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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