Cycling, 1921-2021: 100 years of world emotions. And it’s still Italy-Belgium

Cycling, 1921-2021: 100 years of world emotions. And it’s still Italy-Belgium
Cycling, 1921-2021: 100 years of world emotions. And it’s still Italy-Belgium

The history of the world championship race is full of episodes that confront an Italian and a Belgian. Today with Van Aert and Evenepoel against Colbrelli, yesterday Gimondi-Merckx

by our correspondent Luca Gialanella

September 26
– Leuven (Belgium)

There are only amateurs, in that week of late July-early August 1921, in Copenhagen, Denmark, which hosts the World Track and the first edition of those on the road. A hundred years ago. There are only three Italians, and all pistard: the most famous is Guasco. Racing in the velodromes, after all, has been a very widespread tradition since the late nineteenth century, the races are intense, spectacular. On the road, however, on 4 August 1921, with a time trial of 190 kilometers, he was awarded the first title of world champion in road cycling. But amateurs, not professionals. And there are no Italian riders at the start: the Swedish Skold wins.

Ferrario the pioneer

And to think that at the 1920 Paris Congress of the UCI, the international federation of cycling, it was our delegates who asked for the birth of the road cycling world championship, but instead it was decided to hold a 190 km time trial for amateurs. : there was a fear of organizing an online test. The Gazzetta dello Sport does not give prominence to the event, just a little news on the Tuttenotizie page of today. And there are no Azzurri even in 1922: the first Italians to the World Road World Championship, always amateurs, only arrived in Zurich in 1923, and among them Libero Ferrario, the glory of Parabiago (at the gates of Milan: the town of Beppe Saronni), who wins the first gold.

These are the years of the first Champion, Costante Girardengo, cycling is increasingly popular in Italy, and so in 1926, again at the Congress of Paris, on the push of Italy, it was finally decided to introduce the professional world championship: 1927, Nurburgring racing circuit in Germany. On July 21, Alfredo Binda wins, and the Varese rider from Cittiglio, who brought cycling from the pioneers to the modern era, finally opens the novel of the rainbow jersey.

Sono 19 ori

That day in 1927 there are 55 riders, professionals and amateurs at the start, and nine finish the race. Four blues in the race, and they finish first, second, third and fourth. Binda dominates with 7’15 “over Girardengo, 10’51” over Domenico Piemontesi and 11’38 “over Tano Belloni. Since then Italy has won the World Cup 18 more times, with Binda 1930, War 1931 (the only World Championship in line awarded with a stopwatch), Binda 1932, Coppi 1953, Baldini 1958, Adorni 1968, Marino Basso 1972, Gimondi 1973, Moser 1977, Saronni 1982, Argentin 1986, Fondriest 1988, Bugno 1991 and 1992, Cipollini 2002, Bettini 2006 and 2007, Ballan 2008. Plus 21 silvers and 16 bronzes: 56 medals, no nation like us. Only Belgium wins more titles: 26. France is third, at 9.


Italy and Belgium, this is the leitmotif of the world championship test: like today with Van Aert and Evenepoel against Colbrelli and Italy. And what about the bitter disappointment inflicted on Van Aert by Ganna in the time trial? The history of the World Cup is full of episodes that confront an Italian and a Belgian. It starts in 1928 in Budapest: Binda and Girardengo quarrel, cancel each other out (in the end the Italian federation will disqualify them for 30 days) and there is room for the Belgian George Ronsse. Which makes an encore in 1929 in Zurich again after a duel with Binda (third). In 1930, the World Cup lands for the first time in Belgium, the homeland of Ronsse: but in Liege, in the Ardennes, Binda beats Learco Guerra and Ronsse, who was aiming for a hat-trick.


Italy organized the first World Championship in Rome in 1932: a circuit with the ascent of Rocca di Papa, three laps. We are in the midst of the fascist era and it is said that Mussolini wanted the victory of Learco Guerra, who had a name that was more expendable by the proclamations of fascism. Instead Binda dominates the crowd in delirium: even the man from Varese has to get off his bike and walk the last few meters before being carried in triumph.

Postwar period

Italy-Belgium, another black page like that of 1928? There is, and we are in Valkenburg 1948, in the Netherlands: Coppi and Bartali cancel each other out, the rivalry breaks the national team and the Belgian Brik Schotte takes advantage of it: once again, like Binda and Girardengo, the Italian federation will disqualify Coppi and Bartali for a month . And another Belgian, German Derijcke, is the protagonist in Lugano 1953 with Fausto Coppi: he is the only one who can resist the Campionissimo. But under the eyes of the White Lady, Fausto attacks him once, twice, three times on the ascent of the Crespera, to hit his only world road championship, which brings gold back to Italy after 21 years: an incredible span of time, for the strength of our national team at the time. Italy-Belgium on the contrary in Frascati 1955, Coppi’s last World Championship: the Champion makes the race on the French Bobet and in the end the old Belgian Stan Ockers, the hero of Antwerp, wins, from where the world championship test starts today.

Adorni and Merckx

Italy-Belgium is also Vittorio Adorni’s 1968 World Cup, and not so much because the second, the Belgian Van Springel, reaches 9’50 ”, the widest advantage of the modern era. But why is Vittorio on the run with the Flemish Rik Van Looy, the Emperor of Herentals, who says to him: “Vittorio, are you ready to die?”. And so was born, with these words, over 200 km from the finish, the action that will then lead the Parma champion to break away from everyone. And Merckx? The first of the three titles arrives in Heerlen (Holland) in 1967, then in Mendrisio (Svi) in 1971 and finally in Montreal in Canada in 1974. But Belgium is crying over Felice Gimondi’s feat in Barcelona 1973, when the Bergamo player beats Maertens and Merckx.

The revenge in Ostuni 1976, with Maertens overtaking Moser. Until the last fires: Criqueilion takes off Corti in Barcelona 1984, in the years in which Moreno Argentin had punished him several times in the Ardennes. Four Liege, three times the Freccia Vallone and also a Tour of Flanders for the champion from Veneto. And how can we forget, in the World Cup roll of honor, a champion like Peter Sagan? Only he has three consecutive World Cups: 2015, 2016 and 2017. And he is competing to make a poker without equal.

Italy house

Today Belgium returns to organize the World Cup after the 2002 edition of Zolder. Well, the last two times in Belgium coincide with as many Italian triumphs. That of a predestined like Maurizio Fondriest who, at 23, at Renaix 1988, takes advantage of the fall of Criquielion and Bauer: decisive in the end the help of Davide Cassani (the current Italian coach, today at the last World Cup in his flagship), who was Fondriest’s roommate. And then in Zolder there is the symphony of the National Dancers, all for King Leone Cipollini. On the car circuit, Petacchi, SuperMario’s historical rival, also makes himself available to the blue jersey: Bettini falls and Petacchi does the double job, and becomes decisive in allowing Lombardi to launch Cipollini towards the rainbow. The latest Italian triumph is by Alessandro Ballan in Varese 2008; that of Belgium, by Philippe Gilbert in Valkenburg 2012. Italy-Belgium, once again to you.

September 26, 2021 (change September 26, 2021 | 10:06 am)


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