The remarkable aspect of the Grand Tours in cycling is that despite covering hundreds of kilometres over several weeks, the margins of victory are often very small. Seconds and minutes are lost relentlessly as small time differences on insignificant stages can have the same effect as larger margins on key days.
Such was the 1958 Tour de France when Italian racer Vito Favero lost the overall race to Charly Gaul by 3 minutes and 10 seconds. It was not the smallest margin in the history of the race – see 1989 – but for Favero it was the difference between a secured place at the forefront of Tour history as the vanquisher of the great Charly Gaul or a footnote as a great rider but not a great champion.
Le grimpeur has already covered the career of Charly Gaul in some detail, and the links are here and here. The enigmatic climber was truly at home in the mountains but, by 1958, was showing all-round form that saw him best Jacques Anquetil, the master against the clock, by 7″ in the first time trial on stage 8.
But Gaul would not get to wear the yellow jersey until much later in the race as French racer André Darrigade was doing his best to hold onto it until the mountains.
Vito Favero was a strong all-rounder, in his words he could both sprint and climb. His career since 1956 had been undistinguished, but 1958 would be his year. He first stretched his legs on stage 14 from Pau to Luchon, 129 kilometres over the Col d’Aspin and the Peyresourde. Federico Bahamontes, the Spanish climber, was untouchable near his home ground, but Favero was second on the stage just under 2 minutes down. It was enough to give him the yellow jersey.
Now a protected rider, his team was able to support him across the the South of France to Mont Ventoux, where the next time trial stage would be held. It was on the slopes of Le Geant that Gaul stretched his wings and flew. In the showdown between Bahamontes and Gaul, the Luxembourger won the stage by 31″ over the Spaniard, with poor Favero struggling in 7’59″ down.
But it was still not enough to secure the yellow jersey for Gaul, the race leader passing to Raphael Geminiani. Italian rider Gastone Nencini took the next mountain stage, but Bahamontes won the Col d’Izoard stage into Briancon as Gaul looked to fade and the French team of stars – Louison Bobet, Anquetil, and Geminiani – bickered amongst themselves for ascendancy. But Favero had still done enough by Briancon to be holding second place behind Geminiani.
The Queen Stage of the 1958 Tour was one for the ages: 219 kilometres from Briancon to Aix-les-Bains with five rated climbs, two of which were Cat.1. The weather worsened througout the day and Gaul made his move on third ascent of the day, the he Col de Porte (1,326m), with the Col du Cucheron (1,139m) and the Col du Granier (1,134m) still to go.
Gaul’s lead kept widening and the bodies were piling up behind him. But Favero, aided by his teammate Gianni Ferlenghi, was given consent to chase and protect his position by team captain Nencini. It was a mighty chase and although Ferlenghi faded, and Favero was overtaken by Jan Adriaensens, he was able to hold on for third place on the stage, 10’09″ behind Gaul who won by over 7 minutes. A furious Geminiani, feeling betrayed by his team, was down 14 minutes, Bobet 19 minutes, Anquetil 23 minutes, and Bahamontes nearly 30 minutes.
For Favero, he was now back in yellow. But there were still three stages to go until Paris. Favero never felt comfortable against the clock and the final time trial on the second-to-last day was his undoing. Anquetil abandoned sick – attracting much approbation so close to Paris – and Gaul won against the clock again, with Nencini in second and Favero in seventh. But it was not enough, the 3’17″ deficit on the stage pushing him to second place at 3’10″, where he would remain into Paris (Geminiani held onto third place).
Looking back, Favero was still proud of his achievement, though. “Some years ago Gaul asked about me and I’m still proud for his interest after so much time,” he said. Your author was fortunate to hear Favero’s story for an article for PEZ Cycling News, in which he shared more tales from his short but high-flying career.
Favero still proudly shows his yellow jersey from 1958, a beautiful souvenir if ever there was one. It is hard not to imagine, though, that – despite his deference to Gaul – whether he thinks about those 3 minutes and 10 seconds and what might have been.