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Echoes' Cycling Biography #11: Michele Dancelli
« on: September 03, 2014, 22:14 »

Froome19 contributed a lot to this text. A lot of passages are direct copy/paste from a PM that he sent the author of this article. If he agrees to it, these passages will be in red. His source for all these pieces of information is an article on Michele Dancelly by Herbie Sykes. Many thanks to Froome19 !

We should also thank Pastronef for translating comments in Italian by Marino Basso  about the 1972 World Championship: "then, when we had the riders meeting the DS was fast to say: if Basso punctures Dancelli waits. if Dancelli punctures Basso waits and so on. When the meeting was finished, it was very short, Dancelli said: fasten your seatbelts because I'll be breaking away asap.
it means there were no team tactics (even after what the directeur sportif said during the meeting). Everyone has his cards to play and his interests to protect."

Thanks also to GMiranda for identifying the rider Joao Roque *pt who was in the right breakaway at the 1969 World Championship in Zolder, along with Dancelli.

Early Years

Michele Dancelli was born in 1942 at Castenedolo in Lombardy near Brescia (1100 inh.), a village that is partly industrialized and partly devoted to traditional activities: building and farming. He is the youngest of 7 kids and lost his father at the age of 3 and that meant he had to assist his mother in bringing in an income. So in 1955, as a 13 year old he started labouring on a building site, though he still carried on his schooling at the same time, studying late at night.

In 2006 for the book “Tout Eddy” by Stéphane Thirion, Merckx remembered Dancelli as the bricklayer who came to cycling to escape the hard life of the building sector. Gino Sala in his article for L’unita about his victory at the 1966 Walloon Arrow remembered “his story”: “the story of the bricklaying boy who fought hard to earn his bread and still keeps on struggling in cycling to improve his conditions.”

Within a year of saving from work he was able to purchase a bicycle and subsequently joined a club in 1958 and signed up for his race which promptly lead until he suffered puncture after puncture and finished 16th. He promptly retired until his boss Ghisselli told him he was planning on becoming a pro cycling and would be training on Tuesday and Friday and offered to invite Michele along for the ride.  He declined, but Ghisselli threatened to sack him and he had no choice. They trained together and Ghisselli brought Dancelli to Giorgio Albani's house (Molteni’s DS) and told him about the future talent (This was in September 1963). Albani offered to take him on, with the same salary as he would receive on the building site.

His begin years as a cyclist are associated with anecdotes and ‘funny’ stories (of course fictitious) like the one that says he started racing with the pros on the bike he used on the building site and that his pockets were full of bricks in order not to forget his former job.

He flourished and started doing other culture things; painting paintings he would sell to shopkeepers. As he flourished the women started falling for him; handsome, a good artist and cyclist!

He was called “La Civatta”, the owl after his huge and very charming eyes. Originally he became amateur national champion in 1963 and after thus his promise was emphasised and really hammered home.

Racing Style

His biggest problem on the bike was his erratic racing, he would race as his body told him and what that left him with was a disastrous tactical acumen. Though he was immensely talented that was outweighted by his almost delusional attacks and tactics. Indeed his results never matched with his talent and the media started to despair of him. “You’ve never regarded me the same way as Gimondi or Motta” he once told journalists (source: Rebière & Paturle, in “Un siècle de cyclisme”, Calmann Levy).

He did win a Sanremo finally along with other wins, but if it was not his erratic private life and random attacks he could have become so much more.

In an interview with Danilo Francescano in March 2013 (see link above), he remembered: “Yes, I always attacked. Sometimes exaggerating, even from far away... Even though I could beat the sprinters sprinting and climbers uphill, so I could do a little bit of everything. » By contrast he thought that Gimondi was not such a flamboyant rider because he only pulled the peloton when it suited him to. It seems that Gimondi was a much smarter rider to Dancelli’s own opinion. Bitossi agreed with that idea: “Yet, in order to win a Grand Tour you have to ride economically and use your energy only when really necessary.[…] Gimondi was good at riding that way.”

Dancelli however admitted that Gimondi was a very good and hard rider but in his opinion Bitossi was the hardest to beat. He was very fast in the sprint, strong in the climbs and “had a ‘shot’ in the final kilometer” (which Bitossi indeed was famous for). “He was strong throughout.”  Actually Bitossi was an all-rounder, just like Dancelli but a bit faster in the sprint: a better version of him, probably.

"I was not a long-distance rider: more than anything else I could be good uphill and I was also fast. In sprints, I was very strong when we arrived in small groups of five, six, ten riders, no more. I didn’t always win though: Gianni Motta and Franco Bitossi outsprinted me several times.”

Gimondi said about Dancelli: “Michele was a great rider was not valued by the media. He was riding terrifically and had talent for improvisation. Besides, his sprinting skills were fearsome.” (in Tota & Degauquier: “Felice Gimondi: le champion de Bergamo, Coups de Pédales, 2001) The Phenix seems to be more imply that Dancelli had a better understanding of how races unfolded than is usually claimed … or then how should we interepret the phrase “talent for improvisation”?

1965: The Little Italian Van Looy

1965 was Dancelli’s 2nd full year as a professional. That year he won so many “village races” that “nobody remembered how many of them”, says Gino Sala (op. cit.). Hence he got a new nickname: “the Little Italian Van Looy”. Beside these “sfide paesane”, the Civatta won a number of Italian semis that do appear on his palmarès: the Prato GP, the Tour of Emily, the Tour of the Veneto, the Tour of Campania, the Montelupo GP and the Giro dell’Appennino (a raced where he made a hat-trick till 1967 and he dropped Gimondi on the Botteccha in order to win one of them).

The win in the Tour of Campania was the most important of them in that it was the first leg of the Italian Championship. The Italian federation organized several time in history a point ranking from a couple of these semis. 1965 actually was the last year they did that.

