The line for the intermediate sprint at the gates of Trieste was on the stupendous seaside promenade. Leoni, with one of his bird-like jumps, - you can see him breaking away suddenly from the lead group, his arms curved over the handlebars, looking just like a kite plummeting down on its prey - took the sprint ahead of Casola and Conte. Brought to life by the sprint, the cyclists entered the city, and at that point the atmosphere of the Giro suddenly changed.
All at once, there was no longer any difference between one racer and another . . . Bartali was on the same level as Carollo, Coppi equal to Malabrocca, Leoni to Brasola. We were suddenly met by fantastic crowds, appearing out of nowhere, swarming on roof terraces, a jubilant population raining flowers from the sky, and flags, flags again and again. There was no longer any difference between the great champions and the boorish commoners, nor between the racers and members of the caravan; the same applied to Ronconi and the motorcycle messenger, Cottur and us, the reporters - we were truly equal.
Because we were all Italians.
Everything that had happened before that moment lost importance - the fact that Bartali and Coppi had not yet done battle; that ever since Venice, the race had proceeded slowly, with only a few brief thrills at the sprints, where the winners were Bevilacqua, Casola, Pasquetti, De Santi, Cottur; and that, thanks to the one-minute time bonus for those intermediate sprints, the "virtual" pink jersey had passed from the shoulders of Fazio to those of Leoni. For several minutes the overall classification had no importance, neither did the strategies of the different teams, nor the aspirations of the Giants, nor the dreams of the young novices. One single thought dominated; even the Champions understood, and they pedaled as if they were on parade, forgetting their rivalries.
The Giro had come to Trieste three years ago, one day before the United Nations declared it a Free Territory. At Pieris the riders had been assaulted, a notorious event which magnified the poignancy of that day. There had been extraordinary demonstrations in the city, a sort of farewell to the Italian homeland, and those who were present tell of how even the most unfeeling people wept like children.
Today, three years later, it was almost like a reunion for the people of Trieste, moments of tremendous joy and, at the same time, of bitterness because we went by like a whirlwind: no sooner were we sighted than we had vanished, like someone welcoming a brother unexpectedly returning from a long exile, who is about to kiss him, then realizes that he has barely had time to enter the house before he must leave again.
At about two o'clock today Trieste was stirringly splendid, with its delicate cobalt-blue sea, a white-hot sun, and flags waving as far as the eye could see: red, white and green fluttered everywhere. It's been a long time since we'd seen such a sight.
They shouted "Hurrah for Coppi!", but it was something else they wanted to say.
"Hurrah for Bartali!" but it was something else they were referring to, not Bartali.
"Hurrah for the Giro's little guys!"
"Hurrah for Cottur. Hurrah for Leoni!" they shouted, and it was always something else the people of Trieste referred to today - something that had far more grandeur, something that's felt more painfully, something that they had now become accustomed to keeping well-hidden within themselves. Today, they could at last roar it openly, and the racers with numbers on their backs understood they had all become equal, that they were only Italians, no longer champions, locomotives, human bullets. As one, they push forward amid all those powerful waves of affection, forgetting they were rivals.
By coincidence, just last evening a colleague and I were discussing the concepts of patriotism, nation, European unity, etc., and he told me that the idea of homeland is now out-of-date. He stated that he feels much more than simply Italian - he is a citizen of Europe, a Citizen of the World. So I asked him if, for example, he would be upset to see Italy wronged. He shook his head and asserted that, in all fairness, he was distressed whenever an injustice was done to any nation whatsoever, Italy or Sweden, England, or even Persia. He maintained that he had freed himself from old style patriotism, as if it were a petty annoyance, and in exchange he had acquired a new patriotism, much more noble, one which embraces all of humanity. A highly gifted man, then, one must admit. But today, as we were passing through jubilant Trieste, I observing him closely - his car was right behind ours, so I was able to keep an eye on him. Oh, this citizen of the world, this philosopher soaring so high above humanity's old and naïve fundamentals - his lips were pursed in an odd way I had never seen before. He put on large, dark sunglasses, which he usually did not wear. This citizen of the world, full of shame, did not want to be seen, for he was weeping, I swear that he was weeping!
The exclusive and ardent "love of homeland" that existed in the past is certainly out-of-date, but today in Trieste I have seen thousands and thousands of my fellow men waving pieces of cloth of every size, but all the same colors; waving them like flags, waving them with all their might so that we would be sure to notice them, until they were exhausted, for they too, like the racers, have their physical limit. Still they hold out, their faces calm, gritting their teeth - perish the thought that those little flags would stop waving until the whole caravan had vanished completely. To them it would have been like a betrayal.
I saw grown men wiping their eyes with the backs of their hands, seeing nothing through the veil of tears but muddled blotches flying past in the dazzling sunlight. I saw young men on motorcycles passing again and again, holding gigantic tricolors aloft in the wind. I saw the Cerini (the civilian policemen in English-style dark blue uniform and British red berets) looking around in astonishment, unable to believe their eyes. I saw an old lady on a balcony greeting us as if we were her children - she had put on her record player that ancient song that says "Oh, Italy, Italy, dear to my heart", and the strident voice spilled out onto the street, ringing out over the rumble of the cars, the lyrics wrenching at everyone's heart.
After that we climbed the hill leading to Villa Opicina, across the first humps of the Carso, a romantic and still green limestone massif, where we dipped down toward Gorizia; here, the enchantment ceased, and we resumed our daily routine. Doni - who is an adoptive citizen of Udine - broke away with Biagioni and Frosini, and joined forces with Leoni, Pasotti, Tonini, Pezzi and Castellucci. This group of eight riders flew away, while the two super-champions, sticking to a script which becomes stranger day by day, did not react. So the eight men arrived in Udine about three minutes ahead of the next group that included the aces.
But now, looking back, we can no longer envision the wild gallop along the marvelous road from Gorizia, and it is only two hours ago, nor can we picture the impressive array of people in Udine, nor the scenes of enthusiasm in the stadium, nor Leoni's second relentless sprint ahead of the dangerous little Pasotti, ahead of Pezzi, Tonini and the others. At this moment we are still unable to understand the new situation in the general classification that sees Leoni in the lead with an advantage of 4:43 over second-place Fazio, and about ten minutes over Coppi and eleven minutes over Bartali - won't such a gap begin to weigh against the two aces? Are they really so sure they can, in the twinkling of an eye, cut that to nothing on the alpine climbs?
All that the mind retains of today's events is the image of a jubilant city on the seashore, full of sun, flags, happiness, bitter anguish, tears and laughter, an entire city roaring "Hurrah for Bartali! Hurrah for Coppi!", shouted almost with despair; "Hurrah for the Giro! Hurrah for Cottur! Hurrah for Doni!"
But they wanted to say something quite different.
After the first group, heads down, had made their furious final assault on the finish line, and the nearly unbearable roar of the crowds had diminished to single cries, becoming less and less hysterical, and the first rows of spectators had broken through the protective cord and like a flood had engulfed the still-gasping champions to embrace them, kiss them, touch them.
After the official timekeeper had pressed the button on his stopwatch, and the finish-line judges had somehow determined (and we will never understand how) the order in which the racers had finished in the midst of the sprint's crazed confusion, and the glass negative recording the finish sprint had been sent to be developed, to settle the inevitable disputes.
