Photos of the day: Trofeo Baracchi

Here's a poster from those not-so-long-ago days when a team time trial had a little less to do with technology..and a little more to do with some improvisational 'just getting on and going for it.'

And of course, some old school (ahem) 'preparation.'

1975:  Freddy Maertens and Michel Pollentier in the Trofeo Baracchi.

From 1949 until 1990, this two man time trial marked the end of the professional road season.   The Baracchi winners list is a who's who of cycling stars:  Magni, Coppi, Baldini, Anquetil, Gimondi, Merckx, Moser, Hinault, Fignon.

The Flandria duo were second in '75 behind Francesco Moser and Gibi Baronchelli.   (Didn't stop the Claeys clan from printing the publicity poster though...)

But no worries, the west vlaanderen duo would come back to win in 1976, this time with Maertens in the world champions jersey.  They probably felt right at home in the discipline, as the two were daily training partners throughout the year.

Being compatible and familiar with your partner is paramount in a two-up TT.   No surprise that the Swedish Pettersson brothers were among the winners in 1970.   Or that trade teammates were often among the winners.

But not every Baracchi pair was so practiced at riding together.  As an invitational event, the Baracchi organizers would pair up different stars of the day to try to create interest.  Sometimes, they'd put big rival stars together.

And sometimes it worked.   Like the time they put Francesco Moser and Beppe Saronni together on a team in 1979.  It was at the peak of their rivalry that split Italy in two, like Coppi and Bartali.

The video above gives some idea of what the Baracchi was like in it's final versions after the glory days of the '50's and '60's when the Bergamo-based event used to finish in Milan's Vigorelli velodrome.

One of the most spectacular finishes came there at the end of a ride by St. Raphael teammates and rivals Rudi Altig and Jacques Anquetil.  It was 1962, a famous ride where on a jour sans, Anquetil almost died on the German's wheel.  Altig was pushing, shouting and cajoling the Champion in an attempt to get him to go harder.   It was an embarrassing exhibition that seemed like it couldn't get worse.

But it did.   Anquetil was in such a trance, he missed the turn onto the velodrome and crashed.   No matter...with the finish times taken outside the velodrome, they'd won anyway.   Altig did his winners lap solo while Jacques was led away dazed and bleeding from a head wound.

Baracchi Glory Days:  World Champion Coppi and Filipi
on the way to winning over Anquetil -Rolland in 1953.
It was Anquetil's karma to create Baracchi controversy.  In his first attempt in 1953 as a 19 year old prodigy who'd just broken onto the professional scene by winning the Grand Prix des Nations Time Trial, the Baracchi organizers paired him with the French journeyman Antonin Rolland, a grizzled road-veteran.  Anquetil  basically dragged Rolland around, and finishing 2nd behind the Bianchi duo of Coppi and Filippi.   The Nations may have been his discovery, but that Baracchi ride - thanks to Rolland telling all who would listen of the Norman's prodigious power - was his confirmation.

Lack of sleep didn't slow Anquetil
that much.   Bobet didn't agree.
The next year the organizers thought it would be a good idea to pair Anquetil with Louison Bobet.    Bobet, famous for meticulous preparation was there days early, riding the course, planning his warmup.  Anquetil tried to drive his new sports car over the Alps to the event.  He mistimed the journey, drove through the night, and just arrived in Bergamo a few hours before the start.   They finished a close second, behind repeat winners Coppi and Filippi.  Bobet was apocalyptic at what he saw as a dilettante approach.   Those two were never on the same wavelength after that.  

But ah, those were the days, eh?   When a team trial was more about the pairings, and their personalities.   Not about technology.    Contrast the stories those Baracchi's left us, with the current UCI world TTT championship.  Not that that event wasn't exciting - it was a nail biter right down to the wire.   But I wonder how many could you name the six riders on the winning Quick Step squad?    Even the TV announcers weren't using rider names, dehumanizing the event into a corporate technology race.  Helmets and glasses masking the effort.   It was like watching an America's Cup sailboat race.   Quick Step vs. BMC?    Give me a Boonen-Martin vs. Gilbert-Van Garderen.

New World Champion Eddy Merckx and time
trial specialist Ferdinand Bracke won in 1967. 
The Trofeo Baracchi was kind of an unofficial world team time trial championship for professionals and the real end of road season.   A final fling, before pro stars put their bikes up on hooks, and traded wool jerseys and shorts for hiking boots and hunting gear for a few months of bike-free hibernation to recharge the batteries.    A chance to provide some final drama and intrigue that would hopefully keep well lubricated tongues wagging in the cafes, as the tifosi reluctantly moved into a winter of enforced cycling withdrawl.

Held traditionally on the first weekend of November from '49 to '71, the event crept back into October during its final decade.   But alas, just as lowering a price seldom saves a product, moving the date of the Baracchi back didn't seem to save it either.    The last few events even tried an early September date.  And moving the venue from Bergamo to Trento.

Polish duo Piacecki and Lang won in '88.
A year before curtain came down for good.
It didn't matter, the event eventually folded in 1990. Running it as a single rider TT in 1991 won by Tony Rominger was the final nail in the coffin.   Not many tears were shed.    Nobody mentions it anymore.  You likely have to be over 50 for the Baracchi to have made any impact on your memory.    Good history article here if you're interested.

Kind of a shame it's gone I think.   But I'm also quite sure there'd be little enthusiasm among today's road stars for holding form until November.   Few events in cycling as as hard as the two man time trial, I think.  In a solo TT it really hurts, but it's steady.  At least you can dose your effort as you wish, controlling your pain level with micro-precision.  In a two man, you're at the mercy of your partner's tempo.  It's not steady.  Turns are just that little bit faster, harder.   Rest is minimal.  It's more like doing on-off one minute intervals, of equal time, extending off into infinity.  And if you're not the same page as your 'mate', it can be torture.   Just ask Jacques.

No wonder those guys used to go home, and put the bike on a hook until New Years day.  


  1. Great post!!! Yes, from a guy over 50, but a lot of this event was during that golden age of cycling. Grazie!

  2. Thanks very much Larry! Hope you're enjoying some great riding over there this autumn.

    1. Sadly, we're NOT in Italy at present, unlike last year. Instead we're in Iowa. But escape is not too far off, we'll be in SoCal (where the drivers are a-holes but at least the weather is nice) for the holidays, then back in Sicily mid-January for the rest of the winter. Back in the USA again at the end of the summer as usual.

  3. I did the Tour of Germany stage race in 1985 - one of the hardest 'amateur' races on the international calendar - won by Olaf Ludwig - who went on to win the 1988 Olympic Road Race - so it's cool to see that Lech Piacecki won the same year - he was also in the Tour of Germany - and obviously very personable to me since I spoke Polish and was on the US National Team - Olaf Ludwig being from East Germany had the typical condescending attitude that most if not all riders had either from Germany or Russia.
    25 years later my nephew Grant met Olaf Ludwig when he went to Germany as an international student - and he was very personable to him - funny how life is sometimes?


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