10 meters, then 20, then 50. I was 10, 12 seconds ahead of the group, and there I stayed for the last 18 km.

I won with a 10-second advantage.

I felt my legs were in full swing.

And in fact at the Pantalica Trophy, well, I was just in crazy good conditions.

The Trophy was a circuit raced crossing the Anapo valley up to the Pantalica Necropolis if I remember correctly.

That year the race started at a hilltop.

It then descended to Syracuse and from there on it was a flat ride through the hinterland.

Then, a pretty long climb, I think it was at least 13 kilometers, and finally a straight, slightly uphill stretch.

Everybody was pushing, everybody just kept sprinting. One would go, and then another, and then another; everybody was fighting like hell.

On the last lap, I flatted.

I changed the wheel and set off, and I managed to get back in the group and take the head.

It was probably 8 to 10 km to the finish line.

I wanted to leave everybody behind, but Panizza and some other riders immediately begun to chase me.

I kept doing my thing, head-on, I would only have stopped at the finish line.

Then, I saw another rider in front of me.

I had managed to leave everybody behind, by that point.

I was therefore sure that the guy in front of me had fallen before and was so late I was about to lap him.

I mean, I thought I was first.

I quickly reached him: it was Masciarelli, Moser’s lieutenant, a good rider who won a few races.

He started drafting me, almost up to the finish line.

Then, about 200m from the end, I sprinted and finished with a pretty big lead.

The weird thing is that Masciarelli was not at all late.

He had preceded everybody–including me–and he could have won the race.

He probably attacked while I was changing my wheel a little earlier, and I did not see him. Still, he only drafted.

That’s why I thought I had lapped him. He probably was just tired.

Then, we did the Itzulia Basque Country. I won one stage and an ITT. And the race.

I felt really good, my legs were spinning by themselves, and everybody in the team was getting along very well.

We had a wonderful team.

Everyone was working for the team, there were no rivalries and no issues with one another.

“My” youngsters were good, they were committed to the result and they rode well.

Many of them have become exceptional athletes, and have won a lot of races.

But then the troubles started.

The wind turned on us, we had some pretty harsh problems.

Yep.”

Giovanni Battaglin

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Now you can access our FREE video series “The Man of Steel” and get a behind-the-scenes look at the specific process used by the 1981 Giro winner in his eponymous bike workshop in Italy.

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22 comments on “The King of the Mountains Chronicles Part 1: A real cycling odyssey

  1. I have a question for Giovani. After winning the Vuelta and Giro in 1981 you had a chance to do what no one has ever done (win all 3 Grand Tours in the same season). I realize that fatigue was likely a factor but could you tell me, why didn’t you race the Tour that year?

    Thank you

    • Hi John, that’s a good question. Here’s Giovanni’s reply:

      “As you said, fatigue was a factor. At the time, taking part in all the Grand-Tours in a single season was impossible! The teams were made of only 12-15 riders and a few staff members. You had to plan in advance which races your team would be participating in. Also, after the Tour the cycling season was still long: by completing the Tour de France, we would have compromised many other competitions.

      Giovanni Battaglin”

  2. Ciao

    Are these interviews available in Italian? I am studying the Italian language and having both english and italian would be a help.

    grazie

    • Ciao Frank! They will be available in Italian as soon as we launch the Italian version of this website.

      • Ciao Alex,

        va bene, grazie mille.

        saluti

  3. I love reading the articles about the races ,back in the day because to me it seems the riders like,Giovanni, were stronger ,more natural athletes than today’s riders. I am in no way disrespecting today’s riders but the old school riders did not have all the technical data and gadgets that they use today. I think they had more grit and mental toughness. That is only what seems to mr. Thank you.

    • That’s a good point, Stephen. Personally, I think that riders like Giovanni were much stronger than today’s athletes. With smaller teams, heavier bikes and no gadgetry, they would ride Grand-Tours that were even longer than the most recent editions! Here’s a quote from the Portofino product page on this website: “From 1999 the Giro d’Italia course was never longer than 3.600 km – more than 200 km shorter than the 1981 edition. The same goes for the Vuelta: from 2001 the race route was always shorter than the 1981 edition.”