After the photographers had snapped their photos of the winner, holding the bouquet of flowers and fraternally embraced by gentlemen who were probably seeing him for the first time, but who hoped to gain a bit of reflected glory, knowing their friends back home would turn green with envy the next day when they saw their pictures in the newspapers, their faces stunned and triumphant, the winner at their sides.
After the journalists, wearing strange, brightly colored coveralls and little red baseball caps they wouldn't be caught dead wearing on the streets of their hometown for fear of being ridiculed, had reported in front of a microphone - or on the radio or from the nearest public telephone - the final moments of the stage and the finish results, their voices as excited as if they were announcing the explosion of the first atomic bomb.
After the top aces, having forcefully extricated themselves from the mire of thousands of all-too-enthusiastic hands grabbing them (even in all that uproar, there were those who held out postcards and pencils, begging for an autograph), had been lifted with great effort into their respective team cars to be taken to the hotel (wonderfully colorful, open-top cars, bearing sponsor's name down each side and strange racks on the back, loaded with colorful bicycles and glistening wheels which, during the race, spin in the breeze like graceful little windmills). And after the throngs, stampeding as if to an emergency exit during a bad fire, had poured into the adjacent streets to see them go by.
After the linotype operators in distant cities had set the news into leaden lines, and the lines had been formed into a page, and the page had been transferred onto a copper sheet, and the copper sheet had been fixed to the rotary press, and the press had been set in motion, and the first copies had appeared with their bold headlines and the winner's picture, and the newspaper boys' strident shouts had been heard in the main streets by the men shut up in offices where they were shaken by the tone of those shouts, and wondered if war had broken out.
After the showers in the hotels - whose lobbies were alive with an indescribable confusion of porters, bicycles, journalists, team managers, telegraph boys, suitcases, curious fans, American and Swiss tourists at the height of confusion and embarrassment - had started to work, pouring jets of water over the backs and necks of the champions, running down their limbs, dislodging the encrustation of dust, and finally running murky and gritty toward the drains; after the masseurs had started to put some tone back into the precious muscles of their charges, while from the street rose the exasperating chorus of the fans begging for a glimpse, however brief, of their idols.
After the press office at race headquarters had distributed mimeographed copies of the day's results and the revised general classification, and in a separate little room the international jury - four dignified big-wigs, two Italians, one Belgian and one Frenchman - had come to an overall agreement on what actions to take, such as: a 2000 lire fine for racer X (second violation) for an unauthorized feed from his team car, and 5000 lire to the team itself for the same reason; a 500 lire fine to the racers listed below for an unsolicited push (second violation) et cetera, et cetera; a 500 lire fine to racer Z who, while having declared he was abandoning the race, had not removed his number as required; and so on.
After the last of the race caravan had left the stadium, and the champions had started off toward their lodgings (either by car, or alone on their bicycles) and the excitement had dissipated entirely, and the immense crowd, so recently full of enthusiasm and energy, had become a weary flock (the happy young faces changed to limp masks, their eyes expressionless, their aching feet dragging) and streamed away amid the bestial racket of cars stuck in the traffic jam.
After the windows, from which a few minutes before had leaned beautiful, smiling young women, had been closed, and the inevitably sad post-holiday emptiness had invaded everyone's spirits - while the city was now, little by little, getting back to its normal activities, streetcars moving again, policemen returning to their barracks, and in the empty arena, once the scene of triumph, the wind scattered trash, old newspapers, crushed flowers.
When all this had taken place, three young men arrive on bicycles, dirty and sweating, faces twisted by exertion, trying to get through the rowdy, slow-moving river of people.
"Excuse me, please, excuse me, please!" they shout. "Make way! Make way!"
With desperate efforts they try to make their way without losing their balance. But the crowd is too dense. They have to put one foot on the ground, dismount, and push forcefully toward the entrance to the stadium. At first they are mistaken for those pitiful cyclists who, when races are being run, dress themselves like the real champions, in jerseys identical to theirs and, electrified by their presence, swarm into the stadium at full speed, pinning their hopes on a misunderstanding; and in fact some do make the mistake, a few girls shout, "Well done," while some myopic fans take them for Ronconi or Bevilacqua. It also happens that, from a distance, they are mistaken for Coppi or Bartali. But these three are not rushing away from the finish; on the contrary, that's where they are trying to go. And it is obvious they have covered a lot of ground - too much for them, in fact. They have cloth numbers pinned on their backs, and another number hanging from the crossbar of their bikes.
Finally the crowd understands, moves aside to let them pass, and watches. However, no one applauds, no one shouts their names, no one carries them in triumph. For they are the latecomers, those who lagged behind by dozens of kilometers for the entire second half of the stage so that, instead of walls of enthusiastic humanity lining the roadsides, they met disorderly streams of people on their way back home.
They are the last, the disinherited, the destitute, the afflicted, the pariahs, the anonymous; always at the dangerous edge of the maximum time limit (the riders are allowed an extra twenty minutes for every one hundred kilometers raced). Waiting for them at the stadium's entrance there is perhaps a minor timekeeper, impatient to go and freshen up, who will record their arrival. But maybe there is no longer anyone there, and they will have to beg the jury to be lenient, claiming plausible excuses such as a fall, the support vehicle's breakdown, an accident, anything whatsoever that might be qualified as unavoidable misfortune. And perhaps the powers-that-be will turn a blind eye.
In truth, two of the distraught trio did not seem to take it too much to heart. Arriving late is just their job. They are the lowest-ranked gregari, required by their contract to give their spare wheel to the team leader, to run from one farmstead to another, collecting drinking water for him, to tow him if he is in difficulty, to wait for him if he is behind, to pick up at the feed zone the cloth musette containing provisions and take it to him; a bit like hunting dogs which, running back and forth, end up covering more ground than their masters.
When they have accomplished these humble tasks, it matters little whether they arrive among the leaders. On the contrary, the team manager prefers that they not go overboard: let them spare themselves, save energy for the next day, swallow their aspirations, arrive an hour late, as long as they don't exceed the time limit. They arrive last because of others, precisely as are paid to do.
But not the third one. He had not given everything to follow his team leader today, taking him a bottle of water or orangeade. He did not hand over any wheels. Honestly, he sacrificed absolutely nothing for him. The third one had not stifled his ambitions - he really is defeated. He had a terrible bout of weakness and wasn't able to stay in the group's shelter. The pep pill he swallowed at the start of the last climb failed to help - his strength returned for about ten minutes, but afterward things only got worse. Collapsed, destroyed, a wreck. And while the other two still have the energy to curse at the people blocking their passage, he follows silently, looking about him with a dazed expression.
What has happened to him?
All around him they are impassive, unkind, alien faces from another world. His fiancee was waiting for him in the stadium - she had written him that she would be there. She, too, has probably left by now, or perhaps she is there, in the crowd, just a meter away from him and she sees him but does not recognize him. Or else she has seen him and is hiding because she is ashamed of him: a proud girl like her, engaged to the lowest of the lowly?
The sun is already setting amid dusty reddish halos, and the crowd continues to disperse. Increasingly congested, the streams of people pour against him as he painfully struggles along. The other two cyclists, still cursing, have managed to get through, and now he is alone. The people bump into him, tossing him from side to side; a car, its siren wailing, obliges him to give way.
