Photos by Kristof Ramon
Words by Beppe Conti - Editor of LA PASSIONE
There are small and ancient villages that have popularity and fame in the world thanks to the the history of the sport of cycling. Among we can cite Valkenburg, a charming small town in the south of Holland, Limburg, near the border with Belgium and close to Maastricht. A charming little old village. There is a casino, there are spas, lots of parks, cottages, hotels, restaurants and bars, a hill overrun by cyclists, streams of bicycles, and the Cauberg, focal point, as it is a great symbol of the classic Dutch race: the Amstel Gold Race. But how Valkenburg has become famous in cycling, as the village of the world championship? It was organized for five times in the history of road cycling. On a regular basis, as if it was a necessary step, an inevitable and expected return on those lands. First time in 1938, the Belgian world champion Marcel Kint, was called the Black Eagle. Second time, ten years later, another world champion Flemish Brik Schotte. Third time in 1979, was a contrasted center of a home champion, the Dutchman Jan Raas. Fourth time in 1998, as surprise for everyone, it was the turn of the Swiss Oscar Camenzind. And finally in 2012, expected and logical victory of the Belgian Philippe Gilbert. It is easy to browse through the arrivals and winners of the challenges in Valkenburg, and one can easily guess a wretched feature for all the Italians. It is a sort of haunted place for the blue colors, among fierce controversy, falls and assorted curses. Since the first performance in 1938.We were experiencing the legendary thirties, and stars as Binda and Guerra were fading away, but Gino Bartali, a young and determined man, in the middle of a fierce rivalry with some other Tuscans, namely Bini and Bizzi, was entering the scene. The championship was partecipated by 4 italians Bartali, Bini, Bizzi and Vicini from Emilia Romagna. Costante Girardengo, the first champion, was the leader of the team. Well, none of those gentlemen came to the finish line. All withdrawn.
Bartali that summer won his first Tour de France. But the other two Tuscan Bini and Bizzi provoked him on the eve of World Championship challenge: "You're the strongest, you have triumphed in the Tour, but we will run over you and we'll play for the championship title."As a result, they all withdrawn. Ten years after it happened worse. Valkenburg is famous in history for the resounding bickering between Coppi and Bartali, carefully controlling theirself so closely, and therefore letting all the favorites run, until they both retired. Bartali during summer 1948 won the Tour, so one gets the impression that he was Coppi to tighten the trap to the rival. He was carefull. Because Fausto had suffered the triumph in France of Gino and also if they had won the World Cup, the values in Italy would have changed a lot. Bartali and Coppi were even disqualified from the Federciclo on that occasion.Valkenburg is bitter and haunted for us. In 1979 went, perhaps, even worse. That day the strongest on the Cauberg, on the damn circuit was Giovanni Battaglin, from Vicenza who two years later would have made a record that will never be beaten, as he won the Vuelta a España and the Giro d'Italia within 45 days. Battaglin, during summer 1979, managed to anticipate on the final attack, the two leaders of the national team Saronni and Moser, and attacked along with Raas, Thurau, the French Chalmel and Bernaudeau and a few others. Battaglin was not the fastest, but the stronger and fresher. And on that final track, Raas and Thurau as competitors, threw him to the ground with a classic, as it happens among sprinters. Battaglin could get to them, but instead he fell asphalt, wounded and bruised, between the jubilation of the Dutch who were celebrating the huge success of their champion, Jan Raas.Valkenburg has always haunted us. With an inevitable exception that proves the rule, the all italian podium and the World Championship victory of Ivan Basso in 1998 on Nocentini and Di Luca. That was among men under 23 though.
That day Michele Bartoli was the favorite, a champion of the classics, who could manage to wonderfully win all those races with different characteristics as the Tour of Flanders and the Giro di Lombardia. In addition to the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Fleche Wallonne of course. But what happened to Bartoli in Valkenburg?It was inevitable, in that place. In fact he was the victim of a spectacular fall in the wet downhill while he was traveling at 80Km per hour. Nobody knows how he got up nearly intact. Of course that fall prevented him from winning the title and stopped him on the third step of the podium, behind the Swiss Camenzind and Belgian Van Petegem.In 2012, luckily no blue ended awkwardly on the ground, no one altercate that much. But the defeat was severe as in all other occasions. This time, maybe even more in the sense that we found ourselves in the role of demeaning actors, beyond the glory and our local tradition. On the last climb of the Cauberg, when Philippe Gilbert attacked, our team melted like snow in the sun. All Bettini's italians. And the order of arrival appeared immediately shameful. Gilbert, Boasson Hagen and Valverde on the podium, the first italian was Oscar Gatto, the thirteenth, Nibali twenty-ninth second, seventyfourth Moser.Now, fortunately, for the italians' sake, for some years the world championship will be assigned to other areas.