The other two races were the Coppa Bernocchi and the Trofeo Matteotti but the Tour of Campania was the hardest according to Michele: He was first on top of the Monte Faito but was caught in the descent. Then he attacked on another climb and only Roberto Poggiali got back, that he beat in the sprint. In the Bernocchi he was 2nd to Adriano Durante and in the Trofeo Matteotti, the least hard of the three, he only needed to watch out for Vittorio Adorni and Franco Cribiori who were the only ones who could still beat him. So he let a 15-man breakaway go. Therefore, all the points escaped them and he got the jersey. In 1966, he got his second national jersey, this time by winning the Giro di Lazio (present-day Roma Maxima). For many years afterwards, the federation merged the championship with one already existing pro race. The last time was in 2013, with the Trofeo Melinda.
William Fotheringham in “Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike” (Yellow Jersey Press, 2012, p. 52) talks about a “stupendous 1965: twelve major wins and the Italian title, decided on points over the season.”

1966: First Battle with Merckx in Paris-Nice

The first stage of the 1966 Paris-Nice ended in Auxerre. William Fotheringham described it in “Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike” (Yellow Jersey Press, 2012, p. 51).

“He [Merckx] set of in pursuit of a three-man escape, his team leader Roger Pingeon, Michele Dancelli and Adriano Durante. With Merckx closing, Pingeon decided not to slow down a little to allow his teammate to catch up, so that the two of them could take on the Italians on equal terms, but pushed as hard as he could. Not surprisingly, when he caught up, Merckx was tired and could only finish third.”

Jean-Paul Ollivier in “La véridique histoire d’Eddy Merckx” (Glénat 1996) said that Merckx started his sprint far too early and was overtook by Durante who won the stage and by Dancelli who slightly hindered him in the last corner.

Starting the sprint early was however the best tactic for power man Merckx who was a slower sprinter in theory than the two Italians, in particular Durante who was a pure sprinter. Dancelli wasn’t fast despite not being a pure sprinter, so that the loss to Durante was no shame. Besides, he won the 7th stage of that Paris-Nice: 155km from L’Île rousse to Ajaccio in Corsica. After a 100km long breakaway with fellow compatriots Arnaldo Pambianco and Luciano Armani, the three Italians took the first three places of the stage. Michele finished with a 19” lead over Pambianco and 38” over Armani. Huub Zilverberg was 4th: 1’45” in arrears. Eventually he finished 18th in that Paris-Nice, 13’27” behind Anquetil.

1966:  Countering Merckx on the Poggio

In 1966 Milan-Sanremo took back its normal sixties course with only the Capi and the Poggio as main climbs of the finale. We saw in our Rolf Wolfshohl Biography that due to road work on the Via Aurelia, organizers decided to take the Colle del Ponte di Merlo (source) but that climb was not meant to stay on the route. It was not until 1982 that they added a second major climb to the route’s finale: the Cipressa.

Poulidor chose again the Capo Berta to place his attack on. An 8-man breakaway was already 30” ahead but they were caught by the Poulidor group between the Capo Berta and the Poggio (source Jean-Paul Ollivier, op. cit.). Merckx attacked in the Poggio, close to the top (probably in the famous 7% stroke) and Dancelli brought the group back but the group was now reduced to 11 riders (erratum in the Poulidor Bio: it was said the group already consisted of 11 men after the Frenchman’s attack but it was only the case on the top of the Poggio): Merckx, Dancelli, Van Springel, Durante, Maurer  *ch , Poulidor, Poggiali, Balmamion, Aimar, Zilverberg *nl and Passuello.

Merckx remembered (in J-P Ollivier’s book): “Towards the end of the Poggio, I accelerated but if Dancelli was quick to join me, he took no initiative, which showed that he feared me” or that “he might be feeling the distance”, says Fotheringham (op. cit.)

Merckx first tried to escape with 800m to go, says Ollivier but Dancelli again tries to counter and Van Springel intervenes.

Merckx added: “When I saw Durante and Dancelli on my side and this with a few kilometers to go, I immediately thought of my failed sprint at Paris-Nice. […] I shall not make the same mistake as in Auxerre. I waited until the last 150/160m maybe and then I went full speed.”

Michele Dancelli was 4th in the sprint behind Merckx, Durante and Van Springel.

Much later, Merckx would often compare that Milan-Sanremo to the first stage of Paris-Nice when he was outsprinted by Durante and Dancelli (like in Vélo Magazine nr 472 in March 2010, interview with Philippe Brunel): “In Paris-Nice, […] I was outsprinted by two lengths by Durante after a 150km stage. So I wasn’t the favourite [for Milan-Sanremo] but I came back on the Poggio with Poulidor. Durante was also there and then I beat him. The distance played a role but also the Via Roma which suited me best, with its ‘trompe-l’oeil’ slope and very slight uphill finish. After 300km I had no rival. Actually I’ve never been beaten on such distance.”

1966: Last Man to Follow Gimondi in a Renewed Paris-Roubaix

The 1966 Paris-Roubaix was one for history, said Robert Chapatte, commenting the race for ORTF. Chapatte – a former rider himself – was thinking: “Never one could have supposed that organizers would consider launching a race into such terrain!”

