Luxembourger Gaul is widely regarded as one of the best climbers of all time. At 1m 73 tall and only 64kg his lightness was a gift in the mountains. Gaul was climbing mountains using a high cadence decades before Lance Armstrong came along and replicated this style. The writer Jan Heine said:
Nobody else ever climbed that fast. Gaul dominated the climbs of the late 1950s, spinning up the hills at amazing cadences, his legs a blur while his cherubic face hardly showed the strain of his exceptional performances." Pierre Chany called him "without doubt, one of the three or four best climbers of all time.Gaul’s extra-ordinary talent for breaking away on mountain stages became legendary. Without even looking at his achievements in the Tour de France we can see below the huge quantity of mountains he crossed alone in the Giro:
• Palena, 1956. Stage - Pescara-Campobasso
• Basilica di San Luca, 1956. Stage - Livorno-Lucca
• Costalunga, 1956. Stage - Meran-Monte Bondone
• Rolle, 1956. Stage - Meran-Monte Bondone
• Brocon, 1956. Stage - Meran-Monte Bondone
• Bondone, 1956. Stage - Meran-Monte Bondone
• Boscochiesa Nuova, 1957. Stage - Verona-Boscochiesa Nuova
• Grand St Bernard, 1957. Stage - Saint Vincent-Sion (Swi)
• Brocon, 1957. Stage - Trento-Levico Terme
• Abetone, 1959. Stage - Salsomaggiore-Abetone
• Vesuvio, 1959. Stage - Escalade du Vesuve
• Eremo, 1959. Stage - Circuit de San Marino
• Fugazze, 1959. Stage - Verona-Rovereto
• Rolle, 1959. Stage - Trento-Bolzano
• Grand St Bernard, 1959. Stage - Aosta-Courmayeur
• Petit St Bernard, 1959. Stage - Aosta-Courmayeur
• Terminillo, 1960, Stage - Pescara-Rieti
• Stelvio, 1961. Stage - Trento-Bormio
Again without considering Gaul’s success in the Tour (ok I’ll mention he won the Tour in 1958) his style of attacking in the mountain stages of the Giro proved highly successful winning him 11 stage victories, 2 mountains classifications and 2 overall victories from participation in 6 Giro’s. The overall wins came in 1956 and 1959. To put Gaul’s success in the Giro into perspective Marco Pantani won 3 less stages, 1 less mountains classification and 1 less overall victory.
It was during the 1956 Giro and in particular the legendary stage up the Monte Bondone where Gaul became a huge star in the cycling world. With 88km to go and in atrocious weather Gaul climbed the Monte Bondone alone. It was so cold that Gaul had to stop on the way up for a drink. René de Latour of Sporting Cyclist wrote:
A search was going on for a missing man. The searcher-in-chief was former world champion Learco Guerra, now manager of the Faema team. The man he was looking for was Charly Gaul, who had not been seen for the last 20 minutes. Guerra was driving his car up the mountain pass, peering through the clogged-up windscreen when, by sheer chance, he saw a bike leaning against the wall of a shabby mountain trattoria. 'That's Charly's bike!' he exclaimed to his mechanic.
They rushed into the bar and there, sitting on a chair sipping hot coffee, was Charly Gaul, exhausted, so dead to the world that he could hardly speak. Guerra knows bike riders. He talked gently to Gaul. 'Take your time, Charly,' he said. 'We're going to take care of you.' While a masseur was ripping off Gaul's wet jersey, Guerra had some water warmed and poured it over the rider's body. Then, rubbed down from head to toes, Gaul's body gradually came back to life. He lost that glassy look and in a few minutes he was a new man again... With the encouragement of his followers he managed to reach the top, literally miles ahead of Fiorenzo Magni, who finished second at 12¼ minutes. The cheering spectators could hardly believe that men had suffered such hardships up there in the icy mountain. On the way, 44 had fallen by the wayside.Below is a movie clip showing, in the last third of the clip, Gaul on that cold day in 1956 climbing the snow covered Monte Bondone. He was indeed an Angel of the Mountains.