There was a major, 6.3 on the Richter scale, earthquake in central Italy close to the town of L'Aquila (the Eagle) on Monday. The devastation is huge and the death toll is 250 and climbing. The photos and videos of the tembler and the aftermath are striking. It clearly is a major tragedy.
Why am I writing about this quake? Because one of the classic climbs in all of Italy starts in L'Aquila. The 20-mile, 5000-foot ascent of the Gran Sasso has been a decisive hurdle in many a Giro, most recently, Marco Pantani soloed to a convincing win in 1999. It was a 150-mile stage that took over seven hours and was ridden in cold rain. Fog shrouded the top at 7000 feet above sea level.
What I remember most is that Pantani, who was sponsored by Bianchi bikes, was riding a mysterious all black machine. It had been a tradition since Fausto Coppi in the 1940's that Bianchi's racing machines were painted the legendary 'celeste' color, a sea green shade, but here was 'Il Pirata' on some sort of stealth black steed. It was a few month later that Sky Yager at Bianchi USA informed me that the black bike was indeed a Bianchi. However, Pantani wanted the bike to weigh as little as possible and by eliminating the paint job and just anodizing the aluminum tubes black saved three ounces of weight.
For you history buffs, the top of the Gran Sasso climb is known as Campo Imperatore. It was here in 1943 that Italian partisans hid Benito Mussolini after kidnapping him. The partisans were hoping that with Mussolini out of power, they could kick the Germans out of their country and sue for peace with the Americans and British. After several months in hiding, German commandos crash-landed gliders near Campo Imperatore and rescued 'Il Duce'. The Germans placed Mussolini back in power and the war in Italy continued for another year and a half.
If you ever get to Campo Imperatore you can, for five euros, visit the room in the hotel there that held Mussolini during his captivity with the partisans. In this photo the hotel is the big red building on the left.
Best wishes to all the inhabitants of L'Aquila for the rebuilding and healing which will undoubtedly take years to accomplish. Buona Fortuna!