Daylight fades, the street lamps come on.
"Where is the stadium?" he asks.
They respond with vague gestures, almost annoyed.
"Excuse me, excuse me," he begs, his voice almost inaudible.
But it is already nighttime. How many hours have passed since the first ones arrived? How many days. . . or is it months?
Night has come, and beyond the crowd, the lights of the cafes shine out. And yet another throng flows toward him, like a dark stream of cruel and hostile lava.
"Where is the stadium?" he asks.
"Which stadium?" they answer.
"The one for the Giro d'Italia."
"Ah, the Giro d'Italia. those were the days." and they shake their heads pityingly.
Not hours, not days or months: It's been years since the race finished.
And he is alone.
And he is cold.
And his fiancee is out for a walk with someone else; or perhaps she has already married?
"Where is the stadium?" he begs.
"Stadium?" they reply, "Giro d'Italia? What does that mean?"
It is a bitter thing to travel across this part of Italy, from Roma to Pesaro, without enough time to take a break, without being able to stop.
For this is Italy at its most "Italian", where a hundred thousand great events are remembered, not only by those who studied history in school, but also by those who have never been to school at all, those who have little knowledge of all that has happened over the centuries. This extraordinarily humanized land speaks to the illiterate as well, and anyone but a savage would want to stop, to relax at least in the shade of a tree, to listen to the music of the little birds, to gaze at the clouds sailing happily above castles whose ancient battlements are now open to the flight of swallows.
Nothing in the world is more contradictory to speed than this solemn landscape, whose rhythms are measured in centuries. These cities and towns weren't in a hurry today, either - so ancient, they seem as much a part of the landscape as a forest or cliff.
But we could not stop.
Many predicted that this, the Giro's longest stage at two hundred ninety-eight kilometers, would be nothing more than a lethargic stroll ending, as usual, in a brief skirmish during the final kilometers. It was felt that the one hundred seventy-six legs leaving at seven o'clock from the Ponte Milvio would grind along the never-ending road with all the speed of
an elderly organ grinder, but quite the contrary, there was no respite.
From beginning to end it was a frenzied flight that kept the reporters' ears perked-up without a moment's rest, launching cars and motorcycle messengers into the wild breakaways, and resulting in an exceptionally fast average speed. Old Belloni, team manager for Ronconi and companions on the Viscontea team, who in his day took part in some hellish gallops, said he could not recall such a frantic pace during such a long stage. The average speed was in fact more than thirty-seven kilometers per hour - if such a thing happened during the Tour de France, who knows what a great fuss they would make over it! Thus we didn't have a minute to contemplate the views, to listen to quotations from our learned colleague (who's a genius in history), or to greet with appropriate consideration the new towns and regions running toward us. And at the source of the Clitumnus river, not one of us responded to the inviting gestures of the half-dozen charming nymphs who appeared at the edge of a thicket, smiling.
The powder which set off this morning's explosive pace, which continued like the flame of a fuse all the way from Roma to the Adriatic, was the first intermediate sprint at Terni. These intermediate sprints are an innovation for the Giro, adopted despite a certain amount of controversy. Sprint lines are designated in the middle of each stage, awarding to the winner a time bonus of one minute (half-a-minute for second, fifteen seconds for third) which is exactly the same bonus as for a stage finish. This new idea has proven successful, and the patron of the giro, Emilio De Martino, is extremely satisfied. It launched a series of escapes by Vicini and Bevilacqua, briefly; then by Ronconi and Pasquini; then by Monari and Ricci. Small groups or two or three racers detached themselves from the main pack, attempting each time to breakaway. Several were able to maintain the pace and managed to catch the others already in front, or else, they dangled halfway across until they were again absorbed by the main group. Thus a tense atmosphere, starting from Roma's suburbs, and even more tense when, with the lead group having grown to twenty racers, the giants who remained behind found themselves eight minutes back at one point; and it looked as though a hard blow was in store for the two super champions.
The first to pass beneath the intermediate sprint banner of at Terni was Vicini, his red head bent in the agony of his final effort, followed by Pasquini and Ronconi. There were three of them alone in front, but about twenty more followed, determined to catch them. Coppi and Bartali had hesitated, and this break, originally so limited in scope, took on a new life and attempted what no one had expected: to maintain a gap for another two hundred kilometers, all the way to the finish at the velodrome in Pesaro! This resulted in a very fast pace - it amazed even Cleto Radice, the "prince of timekeepers".
And all along the route, the people who rushed to welcome the Giro were magnificent. However, you couldn't compare them with the astonishing crowds in Sicily and Calabria, so anxious, so happy, while at the same time respectful, so that they seemed to have been painted on either side of the road, they were so perfectly aligned. Today, by comparison, it looked as though people had less regard for the giants of the road . . . a relatively poor opinion, at least, although the children were not stingy with the praise they chalked on the asphalt, or in crayon on the walls, or in ink on small placards lifted on long broom handles and almost thrust into the riders' faces, to make certain they could read them. For example: "Long live Bartali, the conqueror" or "Bartali, make them all cry on the Izoard!"
Did the multicolored mob of cyclists know they were riding through one of the most beautiful regions in the world? Would it have made any difference if they had instead been surrounded by the smoggy suburbs of an industrial basin? In a certain sense, it was a crime to make use of such enchanting scenery for such unrewarding and bestial hard labor. Unaware as they gobbled up the kilometers, without looking around them, the breakaways only had eyes for the pails of water set out by spectators in front of their houses to refresh them a little.
We in the car saw something - hasty, fragmented images of this fundamental Italy of such great and malleable beauty - the Italy, that is, of majestic ruins laden with history, the Italy of oak and cypress trees, of Italy of immense patrician villas perched on slopes like so many weary empresses, the Italy of embossed walls covered with coats of arms, the Italy of the rickety old rural buses hurtling dizzily into the valley depths, the Italy of ancient churches, of rail crossing keepers' tiny cottages, of young pregnant women, of stonecutters working at the roadside under the midday sun, of Madonna statues set into the corners of houses, their little votive lamps always lit, the Italy of haystacks and majestic long-horned oxen, of bearded young monks passing by on bicycles, of cliffs too picturesque to believe nature alone produced them, of bridges thousands of years old and still capable of carrying huge trucks on their spans, the Italy of hostelries and accordions, of grandiose palaces converted into barns and stables, of gentle hills covered to their summits with cypress trees.
We saw a few fragments of it, almost by default. They, the cyclists, saw nothing. They pedaled along, chewing furiously at their calorie-laden food because it's immediately necessary to replace the energy used in order to keep the wheels turning.
The three fugitives became seven; a little past Foligno, the seven became almost twenty. Then, the twenty thinned again to just fifteen because not all of them were able to maintain the effort. The duel was reduced to its simplest terms: in the lead, a group including Leoni, Ronconi, Fazio, and Pasotti, who promised a lot and threatened a violent upheaval in the overall classification; a little behind, the main group.
