The city of Bologna, in Emilia Romagna, has hosted the Giro on numerous occasions but the 1981 Giro stands out for many reasons. The 1981 Giro d’Italia was a purely Italian affair with no trips into the islands or neighboring countries. The riders faced four-time trials (including one for teams) and ten mountain stages, two of which featured summit finishes.
The 3,896-kilometer course covered nearly the entire length of Italy from North to South, beginning in the Veneto region then reaching Reggio Calabria on the Southern tip after eleven days of racing and then making an air transfer North to Roma on the first of two rest days. The 24-day journey then wound northward towards the 35-kilometer time trial in Tuscany on stage 13. The mountains began in earnest when the race then left Milan on Stage 16 and headed east to the only true Dolomite stage. But what a stage it was, climbing the Tre Croce pass to Misurina and then finishing atop the mighty Tre Cime di Lavaredo just two days prior to the final time trial that would bring the race into Verona.
Following Frenchman Bernard Hinault’s victory in 1980, this edition was expected to be an all Italian showdown between Italy’s two favorite sons: 1979 Giro Champion Giuseppe Saronni and Francesco Moser. Saronni was clad in the red, white, and green jersey as the reigning Italian road champion and Moser had tasted victory in Tirreno-Adriatico earlier that spring. Italians Gianbattista Baronchelli, second placed in the 1974 and 1978 Giros, and Giovanni Battaglin, recently crowned Vuelta winner, were listed as outside favorites.
The race had begun with a Prologue in Trieste, won by Norwegian Knud Knudsen of the Bianchi squad, just one second in front of Moser, before heading due west across Verona. The first road stage into Bibione was won in a mass sprint by neo-pro Guido Bontempi of the Italian Carerra squad. Later that afternoon the riders contested a 15 kilometer team time trial, narrowly won by the Hoonved team in front of Moser’s Famucine squad, with Bianchi further adrift.
Thus, as the race arrived in the Emilia Romagna region it was Moser, already twice a Giro runner-up and three times a winner of the points competition, wearing the pink jersey. The flat stage into Ferrara, the capital city of the region, was won in a bunch gallop by Italian Paolo Rosola of Magniflex, a rider born in the same tiny village as Michele Dancelli.
Significantly though, German Gregor Braun, a teammate of Moser’s roared home in second. Braun came to the pro road scene from the track after winning two golds in both pursuit events at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, followed by the world pro title the following year. When the race began in Bologna the following morning, Braun’s tall, muscular physique was an imposing sight in the maglia rosa! Braun was certainly the right name as the Scorpion logoed sleeves of the largest jersey race organizers could find were barely able to contain his broad shoulders and burly biceps!
By day’s end, following the first of three Saronni stage wins, the jersey would pass back to his captain Moser. He who would hold it for three more days before his rival Saronni took over through Stage 12. Moser would ultimately crash out after winning stage 14 and Battaglin, who started this Giro only three days after finishing the Vuelta, would triumph thanks to his climbing on the Tre Cime, achieving a double only previously realized by the great Eddy Merckx. He did it with less than a minute to spare over Swede Tommy Prim of Bianchi and Saronni who both ran him close in the final time trial.
This year the Giro returns to Bologna, and the Emilia Romagna region exactly twenty-five years after it hosted the start of the 1994 edition excited and expectant of more great racing.
1981 Giro d’Italia facts:
3,896 kilometers with an average speed of 37.15 km/h.
130 starters, 104 classified finishers.
For much of the race, the 1981 Giro d’Italia was very close and after stage 19, the top four were only 30 seconds apart. The following day Giovanni Battaglin became the leader by 50 seconds with a fantastic ride on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Battaglin sealed his second 1981 consecutive Grand Tour victory in the final time-trial stage in Verona.