It had been six years since an Italian last won the Giro d’Italia. But there was some hope for the locals at the 1975 edition when Eddy Merckx became ill at the Tour de Romandie and withdrew his entire team from the Giro. The home favorites had another Belgian to worry about however, because Roger de Vlaeminck, Monsieur Paris–Roubaix, was tired of being second best to his countrymen everywhere but on the cobbles. He wanted a Grand Tour win, and the 58th edition of the Corsa Rosa looked like the perfect opportunity. De Vlaeminck was determined to make a point, and so he made a bet with a journalist from the Gazzetta dello Sport that he’d win seven stages – one more than Merckx had managed when he’d romped to the title in ’73.
The man that the Belgians called “The Gypsy” would win that bet, but a change to his bike position on stage three cost the Brooklyn star four minutes and any chance of grabbing the Maglia Rosa. Much to the tifosi’s delight, a thrilling battle ensued between the young Giovanni Battaglin and the in-form Spaniard, Francisco Galdós.
The pair were neck-and-neck until the uphill time trial on Stage 14, when the Italian imploded. More shockingly still, the winner that day was Fausto Bertoglio, a relatively-unknown third-year pro from Brescia who was brought to the Giro by the Jolli Ceramica team to ride in the service of Battaglin. The 26-year-old had been riding well, but no one expected him to win a stage. Fewer still expected him to be in the Maglia Rosa.
Battaglin was defiant, insisting that he was still team leader, even if his gregario was in pink. But as the race snaked its way up north along the Ligurian coast the next day, his Giro challenge came to an abrupt and ugly end, as his strength abandoned him amidst torrents of rain. Seeing their rival struggling on the climbs, Felice Gimondi and De Vlaeminck attacked, taking Bertoglio with them. Galdós scrambled to keep in touch, but Battaglin could only watch as his rivals, and his dream, deserted him. He finished 10 minutes behind the leaders that day.
The GC remained tight for the rest of the race, which unusually did not finish in a major city that year, but on top of the infamous Passo Dello Stelvio. In the final stages, Galdós had thrown everything he had at the Giro’s unlikely hero, but Bertoglio remained firm and started the last day with 41 seconds on the Spaniard – a decent lead, but not enough to make it comfortable. Like a boxer probing for weaknesses, Galdós tried attack after attack on the Stelvio’s gruelling 48 switchbacks, but failed to trouble Bertoglio. The Italian had victory in his sights, and defiantly marked every move that his adversary made. The pair exchanged blow after blow, but neither gave an inch, until the final meters, when the Italian slowed. He’d done enough, and such a worthy rival deserved something. The prestigious stage went to Galdós, but the priceless Maglia Rosa belonged to Bertoglio.
Giovanni Pinarello used his cash prize for being the last rider in the 1951 edition of the Giro to open a bike shop in Treviso, his home town. As the sponsor of the Jolli Ceramica team, Bertoglio’s Giro win was the first time that a rider on a Pinarello bike made it to the top step of the podium at a Grand Tour. It would not be the last.