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Retro Rider: Marino Basso – Classy, Fast and Cunning

PEZ Retro: After looking at two climbers in our ‘Retro Riders’ series, it’s time for a sprinter. The fast-finishers have a reputation for fast living and sailing a bit close to the wind when it comes to their chosen art. Marino Basso was a typical sprinter, he stabbed his teammate in the back for the 1972 rainbow jersey – but that’s what sprinters do. . . Signore 10,000 Volts, a classy rider, but cunning with it.

Class and style from Marino Basso

Marino Basso, born 1st of June 1945 in Rettorgole di Caldogno, in the Veneto and was a professional rider from 1966 to 1978. He was one of the fastest sprinters of the 1970s, winning fifteen stages of his home tour, the Giro d’Italia, six stages in the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. He also took the Giro d’Italia’s points competition in 1971 and the Italian national championship in 1972. You can add to that his wins in the GP Campagnolo, CP Cemab, Milano–Vignola x 3, Chieti, Paris–Luxembourg, Col San Martino, Giro del Piemonte, Tre Valli Varesine, Trofeo Matteotti, Giro de Campania, Chieto, Cittadella x 2, Milano–Vignola x 2, Coppa Bernocchi, Grand Prix of Aargau Canton, Pasajes, Genoa-Nice, Castelfranco Veneto x 2, ‘6 Days’ of Castelgomberto (with Dieter Kemper), Sarnico, GP Montelupo, Col San Martino x 2, Coppa Placci and Zambana. His biggest and most famous win has to be the 1972 World road championship in Gap, France.

The 1973 Bianchi-Campagnolo team

Basso had the typical Italian good looks and was very classy on a bike, with one of the best finishing sprints in the business, a Mario Cipollini of his time. On the Giro d’Italia he was famous for not wasting any energy on the mountain days and was quite often the first to be dropped when the road started to rise. But his electric, explosive jump gave him many wins and the nickname – Mr. 10,000 Volts.

Still winning in 1977

Basso was strong, well-built like a Rik Van Looy or a Freddy Maertens, not built for the high mountains. Maybe if he hadn’t concentrated on winning stages in the Grand Tours he might have won a Classic. He obviously had no problems in the one-day races with two 3rd places, plus 6th and 7th in Milano-Sanremo, 11th in il Giro di Lombardia plus a 2nd and 3rd in Paris-Tours. The Northern cobbles also didn’t worry the man for the Venito as he took 3rd place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix and 8th in Gent-Wevelgem.

1972 was a good year for Basso and the Salvarini team

When we talk about Marino Basso our thoughts go to a hot Sunday in the town of Gap in the South East of France on the 6th of August 1972. On that day Basso finished ahead of his Italian teammate Franco Bitossi and the next day you would read: “A brother killed a brother” in the French newspapers. At the finish line the Tuscan was ahead of Bitossi with France’s Cyrille Guimard third with a Belgian called Édouard Louis Joseph Merckx, out of the medals in fourth.

Crazy sprint win for Basso in the Giro d’Italia 1971 in Bari

The race was not without its controversy, with just a few kilometres to go Bitossi broke away and was about to win and become Champion of the World. But Marino Basso passed Bitossi just a few meters from the line to take the rainbow jersey.

The final metres of the Worlds 1972

Franco Bitossi describes the finalé of the race from his point of view: “In the final kilometres I was in a group of seven, with Dancelli, Basso, Merckx, Guimard, Zoetemelk and Mortensen. With three or four kilometres to go, on a little rise, Guimard took off and I followed him. Guimard was dangerous, being very fast. He expected my collaboration but I just drafted him to avoid wasting energy. I was hoping he could “take” me to the line. When he saw I was not working with him he slowed down and the rest of the group caught us.”

Stage win in the Tour de France

Bitossi made his move: “I was fresh because I had been drafting Guimard, so I took off. I thought: Merckx is a friend and is not going to chase me. Dancelli and Basso are Italian and therefore are not going to try catching me as well. Guimard is tired. There were only Zoetemelk and Mortensen. I didn’t think Mortensen would try to go with me and therefore there was only Zoetemelk to take care of. I thought: ‘It is done’. When I turned the last corner, with 1,300 meters to go, I looked behind and I saw that the group was 300 meters behind me.”

Franco Bitossi winning the 1967 Giro di Lombardia

So what went wrong? “Well, my teammates didn’t do much to protect me…” In fact Basso put in a big effort, followed by Merckx, Guimard and Zoetemelk. “Basso passed me with six or seven metres to go.” That was the end of any hope of the win for Bitossi. The man from Padua suffered from a chronic cardiac arrhythmia, his nickname was ‘Cuore Matto’, or ‘Crazy Heart’, he would have to stop occasionally in the middle of a race until his heartbeat became normal. Later Bitossi said he got his gear wrong for the finish and then couldn’t change and Basso was in the correct gear. But this does sound a little like ‘papering over the cracks’ for Basso.

Marino Basso – Uno sprint mondiale

From Basso’s point of view he won the race with cunning. “You have to write that I trapped Merckx by marking him for the whole race. I’m sorry for Bitossi, but when I came to the slightly uphill finish, I had to jump to avoid comebacks. What about Eddy when I met him in the shower? He looked like a beaten dog, he avoided me even with his eyes. Everyone could have won without sending him into a mood…. all except me. And do you know why? Because there is ‘simpatia’ between me and his little sister…” Eddy Merckx has a younger brother Michel and a younger sister Micheline.

‘Stars and Watercarriers’ Basso at the end of the 1973 Giro d’Italia

Basso, Bitossi, Guimard. The 1972 podium sees Merckx in fourth, with nothing. “The Italians were very good at putting themselves in a trap, they did an excellent team game. I had foreseen it: on a course like this, the sprinters were the favourites. Basso was a wheel sucker (sat on the wheels) for almost the entire race, first in the peloton and then in the leading group. I don’t want to be enemies and say that he is not worthy of the title, I only say that I envy him because he is a lucky man.”

