By Graham Healy
There have been numerous riders down through the years noted for their descending skills and one such man was Gastone Nencini. The French cyclist, Raphael Geminiani would say of Nencini, “the only reason to follow Nencini downhill would be if you had a death wish.”
The Italian won the 1960 Tour de France, and his win was in part to his skill at getting down mountains. Prior to the fourteenth stage of that year’s race from Millau to Avignon, Nencini and Frenchman Roger Riviere were battling for the lead.
Nencini attacked at the top of the Col de Perjuret, and Riviere tried to follow him. However, Riviere got it wrong on one of the turns and hit a wall. He flew over the wall and fell 20 metres down a ravine. He was badly injured and had to abandon the Tour. It turned out that he had broken two vertebrae.
Riviere later admitted that he had taken Palfium during the climb of the Perjuret. Palfium is a painkiller and it was suggested that it could have affected his reflexes and judgement. Riviere never recovered from his injuries, spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, dying at the early age of 40.
Nencini meanwhile went on to win the Tour from fellow Italian Graziano Battistini.
One man who did beat the Italian on a descent was the Frenchman Henry Anglade. They agreed to a challenge in the Dolomites to see who was the best going downhill.
Anglade said, “I couldn’t tolerate the idea that Nencini was the best descender of the peloton. I said to him, call the blackboard man, we’ll do the descent together and whoever comes second pays for the aperitifs this evening. So he called the ardoisier and asked him to follow us. The road was of compressed earth. We attacked the drop flat out. I let Nencini take the lead so that I could see how he negotiated the bends before attacking him. In the end I dropped as though I was alone. At the bottom, I had taken 32 seconds out of him, written on the blackboard. I was really tickled. I had beaten Nencini. The next time I saw him was that evening in the hotel I was staying at. He had just bought me an apéritif.”