Until 1965 Paris-Roubaix was raced on long straight roads to Amiens and Arras which with time got more and more asphalted so that the cobbled distance in 1965 was the shortest in history. In 1966 the race took a completely different direction, slightly more hilly and more towards the East, via Valenciennes and the Pévèle. The 1966 edition of Paris-Roubaix was pretty much a Paris-Roubaix as we know it today. The start is for the first time in Chantilly (like until the Sunday in Hell version of 1976). No Aremberg Forest yet but already sections like Hornaing, Gruson (but no Carrefour de l’Arbre!) and the small section of Hem in the finale and of course many sections which have been asphalted since. The section of Hem is on the current route, the last stretch of real cobble but that was not the case in 1966 & 67 when you still had the cobbled Côte de Beaumont on the outskirts of Roubaix (3.5km to go). All in all 14 sections of bad cobbles, but the cobbled distance is unknown (information from Sergent & Dargenton in Paris-Roubaix: une classique unique, Coups de Pédales, 2009)

The 180 first kilometers were raced under heavy rain and cold but the weather got milder after the peloton crossed Denain, said Chapatte. Understanding how it unfolded is a lot of guess work since the broadcasters in 1966 did not have the means that they have in the 21st century. Still Chapatte tells us that an attack by Jacques De Boever stretched the peloton on the first cobbles. He was alone for 20km with a maximum lead of 45”, until Gimondi attacked and Dancelli “angrily” took his wheel (Tota & Degauquier, op. cit.)[47.5km to go] and the two caught the Belgian. The two Italians even dropped him for a moment before he got back, said Chapatte during the live coverage.

With 41km to go however the leaders got to Mons-en-Pévèle. Since 1955 and until 1968, the section of Mons-en-Pévèle happened to be a climb called the “Pas Rolland” (hence the name “Mons”/”Mount”). It got asphalted in 1968 and for the subsequent edition the promoters had to find a substitute, a rather flat but long stretch of cobbles that skirts round the village: the fearsome section of Mons-en-Pévèle that is still there in the present-day route.

The “Pas Rolland”, however, was the place chosen by Gimondi to drop his last two companions, De Boever and Dancelli and to go for one of the greatest solo raid of his career. Michele still tried to follow him. Tota & Degauquier, Gimondi’s biographers, described Michele as a tough, obstinate and hot-tempered rider and it needed the Pas Rolland for Gimondi to drop him. Yet in Mons-en-Pévèle the gap was no more than 200m between the two men while De Boever was a bit behind for a moment.

After 10km Dancelli and De Boever had already lost 1’45” to Gimondi. A 10-man group was close behind a bit more than 15” behind the duo and that consisted of: Jan Janssen, Vin Denson, Raymond Poulidor, Édouard Delberghe, Vittorio Adorni (teammate of Gimondi), Rik Van Looy, Ward Sels, Willy Bocklant, Frans Brands and Joseph Huysmans. Very soon, this group caught Dancelli and De Boever. They were with the 12 of them for a while, until a dozen riders came back from behind to form a group of ~30 riders. With 18km to go, Dancelli was still in that group, which was already timed 3’ behind Gimondi. It was only afterwards that the group was shattered but the motorbike only followed Gimondi and we can’t know what happened behind.

On the velodrome, Dancelli crossed the line at the 25th place 6’28” behind Gimondi along with Gianni Motta, though he would be classified 24th due to Poulidor (finishing 18th) was disqualified for an illegal bike change.

1966: Winning the Arrow with the Help of Altig

The 1966 Walloon Arrow went from Liège to Marcinelle near Charleroi, so in an opposite direction compared to the present-day route. Its total distance was 223km and counted 15 climbs, including the Mur d’Amay at the beginning of the race, the Citadelle of Namur and the Mur de Thuin (500m – 9.4% av. gr.), traditionally the decide in the sixties/seventies routes. 143 riders started.

It should be pointed out that until that year the Arrow was seen as a major classic and arguably had a much better field than the sister race: Liège-Bastogne-Liège. We should bear in mind that in the sixties, there were no such things as “monuments”. That label is a much more recent neologism. There were a dozen races considered ‘classics’ and the Arrow was one of them.

As a matter of fact, at that time, the spring classic session was pretty heavy with also Paris-Brussels in the mix but the disappearance of Paris-Brussels the following year only to reappear in 1973 in autumn left enough room for Liège-Bastogne-Liège to evolve into the major classic that now is. In 1966, though, the results of both races clearly show that the Arrow had a much more international field. In Liège’s favour is the longer distance though: 257km.
Below the foreign riders who classified in both race in 1966: 

1 Michele Dancelli *it
2 Lucien Aimar *fr
3 Rudi Altig *de
4 Jan Janssen *nl
8 Rolf Wolfshohl *de
10 Felice Gimondi *it
13 Jacques Anquetil *fr
18 Gianni Motta *it
20 Arie Den Hartog *nl
21 Vittorio Adorni *it
22 Guido De Rosso *it
23 Raymond Poulidor *it
25 Jean Stablinski *fr
26 Jean Dumont *fr
27 Michael Wright *uk
28 Michel Grain *fr
33 Michel Nedelec *fr
37 Alan Ramsbottom *uk
38 Jean Graczyk *fr
46 Roger Milliot *fr
47 Adriano Durante *it
48 Henri Anglade *fr
51 Wilfried Bölke *de

Compared to Liège-Bastogne-Liège:

1 Jacques Anquetil *fr
6 Michele Dancelli *it
12 Johny Schleck *lu
14 Jean-Pierre Genet *fr
15 Gianni Motta *it
16 Guido De Rosso *it
17 Felice Gimondi *it
18 Rudi Altig *de
19 Alan Ramsbottom *uk
22 Roger Milliot *fr
23 Adriano Durante *it

It seems clear from this comparison that the Arrow was the race that was more coveted by foreign stars. In Liège, the top10 consisted of 8 Belgians. Even if Anquetil won his only classic there, with a brilliant 4’53” lead, we have to realize that the few international riders who were present were not really motivated, as was the case in the years before.

