The strange bike racing year that is 2020 has seen, along with a lot of cancellations, some confusing things like famous races with no spectators and Spring Classics in autumn but perhaps the weirdest is the overlapping of two Grand Tours as the Giro d’Italia’s final week coincides with the Vuelta a España’s first one. But in 1981 only three days separated the two races and Giovanni Battaglin, in the new book “48 Days”, tells the astonishing story of how he won both.
Giovanni Battaglin was born in the small town of San Luca di Marostica in Italy’s Veneto region, a town noted for a a biannual reenactment of a chess game played in 1454 and its local type of cherries. In addition to Battaglin, it is also the hometown of Tatiano Guderzo, winner of the UCI Women’s Road World Championship in 2009, and current pro rider for Bahrain-Merida. Enrico Battaglin.
Giovanni Battaglin’s arrival at the Verona Arena and the finish line of the 1981 Giro d’Italia
Giovanni Battaglin raced professionally from 1973 to 1984 and, in addition to the two Grand Tours, could include some noteworthy accomplishments in his palmares, including the mountains classification at the Tour de France in 1979, overall victory at the Tour of the Basque Country and the one day Milano-Torino race. He was in contention at the 1979 Road World Championships until the final moments. Always enamoured of the mechanical side of bicycling, he opened his own bike manufacturing business in 1982 and Officina Battaglin, relaunched by his son Alex, builds gorgeous high-end steel frames today in, yes, Marostica.
Climbing the Tre Cima di Lavaredo at the 1981 Giro d’Italia
“48 Days” is aptly titled as the book is Battaglin’s retelling of the intense period when he rode as leader of his small Italian team, Inoxpran, at the two three-week races, but these chapters are interspersed with other ones about his beginnings in cycling, his growth as a racer, incidents on the road and some of the notables he raced with. These included Felice Gimondi, Gianni Motta, José Manuel Fuente, Francesco Moser, and Eddy Merckx, who wrote the foreward to the book. Looking at the fierce line-up for the 1981 Giro, which included a powerful Bianchi team, Inoxpran decided to focus on the Vuelta as offering better opportunities, but the resulting double victory was a welcome surprise. Only three riders have managed the Vuelta-Giro double in one year: Merckx, Contador, and Battaglin.
Eddy Merckx and Giovanni Battaglin at the 1973 Giro d’Italia
The book (“as told to Stefano Tamiozzo”) is written in a very conversational style, including explanations of Battaglin’s Venetian dialect, and is a charming portrait of what bike racing was like four decades ago. He speaks of his early enthusiasm for bicycles and how he drove his father crazy by dismantling his parent’s bike and installing the parts on his own as they were better. Riding locally his climbing ability was noticed but he had no thoughts of racing until going to see the Grand Prix of San Pietro in Nove with a friend. The two of them were inspired enough to join the Nove junior team and gradually Battaglin moved up through the amateur ranks, turning pro at 22 with Jollj Ceramica. He had ridden as an amateur with the team and was on the verge of signing with powerhouse Bianchi when Jollj Ceramica offered to build a team around him. So within four years of winning his first bike race he had become a team leader. He enjoyed his years at Jollj Ceramica but, indicative of the precarious finances of pro cycling, the team’s finances disintegrated in 1977 after the Tour de France and he was left to his own devices for the remainder of the season.
Giovanni Battaglin and Fausto Bertoglio 1976
This was not only the era of toe-strap pedals but also training that was very different from how we look at it today. Periodization was an unknown concept. The season began in the period after Christmas and before New Year’s with time in the gym for a month, then out on the road with a fixed-gear bike for seven or eight hundred kilometers, then on the road bike to ride and ride and ride:
“Loro and I trained together before the Vuelta, a full month of training, starting at 7:30 a.m. and riding until 4:30 p.m. every other day. We headed out first thing in the morning, sandwich in pocket, and a water bottle. We ate on the roll, no breaks allowed.”
Celebrating his Maglia Rosa with friend and teammate Luciano Loro at the 1981 Giro d’Italia
It was a time when pro cyclists rode everything—Grand Tours, Classics, all kinds of local races. A climber, Battaglin still was able to win criteriums. In fact, a few hours after he rode in victory at the Roman arena in Verona to celebrate his win at the Giro, his evening was spent competing in the San Tomio di Malo 100 km circuit race—which he won! But as we know cycling is a very dangerous sport and his career wound down following serious injury in 1982, with the final two seasons producing little in the way of wins or even pleasure.
Giovanni Battaglin following Felice Gimondi, 1973 Giro d’Italia
In addition to his races, one of the highlights of his cycling career was an interlude in Miami, where a distributor of his bikes ran a training camp event for American enthusiasts and Battaglin, with a teammate, attended for five years running. He was deeply impressed by the enthusiasm shown by the participants but “you can’t imagine how many helmet mirrors I had to make them throw away!” He enjoyed these camps very much although riding in the heat and flat landscape of the area would certainly have been different from the cycling he was used to in Europe.
Giovanni Battaglin and Giuseppe Saronni at the 1981 Giro d’Italia
While “48 Days” is an enjoyable read, the book is let down somewhat in the chapters that deal with the Vuelta and Giro races themselves. The conversational style does not work so well in describing the unfolding of the races and more structure and detail would have been welcome here — the dramatic tension that the story deserves is lacking. Nonetheless, there are many entertaining tales to enjoy and fine black-and-white photos to illustrate a classic period in pro bike racing.
“48 Days,” by Giovanni Battaglin, as told to Stefano Tamiozzo
With a foreword by Eddy Merckx
145 pages, illus., hardcover
Officina Battaglin, Marostica, Italy, 2020
Available through https://officinabattaglin.com/giovanni-battaglin-48-giorni-48-days/
Cost: 27 Euros plus 10 Euros worldwide shipping