And the Aces? They know what they are doing. The aces are astute, and their team managers are even more astute and insightful. . . the aces, the two great ones, are very fortunate where strength is concerned, and like all self-made men they are also a bit miserly. Why spend more than is necessary? When the right moment comes, in the Dolomites, for example, or the Alps, up there, where cunning and trickery are of no value, then they will empty their pockets, and they will pay down to their last cent. This, say the well-informed, is their strategy more-or-less.
For the time being, they limit themselves to the indispensable: to reduce the gap between themselves and the first of the breakaways, as they did today, for example, keeping them within safe limits (less than two minutes), to keep an eye on one another, to avoid any risky, surprising turn of events. So what does it matter then if the pink jersey switched from one cyclist to another, and if this evening Cottur (who stashed the jersey at night under his mattress to ward off bad luck) had to pass it on to Fazio? What does it matter if at every stage finish this or that name appears in the newspaper headlines? Let that most brilliant and handsome Leoni have a good time breaking away as he did today and showing off as he did today one of his irresistible sprints, winning the stage. The right moment - they seem to be saying - will come. And meanwhile, they conserve their strength.
(photos: Cassino, 1944)
Roma, the night of Friday, May 27th. Dino Buzzati writes. . .
Why wasn't the ancient and noble town of Cassino waiting for the Giro's
racers today as they traveled from Napoli to Roma?
It would have been so nice, but on the contrary: There were no pretty girls
at the windows.
Even the windows were missing.
Even the walls were missing where windows should have opened.
There were no multicolored paper festoons strung between dilapidated little
Even the houses were missing.
The streets, too - there was nothing but shapeless rocks, baked and bleached
white by the sun,
and wild grass,
and even a few shrubs indicating that nature was in charge here, to with rain, wind, sun, lizards, various members of the plant and animal world...
But man was no longer here - the patient creatures who for many centuries had lived, worked, loved, procreated in the intimacy of the dwellings they'd built for themselves, stone upon stone.
None of that exists any longer.
But was there really no one left in the gigantic white scar which gleams so savagely in the sunlight on one side of the valley?
"The Giro?" came a reply. "But we here, the residents of ancient Cassino, are not ready. We lack everything necessary to properly welcome the racers. Be patient - we no longer have streets for them to ride on, nor eyes to see them, nor voices with which to cheer them, nor even hands to applaud them."
"Come on, wake up!, even if only for a moment. Bartali is here, and Coppi, too. Don't you want to see them, if only out of curiosity? Half a minute is plenty... come, make some effort, and then you can go back to sleep. They go fast, these Giants of the road - you barely manage to get a glimpse of them, and they are gone" (But this is a lie, because today the Giants of the road, these "devourers of kilometers", these human locomotives, looked more like lazy slugs as they ambled along in friendly groups, chatting away, not even thinking about doing battle; and only at the last moment, almost at the gates of Roma, will there be the obligatory attack by young novices, so full of hope, but the Aces will not concern themselves, so the eight escapees - Ricci, Frosini, Pasotti, Rossello, Vincenzo, Schaer, Busancano, Cerami, Dubuisson - will arrive at the Appio velodrome with a small lead, and will finish in that order).
"No, no, let us sleep." the voice of old Cassino replied, "Go ask the others - those who stayed some distance away. See? There, where the valley widens. They are starting to rebuild there, the "new" Cassino, I mean - it is already rising. They've worked hard, haven't they?"
"Yes, we see, but it is something quite different. A stirring and quite beautiful example of human tenacity. However the hideous, prison-like architecture has nothing to do with the city of old. It isn't even logical, since life in such ugly houses will always be sad and uncomfortable. This is not Cassino - it is a strange and different creature that makes the scar on the side of the valley stand out even more cruelly."
"I understand," the voice said, "but it is too late. If we were to rise again, even for a minute, it would terrify the living. They remember and love us, as long as we remain silent and motionless underground. Too much time has passed. The years erase everything. Just here is where my room used to be, my bed, a picture of my favorite saint, a corn cob hanging on the wall, a rifle, two or three books, a wash stand and basin - now there is a hazelnut tree, and robins hopping among its branches. Perhaps it is better this way, and better for us to forget the Giro."
"The Giro? What's that?" asked Martin J. Collins, awakened by the ear-splitting racket of the Klaxons (car horns) and the noisy rattle of bicycles. He was once a soldier attached to ammunition supply, and now, a bloodless ghost, settled here for all eternity. (There had been a white flash, a tremendous explosion, a great cloud of dust, and nothing remained of the handsome young man, not even his helmet, himself mere dust - in fact, just a vague memory.) And with some difficulty he raised his sleepy head from his rustic tomb of rock and wind and sun.
"Was ist los?" asked a voice a meter away, the voice of former feldwebel Friedrich Gestern; he, too, transformed into pure remembrance by a masterful shot. He was sleeping, he was awakened by the sound of cars. He rubs the sleep from his tired eyes.
And others, invisible to us, awaken along the slopes that have become green again in the small valley that today, in the May sunshine, looks like a tiny paradise, but which five years ago was crawling with corpses. How many there are! A massive army of mixed uniforms and races - men who butchered each other and who now rest side by side in peace, reconciled by eternal armistice.
"Not to worry, brave men." we say to them. "It's the Giro; it does no harm. These boys pedal, exert themselves, try to race as fast as they can (except for today). And why? For nothing of any importance... for the pleasure of winning. For the satisfaction of those who watch them, because if man isn't fighting in one way or another he becomes uneasy.
But pardon us - perhaps this is not something for you. It is life, that's what it is, in its most ingenuous, sensationalized form, but for you I'm afraid it's somewhat irritating,. Pardon us.
"We were only passing by. If we have awakened you, we apologize. We wanted only to say "Hello" to the old Cassino that no longer exists (and you know a thing or two about that). Do not worry, we are leaving right away, then you won't see us again for at least another year. Sleep well, my children!"
And the procession of Champions (well, perhaps not champions today) with its sacrilegious voices filed past below the terrible white scar, then vanished again into the green countryside. Soon not even its echo could be heard.
And back there in new Cassino, at the far end of the valley, the stonemasons started hammering again, and time began to pass once more over the shattered rocks and white rubble which follows the side of the mountain.
The haggard specters lay down again, rested their cheeks against the compassionate earth, and went back to sleep. And us? We looked at the swarm of racers, so cheerful with all those colorful jerseys and sparkling bicycles, we looked at the spectators quivering with impatience, the traffic policemen bustling to control the retinue's speed, that whole little world galloping madly toward the north of Italy.
The sunshine was splendid. . . it was hot.
And then they will ask us, "Are they all still together in one group?"
Bartali is dropped.
On the Pratola hill, fifty kilometers out of Salerno, Fausto Coppi pedals with all his might. He is at the head of a group of a dozen racers, but none of them are from his team, so he is working alone.
"And Bartali?" people ask.
Bartali is not there.
"Is Bartali in the second group?"
Sunshine. . .
Green hills. . .
A monk. . .
Pine trees. . .
Vineyards. . .
Three more monks standing beneath a poplar tree. . .
A tiny girl clapping her hands. . .
Sudden puffs of dust where the road is being repaired. . .
Children of every age imaginable. . .
A cripple in a wheelchair. . .
Clouds billowing in from the east. . .
And under a little white cycling cap, Coppi's angular face, burnt red by the
sun and the exertion.