How that Arrow unfolded? Robert Lelangue attacked very early in the race and was later joined by Roger Pingeon. A chase group later consisted of Vin Denson *uk , Jozef Spruyt and André Messelis. The decisive attack occurred after 152km when Noël Foré got out of the peloton with Altig *de, Dancelli, Janssen, Wright  *uk , Aimar and Roger Swerts who easily caught up the Denson group and with 65km to go they caught the two leaders. The two Molteni riders, Altig and Dancelli were among the most active in the break. In the last 30km Altig was on fire and his insane rhythm tolled the bell for most breakaway members. “Altig was capable of pulling a breakaway all by himself”, said Gimondi (Tota & Degauquier, CdP 2001). He proved it during this Arrow. In the last climb, the Mur de Thuin, Janssen broke a wheel, so that eventually only three riders remained ahead: Aimar and the two Molteni riders: Dancelli and Altig.
Altig seemed in the best position to win but in Marcinelle he surprisingly had to let his two companions go. The German seemed exhausted by all the work that he had done. Fortunately in the small cobbled uphill finish teammate Dancelli flew up and Aimar offered no resistance.

Gimondi’s reaction: “Michele won? Good! When Dancelli attacked I tried several times to go but I was very marked. I had said that you can’t always win and anyhow it’s another success for Italian cycling.” (Gimondi had just added a Paris-Brussels to his Paris-Roubaix win) 

Aimar’s reaction: “I’d rather work together with them (Dancelli and Altig) because if I had refused they would have eventually dropped me. My second place was nonetheless satisfactory.”

1968: Wins Paris-Luxembourg While Merckx Sulks

Paris-Luxembourg in the sixties (1963-1970) was a high regarded small stage race, with a great palmares due to its belonging to the Superprestige Pernod. In the beginning it consisted of the two stages but in 1968 it consisted of 4 stages.

The 1st stage – Compiègne to Maubeuge (215km) – was the decisive one with a 20-man breakaway getting clear of the peloton after 64km under Merckx’s initiative. Among this group were all most favourites: Eddy Merckx, Michele Dancelli, Franco Bitossi, Raymond Poulidor, Marino Basso, Jo De Roo *nl , Eric Leman and Felice Gimondi. On the line they had a lead of 23’ minutes ahead of the main bunch but 9’29” ahead of a chase group with *de Rolf Wolfshohl and Rudi Altig.

Michele Dancelli made quite an achievement when he outsprinted Basso, Leman, Merckx, Bitossi and De Roo who are all except Merckx, reputedly faster than him.

The time bonus that he was granted was sufficient to give him the lead and even the overall win. However when Merckx’s Faema won the TTT, they were stripped of their own 20” time bonus, for some reason, hence Merckx’s anger because it would have given him the overall lead. Merckx sulked to Cologne (finish of the 3rd stage) and so there were no more change in the ranking:

1 Michele Dancelli
2 Marino Basso +5”
3 Felice Gimondi + 25”
4 Franco Bitossi
5 Harry Steevens *nl
6 Eric Leman
7 Eddy Merckx
8 Jean Jourden
9 Raymond Poulidor
10 Karl Brand *ch
1969: Tactical Mistake at the Zolder Worlds

At the worlds in Zolder 1969 his tactics once again let him down. He got into the right break only to attack 100km from the finish [or 90km according to the Nouvelliste valaisan of Aug.11], he could have waited for two outsiders to catch him but decided to go solo instead, they made it across and he was tired due to attempting to stay away and couldn't compete in the sprint and went home with bronze.

The Zolder circuit in 1969 was as ridiculous as that of 2002. The Nouvelliste valaisan talks about a 262km ‘kermess-ish’ race with some 150,000 roadside spectators and 91 starters.

Michele Dancelli was active right from the start, along with Gregorio San Miguel and Herman Van Springel but also sneaked into the decisive escape after some 55km along with: Walter Godefroot, Rolf Wolfshohl, Evert Dolman  *nl , Gregorio San Miguel  *es again, Davide Boifava, Julien Stevens, Jan Harings  *nl , Fernando Mendes  *pt , Joao Roque  *pt and Leslie West  *uk . At about mid-race, future winner Harm Ottenbros  *nl joined the leaders with Roger De Vlaeminck, Gerben Karstens  *nl and Wilfried Bölke  *de .

That is when Dancelli made his solo attempt. The two riders who chased and that he had better wait for were De Vlaeminck and Boifava. He held it up for 3 laps (28km) and was caught by Stevens. The latter was caught but attacked straightway after with Ottenbros and the Dutchman won. Dancelli surprised fast man Guido Reybrouck with a late attack for the 3rd place but 2’18” later.

1969: Other Off-the-Beat attack in Lombardy

Michele Dancelli has had several top10 places in his own Lombardy: 7th in 1965 in the chase group that finished 3’11” behind Simpson  *uk ; 5th in 1966 in the same time as winner Gimondi; 8th in 1968 1’50” behind Van Springel.

In 1969 he only finished 13th, 19” behind Jean-Pierre Monseré, though he was the 14th to cross the line but winner Karstens was disqualified for a positive test with the urine of his soigneur (see our Jean-Pierre Monseré Bio).

On October 8 – three days before the classic – he was 9th in the Coppa Agostoni – back then the best prep to Lombardy and a 230km long race – in a 16-man group that also included Poulidor, Gimondi, Basso, Delisle, Panizza, Motta and Karstens and which was won by Bitossi ahead of Monseré (source: Mark Van Hamme in “Jean-Pierre Monseré: voor altijd 22”, Roularta Books, 2010) 

Gimondi attacked on the Ghisallo and took Dancelli, Motta, Bitossi and a few others with him. Van Springel joined the group with Poulidor, Martin Van den Bossche and the late Jozef Huysmans among others.

