From Gino Bartali to Tadej Pogacar, Campagnolo’s enjoyed many memorable Tours over the years.
1 GINO BARTALI, 1948
Gino Bartali’s achievements transcend far beyond cycling. The five-time GrandTour winner was one of the world’s greatest cyclists between 1935 and his retirement in 1954, but it was acts of heroism that many remember the great Italian for.
In 2010 it emerged that during World War II, Bartali saved the lives of over 800 people after using his handlebars to hide counterfeit identity papers, delivering them to Jews in hiding and handing over exits visas to allow them to escape transportation to death camps.
He also hid a Jewish family in his cellar, an act one of the survivors said saved their lives.
On the cycling front, Bartali won three Giro d’Italia titles and two editions of the Tour de France, the second coming in 1948 a full 10 years after his first victory.
The Great War had interrupted Bartali’s chances of more Tour titles but he certainly made it count in 1948, winning seven stages en route to the overall crown. He finished the 4,922km parcours over 26mins ahead of second-placed Briek Schotte and, in the process, became the first rider to win the Tour using a Campagnolo groupset.
2 EDDY MERCKX, 1969
What do astronaut Neil Armstrong and cycling legend Eddy Merckx have in common? Yes, you guessed it – Merckx won the first of his record-equalling five Tour de France titles on the same day that Armstrong became the first human to moon walk.
And didn’t the Belgian do it in style…
1969 started strongly for the Campagnolo-using Merckx (Nuova groupset) with victories at the Vuelta a Levante (Levante, of course, is also the name of Campagnolo’s new gravel wheelset) and Paris-Nice. He then won the Tour of Flanders before embarking on a 17-day schedule that saw him win an incredible nine times.
Come the Tour de France, he’d reduced his race calendar so lined up fresh and fit for his first-ever attempt at winning a Grande Boucle.
Merckx rode side-by-side with fellow GC contenders up the Tourmalet before shifting into the big gear on what many deemed a suicidal breakaway attempt.
Merckx crested the Tourmalet with a 45sec lead but didn’t let up, increasing the gap to 8mins after the Col du Soulor and Col d’Aubisque.
It was an incredible show of strength… but then the wheels nearly came off as, still with 50km to go, Merckx began to suffer from hypoglycaemia and had to, in his own words, ‘dig deeper than ever before’.
He’d win what many see as his greatest stage ever and would claim the overall title by nearly 18mins over Frenchman Roger Pingeon.
3 BERNARD HINAULT, 1978
It’s hard to believe that Bernard Hinault’s 1985 Tour de France triumph was the last time a French rider won the yellow jersey. It was number five for the Frenchman after claiming his first Tour crown seven years earlier.
In 1978, Hinault, using Campagnolo gear and racing for the Renault-Gitane-Campagnolo team, won his first GrandTour, the Vuelta a Espana, which back then was held in the spring.
The result seemingly sent Hinault’s stock rising among the peloton as, at the Tour de France, Hinault was chosen by his fellow riders as spokesman of a strike over split stages.
So it was that at the end of stage 12a into Valence-d’Agen, riders dismounted their bikes and walked to the finish line in protest. Hinault had gained ‘boss’ status.
Never short of confidence, Hinault seemed emboldened and clinched the yellow jersey in the final time-trial, gaining more than 4mins on the competition to win his first Tour de France title by 3:56mins.
4 MARCO PANTANI, 1998
Marco Pantani’s widely regarded as the greatest climber in the history of the sport. He served notice of his ascending superiority at the 1994 and 1995 editions of the Tour de France, which helped him to successive young-rider’s jerseys.
In 1994, he also claimed third overall in his debut Tour and matched that in 1997.
In the spring of 1998, Il Pirata (The Pirate) delighted home fans by winning his first GrandTour, the Giro d’Italia, alongside the mountains classification.
So, Pantani had form heading into the Tour de France but did he have freshness? The opening prologue suggested not as he finished 181st out of 189 riders. Still, at only 5km long, little time was lost.
Come stage 15, pre-race favourite Jan Ullrich held the overall lead; Pantani sat in fourth over 3mins behind.
Stage 15 was the first of the Alpine stages, covering 189km from Grenoble to Les Deux Alpes. It was also one of the grimmest Tour days on record, torrential rain accompanied by bitter cold. But it didn’t faze Il Pirata who, using Campagnolo’s Record groupset and Shamal wheels, defied the weather and the competition to soar to stage victory, nearly 2mins clear of Rodolfo Massi.
Ullrich, beset by bad form and bad luck, finished nearly 9mins back. Pantani had flown into yellow, nearly 4mins ahead of Bobby Julich.
He wore yellow all the way to Paris to become just the seventh rider in history to complete the Giro-Tour double in the same season.
5 TADEJ POGAČAR, 2020
The start of 2019 and a relatively unknown Slovenian by the name of Tadej Pogačar lined up at the Tour Down Under for his debut race with UAE Team Emirates. Pogačar had moved during the off-season from local squad Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum off the back of winning the 2018 Tour de l’Avenir.
He had potential and finished a commendable 13th overall in Australia. A good start but not one that’d prepare his competition and the watching world for what would come next.
In September, he won three stages of his maiden GrandTour, the Vuelta a Espana, leaving him third overall, followed by Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana victory in February 2020.
Covid struck, forcing the Tour de France’s move to late August. After his performance in Spain, UAE threw their resources behind Pogačar.
Could he make top-five? Maybe. A podium? Doubtful.
A solid first week saw Pogačar nestle in 16th before ninth on stage eight elevated him to top-10 (ninth). Stage nine from Pau to Laruns was the second mountainous stage in a row… and proved a gamechanger, as Pogačar outsprinted Primoz Roglic to become the youngest Tour stage winner in decades. Now seventh, top five looked more realistic.
And after stage-15 victory, second place now seemed cemented with Roglic odds-on to become the first Slovenian to win the Tour.
Stage 20 was a mountain time-trial, covering 36.2km from Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles. On paper Roglic was the stronger time-triallist and with a 57sec lead over Pog, the overall looked a formality. It proved anything but.
Pogačar, maximising his Campagnolo Super Record EPS groupset and Bora wheels to great effect, recorded a stage-leading time of 55:55mins with only Roglic left to challenge.
By now, Roglic, normally so assured, looked the picture of suffering, haemorrhaging time with every pedal stroke. He’d finish nearly 2mins behind Pogacar, making the Slovenian the youngest winner of the Tour in the post-World War II era.
He’d comfortably retain his title in 2021 and is favourite to make it three-in-row this July.