He looks back - is anyone coming to help him?
He has already gained four hundred meters. . .
Now five hundred . . .
Driving ahead of the race, we are met by the "questioning" hand gesture so characteristic of the southern Italian - hands stretched out waving, with fingers joined and pointing upward. It is an urgent, almost indignant plea. They have been waiting there for an hour, and cannot wait any longer - they must know . . . Who is leading? Who is winning?
"What are you doing here" their demeanor seems to say to us "if not to bring us news? Who is leading?"
"Bravo!" the boys yell, jumping up and down and punching each other in joy. At that moment they could have hugged us . . .they would have done anything for us.
However, other faces clouded over so quickly it was almost comical;
Bartali is back there.
"Bartali left behind?" they shouted at us, begging us to say is isn't true.
We do not deny it - that's just how it is.
But there is no time to argue - we hurry along through the countryside at a dizzying pace, passing ever more new faces, lined up by their thousands on both sides - an endless tunnel of humanity at its highest pitch of excitement. They have forgotten everything else: who they are, the work they left behind, illnesses, luxuries, unpaid bills, headaches, love, everything except one monumental fact: Fausto Coppi is in the lead, and Bartali, lagging behind, continues to lose ground.
San Giorgio - it is siesta time, when midday drowsiness reigns over the fields, when the city streets are deserted, when cattle herds nap in the shade of a huge beech tree, when in the silence of a kitchen we can hear the flies buzzing, and outside, the cicadas. . .
But today everyone is on the street - not even the dogs are napping, and they dart madly to-and-fro, trying to avoid the mad ballet of cars rushing past.
Coppi's lead group of ten have gone past.
On the clock, the second hand turns, turns, turns, and still the chasers fail to appear. . .
There they are at last - Bartali is in the lead. He throws us an irritated glance. His face looks swollen from the effort, but the facial muscles aren't contracted in pain. He, too, is alone in his group; no one comes forward to help him.
The surrounding countryside is stupendous, a perfect picture of the serenity of high summer. And yet, it may be right here that an important drama is unfolding. Perhaps amid these joyful fields the Giro is taking a decisive turn, and a heart will be broken.
Bartali, old lion . . . is this the day that had to come, sooner of later? Is this your supreme hour, after which the final collapse of youth begins? Has the spell been broken here, on a miserable little hill only 585 meters high? Is the faithful genie that, until now, has accompanied you to glory, no longer answering your call? Have you become a mortal like all the others?
Suddenly you'll know - the mysterious talent will leave you. In the middle of a race, all at once, you will feel strangely alone: like a king at the height of battle who, on turning to issue orders, finds that his army dissolved by magic into nothingness.
This terrible moment will come.
You don't know, and it could be this very day, during one of the Giro's easiest stages, because fate is cruel and amuses itself by doing the unexpected.
At this point, the time gap is almost a minute-and-a-half. That's still not too much . . . tires frequently go flat.
It could well be today, Bartali's famous "fatal hour", and twenty years from now we journalists, grown old and out of date, will recount it, as if it were a fairy tale, to our younger colleagues who come to see us in the editorial office late at night.
It really looked then as if an important moment in cycling history were about to occur; the twilight of an era, the decisive passing of the crown from one head to the other. An atmosphere of anxiety hangs over the endless procession speeding past, over the crowds in the towns, over the sports fans in distant cities where the radio had already broadcast the news.
But his faithful genie had not betrayed him. Invisible, it was still at theChampion's side.
Bartali changes the wheel in ten seconds.
Bartali hurtles off in pursuit, angrier and more obstinate than ever.
Does he get any encouragement from the large inscriptions written on the road in his honor?
Is he comforted by all the voices chanting his name?
Probably not, judging from his apparent indifference.
He is still at the front of his group, and he doesn't tire.
Now the gap decreases.
Bartali catches sight of the colorful team cars ahead at the far end of the road, spare wheels sparkling on the racks: a sign that the lead group is not far away. It's a welcome sign.
A delirious crowd packs the balconies to bursting point, and it looks as though they are about to collapse under all the weight.
(Come on, Bartali - six more kilometers and the lead group will be caught!)
Perhaps Coppi got tired of doing all the work himself, and it wasn't to his advantage to wear himself out to help Cottur, wearing the maglia rosa of race leader, who was also in this group.
The drama fades away, the tension dissipates, and everything returns to the daily routine.
The two great Champions do not react when Biagioni, continuing to sprint after the King of the Mountains line at Monte Sarchio, bounds ahead alone. The Giants are not alarmed. Biagioni is among the last riders on general classification. Thus, the young Tuscan has the pleasure of passing alone through the two unbroken walls of swaying black humanity flooding the final forty kilometers, down the hill toward Caserta's majestic boulevards, which seem to have been built specially for triumphant arrivals.
Whether or not the towns' centers are inhabited, an indescribable mass of people has materialized along the roadsides. As we pass at full speed, and as Biagioni gradually moves ahead, we hear the roar behind us, breaking like a wave, then crashing madly.
But is it possible that there are so many human beings in the world? Have the experts and the census takers perhaps made a tremendous mistake? There would have to be far more than forty-five millions inhabitants if all of Italy were like this!
Sucked-up by this vortex of a crowd, which little by little swelled to dreamlike proportions, Biagioni hurtled into Napoli. Is there any need to repeat what the congestion was like in the Arenaccia stadium, and the thunder that welcomed the arrival of that little bicycle, all alone, and Leoni's very elegant sprint four minutes later, stealing second place from Luciano Maggini and Fausto Coppi?
And the cheers, the flowers, the gaiety, the hugs for the champions?
And the golden cloud of dust that turned Napoli into a mirage?
It is noon, and the champion is still asleep. Why is he so tired? Isn't he the one who only feels right when he's exhausted? The others are out riding around Salerno; luckily the sun came out today, and people are already seated at café tables beneath canopies of vines, while street players, out of respect for the Giro, are singing their classic old tunes free of charge. Perhaps yesterday's stage wore him out? "No, no," replies a small group of team personnel in the hotel lobby, "He's not actually sleeping . . . in fact, he's awake, but still in his bed . . . he doesn't feel like getting up, that's all. He'll have his lunch in bed, too."
Then perhaps he isn't feeling well? His wonderful body, which doctors have studied with cries of amazement, is perhaps showing some slight dysfunction, however minor? Is he feeling the after-effects of his fall at the Cosenza finish?
Outside, the sun is shining. Fausto Coppi, in a fashionable short-sleeved blue shirt and long trousers, is pedaling sluggishly at no more than seven kph around the neighborhoods of Amalfi, where he is staying; he's enjoying the marvelous views of those houses set at dizzying heights, those Wagnerian crags, that magnificent azure sea - worthy of Homer. Why is his great rival still in bed on a day like today?
"No, no, no, don't say that, not even in jest," his team personnel reply with slightly amused smiles, "In fact, he has never felt better. "In bed" is only an expression. In fact, he's not really in bed at all. He got dressed quite some time ago, and the doctor who gave him his daily check-up didn't find a hair out of place. There isn't the slightest hint of weakness. It's just that he prefers to stay in his room . . . he doesn't want to see anyone. "
" Is he in a bad mood, then? Discouraged? Bad news? Nerves?"