Dancelli attacked in the Balisio. Huysmans is alone in the chase. Motta joined Huysmans in the valley and the two caught Dancelli back and the three would soon have a 3’30” lead over the group led by Gimondi and Poulidor.

The leaders approached the finale with the classic climb of the 1970’s route: the Passo del Intelvi (7.72km – 5.7% av. Gr. With a peak at 8.4%):

Huysmans dropped on this climb. Dancelli still accompanied Motta till the next climb in Castiglione, where he left Motta alone in front but Motta got caught with 10km to go and neither he nor Dancelli caught the right breakaway on San Fermo della Battaglia.

(Source: Claude Degauquier: Le centenaire du Tour de Lombardie, Coups de Pédales 2007)

1970: First Italian Milan-Sanremo Winner in 17 Years!

Between Loretto Petrucci’s back to back wins in 1952 & 1953 and Dancelli’s win in 1970 no Italian managed to win Milan-Sanremo. Many reasons of course may explain that fact. One important explanation is probably the lack of a stage race in Italy prior the great classic, while the French and Belgians were battling against each other at Paris-Nice. Traditionally Italy is not a country for stage races, unlike Spain. Beside the national tour, they haven’t had that many at that point.

In order to offset this gap, the Gazzetta created a new race in 1966 that was to stay: Tirreno Adriatico. We saw however in 1966 that this new race did not interest every Italian since Dancelli was one of those who raced Paris-Nice that year. The creation of this new race paid off in 1968 when Altig won Milan-Sanremo after racing Tirreno (so did Dancelli that year) but he’s German.

Ironically in 1970, Dancelli was actually also back in Paris-Nice.  Unlike in the 21st century Paris-Nice in the sixties finished 3 days before Milan-Sanremo (traditionally still held on St-Joseph Day and not necessarily at weekend), making it a perfect springboard for it. Since the eighties the French race has always ended a week before the Primavera, unlike Tirreno.

In the interview with Danilo Frescano in 2013 Dancelli remembered not having raced the last stage of Paris-Nice. He claimed that it was not a planned abandon but he did not feel well, he was tired. “I didn’t even know what went wrong. So I rested for a few days and had a good training session.”

So in Milan-Sanremo, a break of 18 made it free with Dancelli amongst them. With De Vlaeminck and Godefroot in the group they were happy to bide their time as the Italians didn't have much of a sprinter amongst their ranks. With 70km to go there was an intermediate sprint prize where Chiappano went and Dancelli followed and when Chiappano sat up, Dancelli continued, no one followed as Merckx and Faema in support of Zilloli did not chase as left it down to Zilloli in the break, whilst no one in the break wanted to be burnt out for the sprint.  Godefroot and Leman gave chase eventually but it was too late. By the Poggio he led by 1:50 and had a chance and the rest is history.

That was the pinnacle of his career.

The winner was ready for a post-race interview with Nando Martellini from the Rai, getting the congratulations from former Italian winner Petrucci (will subsequently be a long time consultant for the Rai) and started to cry: “I didn’t know you could be so happy: catching sight of the fountain [the famous Sanremo fountain], look back to make sure that nobody was on my heels and be ready to cry!”

Eric Leman attacked in the descent of the Capo Berta. In Johny Vansevenant’s book “Mannen Tegen Merckx” (Uitgeverij Kannibaal, 2012), Leman claimed that Dancelli was paced by motorbikes and cars all the way. The Rai decided to show him – Leman – for most of his escape attempt. He argued that that way nobody could see what they did with Dancelli ahead. Even though he realized that this was very good for his sponsor. The Youtube clip of that race – Perle di Sport documentary from the Rai (see Appendix 1) – shows indeed that Leman remains on the screen for very long during his breakaway attempt and the short footage of Dancelli – 28:00 to 29:15 – shows him reaching the top of the Poggio, with fixed camera but the motorbike and cars were definitely following him at that moment. This does not mean that Leman’s accusations are wrong. We can’t know.

Leman was eventually caught on the Via Roma by 4-man chase group and passed only by Gerben Karstens for 2nd place, 1’39” behind Dancelli. Zilioli was 4th, Godefroot 5th and Wolfshohl 6th. Merckx outsprints the peloton for 8th place, 1’56” behind the winner. Verbeeck is 9th.

1970: The Paris-Roubaix Martyrdom

The book by L’Équipe: “Paris-Roubaix: une journée en enfer” dedicated a chapter to the famous decades old showers of Roubaix (built in 1935) which contributed to the race’s legend.

One of the alineas read something like: “In this place pride is a common place. At the end of the 1970 edition Michele Dancelli, who had won Milan-Sanremo a few weeks earlier, couldn’t find the strength to shower. ‘A real martyrdom, my kidneys and my wrists terribly hurt! I wanted to finish out of pride but it seemed never-ending to me.’”

For many riders including for a champion like Michele Dancelli, finishing Paris-Roubaix is already a victory in itself, something to be proud of.

Despite that fact, Michele was not ridiculous at all on this Paris-Roubaix, even if a certain Brusseler with the name Eddy Merckx crushed the field with a gigantic gap over his opponents and under pouring rain.

When Merckx attack in Templeuve (~40km to go) Dancelli was still in the lead group. The next section was Nomain, one of the most treacherous stretch of cobbles that existed at that time (both sections disappeared in 1977 when a highway prevented the race from using Templeuve and road 93 from Nomain to Bachy got asphalted). On the approach of Nomain Merckx had a 45” lead ahead of Eric Leman and Roger De Vlaeminck and “a bit further” said Richard Diot – commentator for the French TV – was a 10-man group with Gerben Karstens, Jempi Monseré, Eric De Vlaeminck, Ward Sels, André Dierickx, Patrick Sercu, Roger Rosiers, Frans Verbeeck and the two non-Lowlanders: Raymond Poulidor and Michele Dancelli.

