The Giro d’Italia – Tour of Italy – faced the Stelvio for the first time in 1953, as second to last stage of the 36th edition of the so called pink race. In Bolzano, on the grid, Hugo Koblet had almost two-minutes head start on Fausto Coppi. Then the climb began. “the effort the athletes were supposed to make” – wrote Orio Vergani on the Corriere della Sera – “was expected to be backbreaking”: such a strong adjective that, however, was the only one suitable for defining the horrid, perhaps even inhumane exertion required for the bikers. Inhumane effort during the climb, and fearful risk during the slope. At first a race of chamois and ibexes; then, during the slope, a competition among skydivers to descend from the Stelvio’s snowy roof to the Bormio’s valley floor fields.
Coppi sprinted all alone, “in one of the most arduous hour of his life, in the hopeless solitude of his own effort, up there where the glaciers creaks”. He won the stage and the Giro d’Italia, his last one, being 34 years old. The pictures of the “Campionissimo” – Champion of champions – in the Stelvio white walls, together with the writing “W Coppi” carved in the snow, are one of the most famous things of the cycling history.
Another Fausto – named Bertoglio, from the city of Brescia – won the Stelvio race; it was the edition on which the director Vincenzo Torriani stopped the race, a million-to-one chance, at the mountaintop of the second highest crossing place in Europe (only the Iseran, in France, exceeds in height the Stelvio). The Spanish climber Galdós won the last stage, yet he did not manage to tear the pink jersey off Bertoglio. Five years later, Wladimiro Panizza could not maintain the first position along the Stelvio’s 25400 meters; he was overtaken by both Jean-René Bernaudeau and his captain Hinault, who got his first Giro victory out of three, during a day hit by “the whole sun of the world”, as it was written by Gian Paolo Ormenazzo on La Stampa. “Bernard Hinault won the Tour of Italy sticking to the new cycling rules, which force the pro to give up the epic and commit to the logic”. In recent years on the Stelvio, Pantani was on fire (in 1994 won the Aprica stage) and Basso took a downturn (in 2005 lost 42 minutes); many would have gladly avoided the bitter cold and the height rarefaction, while some others would have climbed it with all their heart: in 1984, when the organizers questionably decided to cancel the Coppi peak passage due to bad weather conditions, Laurent Fignon was ready to ally with the hairpins to keep a safety distance from Francesco Moser, future winner of that edition.