His guardians, custodians, lieutenants, and advisors shake their heads. "Nerves? For him, nerves don't exist. In his case, his strength and fortitude continue, confirming his total superiority over all the others. Uneasiness, anxiety, apprehension, fear - these words are meaningless to him."
On the ground floor of the hotel two teams of cheerful cyclists are seated at a table. Not him. A trusted waiter, or more likely his personal masseur, tentatively enters the room, bringing lunch on a tray. A particularly observant group of fans, looking in through the front door, glimpse the sparkling soup tureen and the dishes being carried across the lobby. Bartali's lunch! A shiver runs through the little crowd that has been waiting patiently since early morning, giving them new hope. The great news spread quickly.
Here's an interesting note! . . . The other racers who just dismounted their bikes and are seen at the restaurant, for example, or in the coffee shop, are difficult to recognize, they look so different - like actors who are no longer acting and have removed their make-up, rejoining the ranks of ordinary men like us.
But not Bartali.
Even after the race, he does not go back to being just any man. He remains a Champion, alien to our everyday world. And the strange thing is that we thought this myth-phenomenon was exclusively the realm of the naïve crowd. Within his own intimate circle of friends, we believe, he is considered to be a superior class cyclist, yes, but also a man like any other. Isn't it the same for great artists and powerful politicians who, when seen close up in their daily life, come down from their pedestals? Respect becomes blurred, we're on a first-name basis, and we can take the liberty of joking. Instead, in Coppi's and Bartali's case (especially Bartali) the myth persists even among those close to them. Not that they are considered to be geniuses, but no one dares to disagree with them.
We have a special regard for everything they do - even their team directors on whom the depend, even the patriarchs of cycling. Even the journalists (whose job almost always turns them into ruthless skeptics) have an uncommon respect for the two champions, perhaps without even realizing it. The journalists will deny it of course, and if they should happen to read these lines, they will probably laugh.
Yet it is true.
And a question comes to us: The spectators, even those in the front row, even the shrewdest and most irreverent, do they perceive in the extraordinary physical abilities of these two men the presence of something mysterious and sacred, a sort of grace, evincing a supernatural authority?
Perhaps this may explain the immense attraction of Sport. This might justify what otherwise seems so absurd: to wit, that reasonable, well-educated people can lose their heads and get upset and scream over a football player or a cyclist. But there are those who will say: But isn't it frightening that the modern world gives vent to it's secret urge for mysticism in the sports arena? Isn't it humiliating? It is a difficult question to answer. But it may be that sports fanaticism, with all its extravagance, is much less vulgar that it might seem at first glance.
The Champion remains shut in his room. He ate, received a massage, read his mail, skimmed through the newspapers, talked for quite some time with the few people allowed to enter, complained about the bump he took the day before yesterday, griped about all the noise the crowd was making down in the street as they continued to call for him, and grumbled about everything. He switched abruptly from one topic to another without ever getting tired. If there was ever a rider who doesn't get discouraged during a race, it is Bartali. Even when the day has gone badly for him and he loses several minutes, he still holds on. It almost seems as if he finds a sort of bitter comfort in suffering - perhaps his faith plays a part - and he seems to perceive in his misfortunes a sign that Heaven is speaking to him.
However, it is said that with the passage of time he is becoming less and less tolerant of superfluous visits, of overly-enthusiastic admirers, of the hundreds of annoyances which life inevitably inflicts upon him. Who knows - who can fathom the depths of his soul? Is fame itself beginning to frighten him, causing him to contemplate the future?
Meanwhile, the rest day has come to an end, and the usual race-eve rites have begun. In one of the hotel lounges, now deserted because everybody has gone to bed, Bartali's team director, Virginio Colombo, prepares race food for the members of his team. He has arranged seven slips of paper on the table, a racer's name on each one, and with the accuracy of a pharmacist he allots to each the prescribed foods.
"Do they all get the same portions?" I ask.
"Of course, identical portions for everyone."
"But why", I ask, "are there four portions of omelet roll-ups for Bartali, while Benso has only three?"
"No, that's impossible."
"What do you mean, impossible? Count them."
Columbo counts them, and is a bit disconcerted. "Well . . . you are right. I made a mistake." And he gives Benso an additional portion.
Was it an involuntary, almost instinctive, injustice? Sometimes it happens. But it is not only the portions of omelet . . . there are also more bananas for Bartali: four instead of three. And Colombo is worried . . . he realizes I have noticed, and he looks at us suspiciously.
"And the bananas?" we ask.
"What about the bananas?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing."
(To persist would be spiteful.)
Salerno, the night of Tuesday, 24th May 1949. Dino Buzzati writes a letter to the two great champions . . .
Dear Coppi, Esteemed Mr. Bartali (I address him this way because I am a little in awe of Bartali: he pedals with a frown on his face, and he is never seen strolling around, not even in the lobby or the corridors of his hotel; yesterday morning, for example, during the ferry crossing from Messina to Villa San Giovanni, all the racers were out in the open, so-to-speak, very visible to the passengers and quite approachable, all except Bartali, and I am still asking myself where the devil could he have been hiding?).
So I'll begin again:
Dear Coppi and Esteemed Mr. Bartali,
He who writes this to you is, at least in cycling terms, a complete blockhead; he knows nothing about gear shifts, chainrings and cogs; he has no clear understanding of race strategy, and during the past few days he has had to ask questions that were so naïve, they nearly caused a scandal.
That being said, I must add that your reasoning is certainly beyond questioning. I understand your responsibility to the companies that employ you, and to your teams. I know you respect them conscientiously.
It would be idiotic, I admit, for you to compromise the final results of a race as long and arduous as the Giro by yielding to the temptation to perform some great exploit. I recognize the weight, or at least I hope I understand how to measure, the terrible exertion of a stage like today's from Cosenza to Salerno, 292 kilometers, almost all of them in the mountains, with a discouraging and uninterrupted series of very steep climbs and descents that didn't let up for even one minute; combined with the violent storm that brought wind, cold, fog and rain, to say nothing of the depressing effect of the landscape, no doubt beautiful when the sun is shining, but which today was pallid, wild and repulsive.
For the organizers to include such a stage (I heard one of your colleagues say) is like a warning to the racers: "Measure your efforts with care, be very cautious about going all out, unless you want to ruin your health".
I don't know if that's true. Certainly, if someone had driven us along today's route, then told us that about a hundred men would be able to cover it on bicycles without ever dismounting, at a speed just under 30 kilometers per hour, I probably would not have believed it.
And finally I admit that, for all practical purposes, the way you approached the race was sensible; staying within the group, you committed yourselves only during the final kilometers in pursuit of Leoni, who had broken-away on the final descent before Eboli, with Bevilacqua and Cargioli: you then caught the three-man group right at the gates of Salerno's stadium, and in the final sprint the classiest rider came out on top: Coppi first; then Leoni, who they say would have won a normal sprint, but he had worn himself out with the unsuccessful break; and third, and deservedly so, Bartali. Which, all things considered, shows that you are completely right.
Now, however, being the incompetent person that I am, allow me to ask you a question:
Did you get a good look at the people who were waiting for you as you went through Calabria?