Jan Janssen, Walter Godefroot and Georges Vandenberghe came back from behind, while Sercu had stomach ache and lost ground, just like E. De Vlaeminck. That is how Dancelli finished 14th in the same time as the other non-Lowlander Poulidor 13th, 11’12” behind Merckx (but just… 5’51” behind R. De Vlaeminck!). (Source: Sergent & Dargenton – Paris-Roubaix: une classique unique – CdP 2009)

More about this classic edition of Paris-Roubaix in our Jean-Pierre Monseré Bio

1970: Introducing the Marmolada

In 1970 the Tour of Italy peloton was scheduled to climb the Marmolada – in a huge landscape – for the second in history but for the first time they did climb it. The year before, the stage Trento to Marmolada was cancelled.

However in 1970 the extension towards the Passo Fedaia was not asphalted yet and the finish was set in Malga Ciapela, after 9km of climbing:

The hot favourites for the GC were staring at each others. Merckx marked Bitossi while the latter would rather try to control Gimondi but nobody would give any credit to Dancelli, the sprinter/classic rider but he attacked in Rocca Pietore after 3km of climbing. Bitossi countered and the two showed a powerful pedal stroke. Only in the final rush he got clear of Bitossi by 13” and Merckx by 15”.

Dancelli won 4 stages in that Tour of Italy, 3 in breaks and one in a sprint on a clay track, beating Marino Basso and Bitossi, even if he argues it was not an ordinary sprint (because of the clay) and finished 4th overall, his best ever performance in a GT, behind Merckx, Gimondi and teammate Vandenbossche.

Martin Van den Bossche however accused:
“I mean even I tried to sell my third place to my [Molteni] teammate Michele Dancelli, but he wouldn’t pay up, and tried to finish third in a sneaky, cunning way”, also implying that Torriani wanted to make sure Gimondi finish 2nd, Merckx playing that game, the whole thing being part of the agreement between Merckx and Torriani after the Savona case in 1969. Torriani’s chauvinism is of course common knowledge and still manifested until the eighties.

In Johny Vansevenant’s book (op. cit.), Van den Bossche talked about an offer of 30 tubes, for the 3rd place to Dancelli. 

Before Milan-Sanremo, Dancelli had married Anne Loda a PE teacher and promised to be the model racer. If Van den Bossche is right, it wasn’t quite that!

1970: Team Spirit in Leicester’s Mallory Park

The 1970 World Championships were held in Leicester, UK (See our Jean-Pierre Monseré Bio)

The circuit in Leicester, Mallory Park, wasn’t hard in itself. Mark Van Hamme (in “Jean-Pierre Monseré: voor altijd 22”, Roularta Books, 2010) shows the profile with just a 2km climb at a maximum 2% immediately followed by an even shorter one at 4% gradient. But as Gimondi remembered the race was hardened by a violent wind. Quantitatively the Worlds were very poor in that period due to the fact that the bigger nations were limited to ten riders each (see our chapter on the 1969 edition). For a small bunch racing in such windy conditions was pretty hard. Besides the distance was 271.9km.

The two leading teams for these Worlds were obviously Belgium and Italy. However the contrast between both teams in terms of sphere is gripping. In Leicester heated discussions went on in the Belgian squad before the race as to whether the winner should give bonuses to teammates but neither Merckx nor Godefroot agreed. There was no unity. (Source: Belga Sport documentary on Canvas: “Jean-Pierre Monseré: voor altijd wereldkampioen”)

In the Italian ranks however the mutual understanding was perfect. The “Azurri” received a financial commitment by their federation if one of them became World Champion, unlike their Belgian counterparts (Mark Van Hamme, op. cit.). Depending on the decades, the eras and the champions, the Squadra would either work fine together or be at daggers drawn. This time the collective spirit reigned.

Early in the race (after 6 laps – 90km) Dancelli attacked with Monseré and Motta. They had a maximum lead of 45” but Dancelli and Motta made a lot of efforts to drop the Belgian but did not manage. Suddenly Belgian team coach Daemers came to curb Jempi a little because it was too early (more on that episode in the Monseré bio). That is how Dancelli accelerated again and Jempi had to chase alone, Motta drafting in function of Dancelli. Monseré noticed his effort was useless and rather waited for some help coming from behind. A chase group indeed got away from the peloton and soon caught the two chasers behind the Civatta: Michael Wright, Alain Vasseur and two other Italians: Felice Gimondi and Giacinto Santambrogio.

Yet it again seems that Dancelli’s move was a clear tactical mistake since the fierce head wind did not favour a lone ride. He realized that very quickly and waited for the chase group. It all fell into place for the Squadra: 4 men in the lead against the only Monseré for the Belgian team. The reaction behind came from Merckx himself who could not trust Monseré alone, despite his talent, against this great display of collective power by the Italians. Within two laps the bunch was packed again, or almost because right that moment Gimondi pursued his effort with Vasseur on his wheel (50km to go). Soon the decisive escape formed with 6 riders and Monseré wins ahead of Leif Mortensen  *dk and Gimondi. (also more details about that finale in the Monseré Bio)

(All the information comes from Mark Van Hamme’s “Jean-Pierre Monseré: voor altijd 22”, Roularta Books, 2010)

Dancelli finished 18th in the peloton after a solid race for the team.

1972: Victorious 100km Long Breakaway in Switzerland

In 1972  Michele Dancelli finished 3rd in the Tour of Switzerland behind Louis Pfenniger  *ch and Roger Pingeon and won two stages. In the climbing ITT of stage 2b (12km from Solothurn to Balmberg), he lost 1’28” to Agostinho  *pt (18th place), which left room for an early attack for a stage win.

