Thirteen Seconds

The 26th of April, 1956. A rainy day in Spain. Spring did not come early this year. It is a normal Thursday morning for most of the people of Spain. Except in Bilbao. More than ninety thousand people are heading to the centre of town. The start of the Vuelta a España is in Bilbao this year and almost everybody in the city wants to catch a glimpse of the favorites. Impanis, Bahamontes, Koblet, van Steenbergen and Conterno are only a few names of the big riders at the start in 1956. On the slippery roads to Santander there was no attack from one rider and the sprint was won by Rik van Steenbergen.

During the next stage, from Santander to Oviedo, the rain was pouring from the sky again. A breakaway group of three riders went away. Angelo Conterno, an Italian rider, began to chase them and when he came with them, he attacked and left the group behind too, 24 kilometres before the finish. He won the stage solo with a time difference of 1 minute and 12 seconds on the second group. He did not only win the stage, but he also became the leader in the general classification of the race and got to wear the yellow leader’s jersey.

vuelta 1956

The next few stages were not interesting at all; riders weren’t attacking, because of the control of the biggest teams and most of the stages ended up in sprints. On the 4th of May, the organisation had enough of the lack of action of the riders and stated that they would not tolerate it anymore. Some prize-money for stage eight was cancelled, which had some effect on the riders.

With only four stages to go, Conterno only had eight seconds left on his biggest rivals, Loroño and Bahamontes. In stage fifteen, from San Sebastian to Bilbao, Bahamontes was the first to attack the yellow jersey. He succesfully attacked on the Urkiola, a hard climb for most of the riders. However, during the climb he suffered several punctures and in the descend Loroño and Conterno chased him down. During the next stage, Bahamontes had no luck either; he had several punctures again and even a crash, which led to him losing four minutes.

Loroño then decided to attack on the last mountain in the Vuelta, the Sollube. A tired Conterno could not follow, but a chase for Loroño from an international coaliton of riders saved Conterno. The last stage ended up in a sprint in the streets of Bilbao and again thousands of people came out to cheer for the forty riders that finished. Conterno was the first Italian to win the Vuelta a España, leaving Loroño in second place in the general classification, just thirteen seconds behind Conterno. It is one of the smallest gaps ever between the number one and two in a grand Tour in cycling history.

Angelo Conterno on his bike in Bilbao, celebrating
his victory of the Vuelta a España 1956

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