FRIDAY STORY TIME: FRANCESCO GUIDOLIN

The bloke above is called Francesco Guidolin who happens to be manager of Swansea in the Premier League. In the summer of 1998, Guidolin was preparing for his first season at the helm of Udinese. At a summer training camp in Arta Terme, he left his players to cycle in the mountains with an old friend. The friend whispered that he was about to let Guidolin in on a secret: it was 15 kilometres away and it was called the Monte Zoncolan. It was also, Guidolin’s friend assured him, like nothing else he’d ever seen, let alone climbed.

A regular visitor to Italy’s biggest races, Guidolin spread the word to his friends, the TV commentators Auro Bulbarelli and Davide Cassani, and to La Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Angelo Zomegnan. They in turn mentioned the Zoncolan to Giro d’Italia boss Carmine Castellano. In 2000, the Vuelta a España had unveiled maybe the hardest climb ever tackled by a professional race, the 12.55-kilometre, 9.9% Alto del Angliru, leaving Castellano scrambling for a riposte. The Zoncolan could be his Angliru. Or so he had hoped. Yet after his first recce, in 2001, the Giro chief was unconvinced. Sure it was steep, but it was also ‘little more than a donkey track’.

In 2007, the Zoncolan made it to the Giro route for the first time. In the months leading up to the race, the Giro riders again came, saw and swooned in amazement. The consensus among them was that the Zoncolan tackled from Ovaro was the ‘hardest climb in Europe’ and ‘much harder than the Mortirolo’.

So there you go. Francesco Guidolin. Knew nothing about him and assumed he was another generic fairly shit foreign import manager. Turns out he's a cycling pioneer.