In the 3rd stage (214km from Solothurn to Gstaad), he made an impressive solo of 100km, those soli which he was famous for according to L’Impartial. He had a maximum lead of 6’ but lost a lot of ground in the Jaunpass where Pingeon attacked (but at the top Dancelli was still 1’55”, 180.5km), and in the Saanen-Möser (top with 204.5km) Pingeon caught him. Yet in the final kilometers, Michele found the necessary strength to drop Pingeon and win the stage with 13”. The 5th stage was a sprint ahead of Arnaldo Caverzasi, Roger Pingeon, Joaquim Agostinho, Louis Pfenniger and Silvano Schiavon. (in French)

1972: The Squadra Azurra at an All Time High

Beside this Tour of Switzerland Michele Dancelli also had a very good 1972 season after a disappointing 1971. He would never reach again his level of the sixties, though. After finishing 6th in Milan-Sanremo (see our Rolf Wolfshohl Bio), he was 3rd in the Nats which that year had merged with ‘his’ Tour of the Appenino. He attacked in the Passo di Giovi but the counter by Gimondi was lethal and he finished 54” behind the winner, outsprinted by Bitossi for 2nd.

After all these good results, Dancelli secured his selection in the Squadra for the Worlds in Gap, by winning the Giro delle Marche, just 10 days before the big rendez-vous.

The Marche is a region in Central Italy on the Adriatic Sea, the capital city being Ancona. The route consisted of loops around the town of Fabriano in the inlands, 70km from the sea, surrounded by mountains up to 1500m altitude.

The Giro delle Marche was an Italian semi-classic that was held in 1941 and 1942 and from 1968 to 1976:

The “self-willed” (words from L’impartial) outsprinted teammate Chiappano. Joseph Fuchs  *ch was 7th, Wladimiro Panizza 8th and Gösta Pettersson  *se 9th (won won the Cougnet Trophy, the Marche being the last leg of it).

In Gap the Squadra roughly consisted of the same leaders as in Leicester two years before: Gimondi, Bitossi, Motta, Basso and Dancelli, backed by Panizza and Francioni (who was 6th in the Marche), Cavalcanti, Boifava (who broke away for 122km alone) and Polidori. 

The team looked strong but Basso remembered that there were no team tactics (see Appendix 2: in Italian):
"then, when we had the riders meeting the DS was fast to say: if Basso punctures Dancelli waits. if Dancelli punctures Basso waits and so on. When the meeting was finished, it was very short, Dancelli said: fasten your seatbelts because I'll be breaking away asap.
it means there were no team tactics (even after what the directeur sportif said during the meeting). Everyone has his cards to play and his interests to protect."

Merckx did not seem to believe in that fact: “The Italians formed a closely-knitted, powerful and organized block.” (in « Mes carnets de route de la saison 1972: Plus d’un tour dans mon sac », Arts & Voyages, 1972)

It’s true that the ambience inside the Belgian team was still not top, between these superstars with big egos. It should also be said that the Belgians lodged at altitude in Orcière-Merlette (a mistake by the federation), above Gap, which does not enhance recuperation (says Merckx in his above mentioned diary).
According to Gino Sala from L’Unita, Italian riders had still planned some tactics: namely marking riders. Dancelli was busy with Guimard. Motta with De Vlaeminck and Bitossi with Verbeeck.

The decisive escape occurred at 14th of 18 laps (15.143km each), by Merckx. He was joined by two “teammates”: De Vlaeminck and Verbeeck and 4 Italians: Basso, Bitossi, Panizza and … Dancelli; Guimard, Zoetemelk and Mortensen *dk . Merckx attacked again in the 16th and 17th laps but in both case, Guimard brought the group back. In the final lap, Verbeeck, De Vlaeminck and Panizza dropped. . Bitossi attacked with 4km to go and was only caught by own teammate Basso, with a dozen meters to go. Crazy Heart missed a crown achievement for outstanding career for shifting abruptly to high gear in the uphill final meters:

Basso’s win is also very much a team victory and Dancelli who finished 6th, contributed a lot to it. Merckx was very much isolated and not much helped by “teammates” Verbeeck and De Vlaeminck against the 4 Italians. So says journalist Jean Leulliot in L’aurore (quoted by Merckx in his diary):
“Four obstinate Italians muzzled Merckx who had been betrayed by his teammates: Roger De Vlaeminck and Frans Verbeeck. A belted, strangled, corseted Merckx had to bow […].”

1973: “Campioni da Quattrosoldi” (F. Moser)

The 1973 season saw the arrival in the pro peloton of a new face that will mark the sport for the next decade. He was young, proud, very ambitious and was not afraid at all of the current champions, after all he already had three brothers racing in that peloton. His name was Francesco Moser.

In the Giro delle Marche, Michele Dancelli entered the race as defending champion and had to cope with this young gun. The race was exceptionally moved from July 27 (as we saw in the previous chapter) to April 29 and was part of the … team national championship. The following year it was moved back to July 25 (see our Cochise Rodriguez Bio).

 The race was 220km long, in ideal weather conditions and on a nervous route with a lot of turns, says Giorgio Sgherri from L’Unita. The first 130 kilometers showed many attacks but in vain. Only on the climb in Arcevia, Moser caused a real earthquake and the best known victims were G. Pettersson, Fuchs and Basso. A 27-man group had formed ahead (with 70km to go) after his move with among others: other young top talent Giovanni Battaglin and the “old guard”: Gimondi, Zilioli, Motta, Bitossi, Poggiali and Dancelli, always the same men, it seems. Let us add the 22 year old Luciano Borgognoni (who passed away one month before this text was published), Boifava (Michele’s teammate at Scic), Gavazzi, Bergamo and Panizza was also there.