    • If you are interested in how things use to be you should check out this short (18 min) film on the 1962 Tour https://youtu.be/2nLxAKwtBb4 if you haven’t already seen it.

      regards

  4. Giannis Heretakis

    do you think the use of the triple chain wheel…was fair? ceteris paribus. (“let the best one win, but with the same means, the same bicycle”)Grazie! Congratulations!

    • Hi Giannis, here’s Giovanni’s answer to your question:

      “The triple crankset wasn’t an unfair advantage over the other riders. While it helped me find a good pedaling cadence on the climbs, it also made the bike heavier. So, it was more a matter of choices.

      Giovanni Battaglin”

  5. Great story Giovanni and Alex. Thanks for sharing it. I saved it to read during a quiet time. Giovanni is a man of steel in many ways!

    In 1979, I see you were on a Colnago. What are some of the most memorable bikes you had during your career and do you still have any of them?

    Take care, stay safe, and grazie!

    • Grazie Tim! Here’s Giovanni’s answer to your question:

      “I rode some great bikes in my career, but they were always built to my specifications. I had my own frame geometry, and the builder had to replicate it. This way, all the bikes always gave me the feel I wanted regardless of the brand.

      Anyway, it was great when I started racing on my own bikes.

      I still own 2 bikes: the last bike I’ve ridden as a professional, which is a Battaglin, and the Pinarello I’ve ridden to victory in the last stage of the 1981 Giro d’Italia. I had another Pinarello from the 1981 Giro-Vuelta double, but it was stolen 6 years ago together with the iconic Battaglin Pirana.

      Giovanni Battaglin”

      • Thanks Giovanni –
        I will visit someday – looking forward to that! We all just have to keep focusing on the better days ahead – and their will be lots of them. 🙂

        Ciao,
        Tim

  6. “An extraordinarily interesting Tour de France is about to begin.
    A 3720 km long route with 24 Stages, plus the prologue: 9 new stages, 5 new climbs, 5 ITTs, and 2 TTTs”

    I can’t believe the number of time trials in the tour that year. 7 total out of 24 stages, close to 1/3 ;of the tour was some sort of time trial.

    Was this common of the tour back then or was that years tour an anomaly ?

    ciao

    • Ciao Frank, here’s Giovanni’s answer to your question:

      “It wasn’t common. And it wasn’t an anomaly either… The truth is that there were only 2 teams that could take advantage of such a huge number of time trials. The 1979 Tour had definitely been designed with the home rider in mind!

      Giovanni Battaglin”

      • Grazie per la tua risposta.

        Saluti, ciao

  7. A few comments and questions:

    1. Interesting, right brake lever operates front brake.

    2. Were the toe-straps ‘ laminated Alfredo Binda and the ‘buttons’ Cinelli?

    3. In the good ol’ days the leaders jerseys were made by Le Coq Sportif. : )

    4. “Then, we did the Gran Premio di Reggio Calabria and then the Trofeo Pantalica. I managed to win both of them.”

    For me, this comment personifies Mr. G. Battaglin. Quiet, modest and professional.

    Alex? ? !

    Thank you for these windows into the past.

    • Hi Ashok! Yes, the toe straps were laminated Alfredo Binfa with Cinelli buttons. Thanks for your feedback.

  8. Thanks Mr Battaglin, what great memories. I look forward to the rest of the interviews. You’re looking well too sir.

    • You’re welcome, Brian. Stay tuned for the other interviews.

  9. Hi Giovanni and Alex.
    Thanks for your interesting and great memories.Just a question about your Colnago and the frames you used.Was it a Mexico or what model was it.
    Do you still own some of your frames.
    Looking forward to more intersting articles and precious memories.
    Regards
    Leon

    • Hi Leon, you’re welcome! Here’s Giovanni’s answer to your questions:

      “Honestly, I don’t remember the exact model of my Colnago. It was a custom model built to my specifications, like all the bikes I’ve ridden in my career… And I think it was built from Columbus KL tubing, which was a lightweight tubeset designed for professional race bikes.

      I still own 2 bikes: the last bike I’ve ridden as a professional, which is a Battaglin. And the Pinarello I’ve ridden to victory in the last stage of the 1981 Giro d’Italia. I had another Pinarello from the 1981 Giro-Vuelta double, but it was stolen 6 years ago together with the iconic Battaglin Pirana.

      Giovanni Battaglin”

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