Do you remember those thousands and thousands of faces, anxiously turned in your direction, regardless of age or trade - peasants, shepherds, mothers, masons, little girls, monks, police, little old ladies, mayors, clerks, street sweepers, teachers, and a seemingly limitless number of children?
You crossed deserted valleys in which one could really have said that Christ never set foot (they say he stops at Eboli). And yet, on the boulders, at the edges of thickets, and standing on the steep banks along the road, men and women were waiting for you. Many of them had trudged a long distance just so they could welcome you, descending from remote villages perched on top of ancient crags.
You went through incredible towns hanging lopsided on the lofty flanks of the mountain, with main streets sloping as much as thirty degrees in places, absolutely out of a fairytale: looking at them from a distance, from the other side of the valley, who would ever have imagined that anyone up there was interested in cycling? You could call them strange islands of humanity, banished far from our world, improbable cities, pure mirages.
Nonetheless, those roads were packed on both sides with joyous people. Yes, they were absolutely delighted, these people we never would have guessed existed; they had such honesty and goodness of heart that you wouldn't find their equal in any other place. Even you two realized this, surely, because you are not stupid.
Even if all of your attention were focused on your efforts, you must have sensed instinctively what the Giro d'Italia means in those remote locales? They were laughing! Did you see how they were laughing? Yours was no longer mere sport, and you were no longer mere cycling champions. Without a hint of rhetoric, you were the incarnation of the affluent, happy world which finally came too say "Hello", even if only for a few seconds, to those ancient, long-forgotten villages. Even though it was storming, you brought to them the light of a sort of America. It was Milan. It was Turin. It was the wonderful cities of the North, remembering their distant, impoverished little sisters.
And do you know what those people asked the two of us riding in a car a few kilometers ahead of the race? Even if it was unfair to the other racers, who were perhaps working a little harder than you, they asked only two things, with almost desperate eagerness, as if for them it were a matter of life and death:
"And Coppi? And Bartali? What are they doing? Is Coppi leading? Is it true that Bartali has left everyone behind?"
Meanwhile, you were wisely saving your strength in accordance with a faultless plan. If some greenhorn broke away, one who could in no way create any problems for you, you let him go. You placed yourselves in the best position, right in the middle of the group, without straining yourselves. Between the two of you (even if this were only part of the plan), the typical tension was no longer there. You, Bartali - you had at least three flat tires today, but no one deigned to attack. Wise management, I repeat.
But those people, those simple souls, resembled us a bit in that we are donkeys when it comes to bicycle racing. They believed in you blindly, they considered you heroes, idols, perfect and unbeatable beings. They've found in you a connection to the foolish little dreams that each of us, no matter how humble, allows himself to have. They couldn't believe you were not leading, alone, shooting off in a dramatic breakaway. You are the most talented, aren't you? So why weren't you racing in the front?
It's nonsense I suppose . . . why should we expect that you, and no one else, would be in the lead down there, at the bend, in each of those towns, winning all of the stages, always leaving your companions behind on the climbs? There has never been and there will never be an athlete capable of achieving that.
Perhaps I was not being reasonable, a bit like the amateur who would like to see the great chess champions make ingenious moves in every match, when it is well-known that duels between great chess masters are actually more an epic display of boredom, characterized by excessive preoccupation with avoiding any risk or impulse. You do your job on the basis of wise decisions of which you have complete mastery, and today, once again, it all turned out for the best.
But be honest, my dear Coppi, my Esteemed Mr. Bartali: wouldn't it be better, since you can, to do a bit more?
From a rational point of view it would probably be an absurd mistake, but you would make so many people happy! And they would love you so much more! Think once in awhile about those children, those little girls, those old people, those police officers, those peasants, those priests, who waited for you yesterday and today; think of the inhabitants of Rosarno, Vito Valentia, Córaci, Rogliano, Tarsia, Lauria, Lagonegro, Auletta, and Eboli: the way they looked at you, smiled at you, suffered agonies for you. Think about it sometime.
On the other hand, I may be wrong. The day after tomorrow, on the road to Naples, both of you are quite capable of contradicting me magnificently.
In conclusion, please carry on as if I said none of this.
* * * * *
Race Summary, Stage 4
Cosenza to Salerno, 292 kilometers
FIRST WARNING FROM COPPI
A very fast start for the first seven kilometers from Cosenza to Castiglione Cosentino; after seven kilometers of racing, there is already a prime sprint for a big cash prize: 20,000 Lire prize to Pasquetti ahead of Brasola. Some rolling hills on the way to Tarsio and Albanian Sprezzano, but the peloton takes a moderate pace. The race takes flame ten kilometers from the intermediate sprint into Castrovillari: De Santi escapes in a large cloud of dust, gains a hundred meters on Pontisso, Ronconi, and De Santi's teammate Fumagalli, who refuses to help in the pursuit; the winner of the previous stage forces the pace, increases the gap, and wins the intermediate sprint; 45 seconds ahead of Fumagalli and the two other chasers. They are chased in turn by 30 others, and are eventually caught. After 75 kilometers the average speed is a little bit ahead of a 32kph time schedule.
The road rises towards Mormanno. At the feedzone in Castelluccio the front group has increased it's lead over the rest of the field. So far the main field has been pretty relaxed, a few small attacks but no real effort to chase. Marangoni tries an attack: the native of Bergamo escapes, then is joined by Della Giustina, Croci Torti, Bresci, Pasquini, Logli, Goldschmidt, Brasola, Monari, Vincenzo Rossello e Castellucci. The beautiful attack is however extinguished by the main contenders for overall victory. Fondelli takes the prime at 211 kilometers, and a series of attacks begins. Scavalcano attacks the climb to Postiglione followed only by Cargioli, Bevilacqua and Leoni. The advantage grows and quickly exceeds a minute. The pursuers, lead by Coppi, are still in eye shot. By now they are nearing Salerno, and the young Barozzi makes an attack, and is briefly in the lead. See-saw of emotions. Four riders in the lead, Leoni, Bevilacqua, Cargioli and Barozzi, fifteen or so second ahead of the next group of chasers. Before entering into the final section to Renato Casalbore, home of the Tuttusport daily paper, they must deal with the major climb, and it is here that Coppi plays his hand, and he joins the back of the breakaway.
Leoni is first onto the track in Salerno, and he leads until the final turn, when Coppi, bursting forward and accelerating fast, uses his track experience to overpower the others. Third to the line is Bartali. Carrea suffered an ill-timed mechanical problem and finished 1 minute down, meaning he looses the white jersey to Mario Fazio.
1° Fausto COPPI Italia gs.Bianchi chilometri 292 in 9 ore 59' 21" media:
2° Adolfo LEONI st
3° Gino BARTALI st
4° Soldani st - 5° Drei st - 6° Frosini st - 7° Barozzi st - 8° Logli st
9° Ricci st - 10° Fazio st
1° Giordano COTTUR Maglia Rosa
2° Fazio a 1'18"
3° Schaer a 1'34"
4° Ronconi a 1'49"
5° Jomaux a 2'02"
Maglia Bianca: Fazio
This morning in Messina the racers boarded the ferryboat and were extraordinarily excited by the strangeness of this seagoing contraption, with it's belly full of cars, and all its little stairs, bridges, gangways, verandas, turrets, lounges and small restaurants. The racers were like schoolchildren out on a fieldtrip: they laughed and joked, threw glasses of water on each other from one level to another, and forgot all about what was waiting for them on the opposite shore.
