Photo of the day: the Eagle and the Angel.

The two greatest climbers of all time were teammates for a while.

FAEMA makes espresso machines, and sponsored many champions between 1956 - 1970.   Notable alumni include king of the classics Rik Van Looy, Giro winner and World Champion Vittorio Adorni, and the great Eddy Merckx who rode for Faema for his first dominant Tour and Giro victories of 1968 -1970.   Anorak fact of the day:  The acronym FAEMA was said by Belgian fans to stand for: Faites Attention, Eddy Merckx Arrive!  (Look out, Eddy Merckx is coming!)

But back in 1956, the team directed by former 30's Giro star Learco Guerra, was built around two young climbing phenoms, who would each go on to become Kings of Mountains and Tour de France champions. 

Federico Martin Bahamontes (right), the Eagle of Toledo, was the first Spanish winner of the Tour de France in 1959.  Baha would surge again and again, out of the saddle, breaking the opposition in classic Spanish mountain goat manner.  In this photo he's lost in his own universe, a two-wheeled matador in the midst of a faena with a 12% salita serving as a metaphorical Miura bull.   A Faema faena one might say.   Looking at him, one sees more than a slight stylistic resemblance to Alberto Contador: Upright, and standing on the pedals.  History repeating itself, in the form of an emaciated Spaniard dancing away up the steepest climbs.    

Charly Gaul (left) was different.  Luxembourg's Angel of the Mountains would typically spin two teeth lower than his rivals, spinning a 44x24 at a "steady tempo that would cook your heart - tic toc, tic toc" as Raphael Geminiani once put it.  Souplesse a-la-Lance.  Charly's tactic was to not go with the surge, rather just maintain a steady tempo and pull 'em back, in his own good time.

Gaul reportedly only rarely got out of the saddle...so one can read in his eyes what's going through his head:   Should I stay with this crazy Baha?  Or not?  That familiar moment of indecision we've all experienced when someone lifts the tempo beyond our comfort zone.

Gaul was the Marco Pantani of the 50', similarly fond of climbing out of the saddle with hands on the drops.   Late in his life, Charly's developed a fondness for Pantani as his successor, a relationship that helped pull him out of a reclusive life, and back into public.  In his early pro years, Pantani has gone to seek counsel from his idol Gaul, who in turn treated Marco as a surrogate son.  His heir.   Gaul would later travel to Italy to celebrate his prodigy's successes.  It's said that Pantani's tragic early death affected Charly terribly.  Gaul had fought demons as well in his own life - so the whole thing was probably a little too painfully close to home.

This year two Luxembourgers - Andy and Frank Schleck - are in with a real shot to bring the Maillot Jaune back to the Grand Duchy for the first time since 1958, so the iconic photo above symbolizes what we'll likely see replayed over and over in the Alps and Pyrennes for the next few weeks:  An out of the saddle Spaniard surging, leaving a Luxembourg cool-customer with a decision:   Should I stay or should I go?

Spain vs. Luxembourg.  It will define this year's Tour de France.   I admire Contador, and love Spain.  But maybe it's living in the little state of Rhode Island, maybe a natural affinity for the underdog, but for this Tour boys, I'm leaning Luxembourg.

Allez Les Schleck. Daat ass Letzebuerg. (Cue Cool Feet's Luxemburgänsia!)

Comments

  1. Eddy, Maria and I watched the 100 year history of the TDF in the Pyrenees last night. They had a nice spot on Bahamontes...

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