Exactly 50 years ago the “Eagle of the Canavese” won his first Giro d’Italia in a De Marchi jersey. Here’s the real story about his name.
Born in Nole Canavese, near Turin, on January 11, 1940, Franco Balma Mion is one of the too soon forgotten Italian cyclists that emerged after the incredible cycle of Coppi and Bartali, who dominated the scene until about a decade earlier and started the so-called “Golden Age”.
Besides winning two consecutive editions of the Giro d’Italia, something that no Italian cyclist has been able to emulate in over half a century since, “Balmamion”, often referred to also as “the silent champion”, explains that when he was about to turn professional in his early twenties, his entourage suggested him to opt for a longer name, like Girardengo, in order “to become a great rider that wouldn’t have been forgotten”. But the fierce Piemontese dressed in black and white (Carpano’s jersey was recalling Juventus with all the intentions of emulating the football deeds of la vecchia signora) decided otherwise and combined Balma with Mion, but that unfortunately did not stop him to be “obscured from the mists of time”, like said by Herbie Sykes in his beautiful book “The Eagle of the Canavese”.
Remembered to have conquered the Giro two times in a row without winning a single stage, Balmamion wasn’t among the favorites at the 1962 start, but he survived the dolomites, especially what is widely recognized to have been the hardest challenge ever in the history of the Pink Race, that laid the foundation of his victory in Milan.
On June 2nd the Tappone (this is how long, mountain stages were usually referred to as) was lashed by a snow storm so that the finish was moved to the Rolle Pass and 56 riders were forced to retire due to the incredible cold.
Balmanion then gained instant popularity and was able to repeat itself the following year, getting also very close to winning a third time in 1967, second only to the new rising star of Italian cycling, Felice Gimondi.
The 45th Giro d’Italia started in Milan on May 19th, 1962 and concluded back in Milan on June 9th with a total of 130 riders at the start, of which only 47 made it to the finish. The high number of withdrawals was mainly due to the incredibly bad weather during the 14th stage that was nicknamed “cavalcata dei monti pallidi” (ride of the pale mountains).
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