In the final part of the race, three 18km laps around Fabriano were to be covered. In the first one, three sub-top riders managed to escape: Attilio Rota (who later dropped), Sigfrido Fontanelli and Enrico Maggioni. Their lead went up to 45” on entering the 2nd lap. Behind Moser chased very hard but any time he accelerated, he would have Bitossi and Gimondi on his wheels. Moser forced Bitossi and Gimondi to hard work and it was very close before they could get the the two remaining breakaway rider. Fontanelli outsprinted Maggioni while Dancelli capitalized on the clash between Moser and his elders to take 3rd place, hardly 8” behind the leaders. The very fast Pierino Gavazzi was 4th, Bitossi was 7th, Moser was 8th, Bergamo 10th.

In post-race interviews Moser had very hard words for the “aces of the old generation” (Sgherri’s words). The article by Sgherri spoke about “worthless champions” (“campioni senza valore”) but Gino Sala, in his article about the next coming Tour of Romagna, remembered the quote “campioni da quattrosoldi” (something like “four-penny champions”). Bitossi obviously replied that Fontanelli was his teammate and that he protected him but it’s true that Dancelli and Gimondi had no reason not to collaborate.

Despite the surprise win Sgherri considered this race as truly interesting and of great global value.

For several years Moser will pay the price for this lack of respect he showed towards his elders. As long as that generation was fit enough to give him a hard life they will do it: to start with: the Giro di Romagna on May 3 that year.

1973: The Controversial Sprint of the Giro di Romagna

The 1973 Tour of Romagna was a 232km long race (see our Cochise Rodriguez Bio).

Its main climb is the Monte Trebbio with its 3.80km – 7.89% gradient. That is the point chosen by Gimondi to give young Moser a lesson after the latter’s comments that he did not appreciate. Bitossi and Poggiali were willing to battle it out with the Phenix from Sedrina and they set a pace that only 11 other riders could follow: Dancelli, Battaglin, Riccomi, Bergamo, Pettersson  *se , Panizza, Boifava, Maggioni, Cavalcanti, Benfatto and Lino Farisato (Michele’s teammate) but no Moser!

Moser would recover in the descent or in the plain that is what everybody thought said Gino Sala. As a matter of fact The opposite happened. Gimondi and his allies increased the gap with Moser, while arriving on the final circuits. Moser retired on the 2nd lap, blaming stomach-ache and intestinal problems. Sala talked about gastritis.

It is however a blessing for Italian cycling that all those champions were having a good blow-out in all these semi-classics, beside the major races. What more could organizers ask for? What more could sport journalists ask for? It seems that all the roads of Italy and of the world were not enough to satisfy their big egos.

In the late sixties and seventies there was a detailed article in L’Unita for each of these Italian semis, which cannot be said about the previous decades, nor about the next ones. This was the golden age of Italian cycling!

The finale of this Tour of Romagna consisted of laps around Lugo di Romagna. Dancelli attacked on the 3rd one. Panizza and Cochise Rodriguez  *co escaped the peloton in the 4th one and caught Michele.

Knowing he had no chance in the sprint Rodriguez – to his credit – tried to surprise his opponent with a late attack before the last turn but to no avail and Dancelli outsprinted Panizza on the line but was later relegated to 2nd place for deviating from his line. Panizza was declared winner. Cochise was still ranked 3rd. Gimondi was 5th, Bitossi 6th, Bergamo 11th, Battaglin 16th, Pettersson 17th.

Dancelli contested the decision. The UCIP (Italian Federation) and its technical commission will examine Dancelli’s protest, said Sala on publishing his article, by developing the finish-photo but there were only 10% chances that they will recall their decision. He was right, 40 years later, the late Wladimiro Panizza is still the winner of that race.

Yet the post-race comments were interesting:

Panizza: “I was tightened, otherwise I would have won.”

Dancelli: "I moved to the right to get closer to the people and sheltered from the wind. However there was also was space for sale on the right.”

Panizza again: “Michele, I'm sorry, the ruling is the ruling and the verdict of the jury gives reason to me”

Eraldo Giganti (one of Michele’s DS at Scic): “The President of the Jury should not give a decision on TV before examining the finish-photo, the only document that makes text and the finish-photo demonstrates that a tram could pass on the right.”

A “neutral” rider Dino Zandegu rather supported Dancelli: “My Panizza is strong in the climbs but slow in the sprint.”

However Sala argued that on Dancelli’s right a sprint specialist like Basso would certainly have ventured his way but the ruling, which was respected to the letters, could not tolerate the two deviations by Dancelli. However “we’ve seen worse” and “we would have seen worse without relegation” he added considering that Dancelli only paid by “excess of zeal”.

Pictures are of course hard to find back for this sprint but without them we can’t really judge but such mishaps can always happen, even to correct, classy sprinters. That is why we should be too quick to judge negatively.   
Post-Cycling Career

Michele Dancelli retired after the 1974 season at a relatively young age: 32. His last season was disappointing, an 8th place at the Tour of Sardegna being his best performance. The new generation of riders in the 70’s seemed to have proved the better of him. 

Retired, he ran an estate agency and then fell in love with South American girl and is now back in Castenedolo, “following the call of his truest and most authentic roots after wandering a bit around the world”, says Danilo Francescano in 2013: .

“Even if Castenedolo is no longer the village where everyone knew everyone when he ran to it – one third of the inhabitants are now foreigners: a mosaic of ethnic groups in search of work and a decent life –, in this small town where even the postman is a friend, where in the morning you can meet the cousin Teresa at the bar-tobacconist or chat with friends on the street, Michele Dancelli is always the neighbouring champion.”


Michele Dancelli’s most famous victory at the 1970 Milan-Sanremo

Marino Basso telling the story of the 1972 World Championship in Gap, which he won and which Dancelli finished 6th:

 Michele Dancelli in 2013:


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