Basso at the Giro

“When I arrived behind the stage of the awarding ceremony,” Basso said months after the win. “I feared that my gesture was misunderstood. Everyone was crying. I started crying too, as soon as I saw Bitossi I hugged him warmly. He was in full crisis, he didn’t say a word to me. He hasn’t talked to me for a long time, perhaps because that funny guy, Merckx, told him that in closing the gap I had pulled like crazy too.”

Giro’68 stage 15 win for Basso in Imola

There was no teamwork to protect Bitossi’s attack, only the desire to grab a world title while it was still possible. It mattered little to coach Ricci, who was radiant at the finish line: “When I included Basso in the team, many accused me of having made a mistake, there were so many people convinced that Marino would not have reached the finish line. What happened proves that I was right.”

Gap 1972 – Basso from Bitossi and Guimard, Merckx third
Basso actually had an emotional breakdown close to the award ceremony, which was caught by the Rai (Italian TV) cameras. He holds his face with both hands in tears as Adriano De Zan (famous Italian TV commentator) tried to interview him. “No one trusted me because in the Tour I had not won even one stage. Everyone said that Basso was finished and instead I showed that it is not so.”

Basso with Felice Gimondi and Martin Emilio ‘Cochise’ Rodriguez – Bianchi-Campagnolo 1973 managed by Vittorio Adorni

Second placed Bitossi was in pieces and cried bitterly, climbing onto the podium, Bitossi struggled to speak. He was dazed, destroyed. Struggling to stand up and leaving Rai’s commentary cabin in pain after a few words. In the tone of his voice there was the desperation of a man who had seen the chance of a lifetime pass him by: “I was about to raise my hands, when I saw Basso pass, I experienced the greatest disappointment of my life.” The two got on the podium together, for a few moments Basso embraces Bitossi, stands with him on the second step, Bitossi’s smile is forced.

Mixed feelings on the podium
The frost between the two lasted a few months. “When we met again, Franco looked at me and said, ‘You’re a stray dog. But did you have to come and get me? Couldn’t you wait a bit?’ Then we recovered, I remember that one evening we found ourselves at the Domenica Sportiva, after having seen the replay of the sprint several times we embraced each other.”

Basso and Bitossi together with Gis in 1978

Bitossi managed to forget the controversial finalé: “They didn’t help me back then. It would have been enough for Basso and Dancelli to break the chase, with a normal team game I would have crossed the finish line first. By now I’m used to being remembered for that defeat. Every time they invite me to a cycling event they discuss the final of that World championships. At first it was a dagger that sank into the wound, but now it makes me laugh. I laugh at how I pedalled, I no longer had any strength, I pushed my bike with my shoulders, my head, my elbows, but without moving forward. After the finish I had a nervous breakdown but I never blamed Basso, I remained his friend. I ended my career at the Gis team, with him, and I also took a sprint in a stage at the Tour of the Mediterranean. I think, I guess, I know that he did what he could to pick me up and tried all the help possible to close the gap. But it is something that has to do with his conscience. I never had a grudge.”

Basso’s final year in the pro peloton was with Gis in 1978

Basso was a showy sort of a sprinter, an astute type, an actor in his trade when he engaged in duels with Dino Zandegù, another rider capable of entertaining the audience. After the finish line, the two always had something to say about the outcome of an uncertain sprint to the last metre. Mutual accusations, arguments, defeats and answers that were all part of a script. Two enemies that made people talk. Irreconcilable at first sight, cheerful and easy-going away from the public.

Giro d’Italia stage 16 1971 in Tarvisio for Dino Zandegù

‘A handsome guy, always looking for female conquests’

Basso would have undoubtably had a greater number of successes if he had followed the rules of a good athlete, his abstinences were few. He loved the pleasures of life. A handsome guy, always looking for female conquests, a follower of Jacques Anquetil, to give an example. A sprinter who also wanted something more, as demonstrated by his success in the 1072 Tour of Sardinia, where he won overall, took two stage wins from four stages and was second and third in the other two.

Sprint win in 1976 with Furzi-Vibor

A memory from the Giro d’Italia was of Basso at the head of the peloton at the summit of a big mountain. The battle between the climbers had disappeared, but Basso was there to prove, for once, that he could get over the climbs with the GC men. On the other hand, his physique was similar to that of Beppe Saronni, a champion of countless victories who twice won the Giro d’Italia. A more determined Basso would have hung up his bike with a decidedly better palmarès. Basso’s shortcoming was that he did not suffer enough, which can be found in cyclists of the past and present. But you can’t be too critical of Marino as he left his mark on the pro peloton. When you become a World champion you can be forgiven for anything.

Marino Basso – Champion of the World

Basso rode for eight different teams, all Italian: 1966 to 1967: Mainetti, 1968 to 1971: Molteni, 1972: Salvarani, 1973 to 1974: Bianchi-Campagnolo, 1975: Magniflex, 1976: Furzi-Vibor, 1977: Selle Royal-Alan, 1978: Gis Gelati. His final year with Molteni in 1971 was the year Eddy Merckx and his Belgian colleagues came to the team. It is said that Basso left at the end of that year because all the Belgians wanted to eat was chips (French fries), and it was impossible to get a good plate of pasta. After his professional career, Basso became a manager with a number of different teams.

Molteni – Pre Merckx and those Belgians

He is not related to Italian cyclist Ivan Basso, but his brother Alcide founded Basso Bikes.

Basso with Gianni Motta

You can see our previous the retro rider features on Alex Zülle and José María Jiménez.

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