Calabria in the morning sun, with its delicate blue shadows, looked like one of those posters radiating happiness in the travel agency window. But behind this fairytale backdrop, the treacherous mountains were waiting. The ferryboat sailed on with its cargo of multicolored jerseys - meanwhile, someone had already crossed the strait in secret and was, even now, climbing laboriously toward the town of Scilla.
In the Piazza Municipio the mayor of Villa San Giovanni made a little speech to mark the occasion, then candy was handed out and the race set off. At that hour and in that place, the world was wonderful. The mood of a school fieldtrip was still prevalent, inspiring in the giants of the road a moment of self-indulgence.
Below them, the sea was playing - yes, really - with the little rocky outcrops along the shore; at that very moment a young mermaid emerged from the water, visible to her waist. she turned shamelessly toward the racers and laughed. Mario Benso, the little imp on Gino Bartali's team, answered her with a rather rude gesture, at which she flipped her tail gracefully, then vanished.
Meanwhile, the lone rider we mentioned before was pedaling ahead as hard as he could, but he was visibly beginning to lose ground.
The fishermen's nets were spread on the small beaches to dry in the sun. Smoke from a distant ship appeared on the horizon, while a bizarre-looking stray dog with two tails, one in the normal place, the other hanging from its chest, loped along in the middle of the procession for quite some time, which showed how slowly the racers were pedaling.
There were two or three attempts to breakaway involving Pasquini, Volpi, Selvatico, Pasotti and others whose names escape us. But the surrounding landscape was too beautiful. Even those racers lacking artistic sensibility shared in the unspoken agreement that slaving away in such a place was tantamount to cursing. It was like walking in a garden laid out above the bluest sea imaginable: big cathedral-like olive trees, daisies, flower gardens, lawns, fields of wheat and other grains, all green, and birds singing more enthusiastically than usual.
The racers rolled side by side on the wide asphalt ribbon, as if merely to satisfy their curiosity, nothing more. And yet, despite their passivity, when they caught up with that solitary cyclist we mentioned, they passed and left him miserably behind. One of the champions shouted something at him; what it was, we don't know because in these situations cars can stay in front of or behind the peloton, but not alongside. But it must have been something witty, since everyone broke out in laughter, while the other fellow was left more alone than ever, and yet he kept pedaling as hard as he could.
Which was not very hard really, but what can you expect from a man of fifty-seven who, in the wake of the Giro, yesterday and the day before, has covered the roads from Palermo to Catania, and from Catania to Messina, over the mountains?
Each year, they say, the Giro has its extra followers who, of their own free will, join in the adventure and with Herculean efforts try to compete with the real racers. Last year it was a soldier who was AWOL from his barracks; this time, an even more pathetic case, an old man, a certain Vito Ceo, a day-laborer from Carbonara di Bari, who claims in his youth to have broken the New York-to-Los Angeles bicycle record in twenty-five days.
Setting out from Bari with nothing but a racing bicycle, without even a single spare tire and without a penny, he traveled to Sicily during the past few days, leaving early in the morning the day before yesterday, well before the champions started, riding the same route as them. And he did reach Catania; his last ounce of strength exhausted, he'd been obliged to spend the night at Regalbuto. But yesterday he pushed on from Regalbuto as far as Messina. And this morning he was back in the saddle.
Is he a madman, a maniac, a bicycle mystic, some sort of knight errant? And what about his wife - because Vito Ceo has a wife, two children, and a little granddaughter - what has she to say about it? "She's pathetic, that woman. she does nothing but eat and drink," he replies, taking from his pocket some mysterious and extremely greasy documents to prove he is a veteran cyclist.
He wears a jersey bearing the name of the manufacturer of his bicycle, full length knee-breeches, knee-length socks, a pair of sports shoes, and that's it. He is short, fat and stocky, a Don Quixote in the body of a Sancho Panza. He vows he will make it to the finish in Milan. And he pedals, pedals, ever so slowly.
In the area around Mileto, the deafening noise of the race caravan caused a little horse to bolt madly across the fields. Natuzzo Evolo, the young woman who "drips blood and hears voices," came out in front of her doorstep carrying one of her children (she had just finished ironing five scarves that she has decorated in her own blood with tiny, mysterious outlines of saints, holy vessels, tree branches, and Latin religious phrases).
"Who is leading? Are they very far away?" we were asked by several seminary students wearing red sashes, standing in a line along the shore. On reaching the sea, the road began to rise again, climbing into the greenish, inhospitable mountains. Inevitably, as the climb "cracked its whip", the dawdling bunch stretched out, stretched to the point where it broke into numerous little pieces.
And back there, who knows how far away by now, old Vito Ceo, the scatter-brained grandfather, the Don Quixote with Sancho Panza's face, was dragging himself, push after push on the pedals, along the wide deserted road.
The sun disappeared, replaced by leaden skies. No more garden-like scenery, but dark ravines instead where nobody has any desire to linger. Now and again a town appeared (an incredible thing to find up there in such a remote spot), its houses in situ and its crowd of people who asked us, the journalists, just one thing: "Bartali or Coppi?"
To avoid disappointment, as it was obvious that any other option would have saddened them, we said not a word.
Bartali and Coppi were not committing themselves. In the lead and well clear of everybody, Alfredo Pasotti (g.s. Benotto) and Guido De Santi (g.s. Atala), two young unknowns, were struggling up and down the fearfully steep inclines. The black rags hanging over the field to frighten birds away were a beacon to Bartali, as if to encourage him; but Bartali did nothing more than was absolutely necessary. De Santi, pedaling with all his might, caught up with Pasotti, then took off alone. "Who is leading?" the people asked from all sides, their eyes gleaming. But we did not have the heart to tell them.
And meanwhile, where was old Ceo? Had he collapsed on the side of the mountain, beckoning to trucks to stop, or was he still holding on?
In a scene extraordinarily reminiscent of Carducci (19th century Italian poet who wrote "Il Bove"), two oxen stood motionless at the edge of the road, staring into the valley, that is, staring away from us, and they didn't turn their heads even one millimeter when the army of cars thundered past, right by where they were yoked.
The road pushed on into a sort of thicket which, judging by its appearance, I could swear was inhabited by hyenas and bandits, but nothing threatening came out of it. Even though he had almost reached the end of his strength by now, De Santi bounded alone through the little towns of Soveria, Manelli, Marzi, Rogliano, and on toward Cosenza. Then came a long straight stretch and a quick final climb.
De Santi was first at the finish, winning the stage but not the one hundred thousand lire offered by a local savings bank for the first finisher if he could win with a two-minute advantage - Pasotti arrived just thirty-six seconds later. Another minute-and-a-half and the main group arrived. Even before he had a chance to get his feet on the ground, Bartali fell beneath an avalanche of admirers, taking a hard knock.
The Italian-American Di Bacco (see footnote) was thrown from the race for having been towed by a car with license number RC4730. Vittorio Seghezzi (g.s. Edelweiss) received a letter here from his fiancée, telling him (between the lines) that they will never get married if he doesn't put some money aside, hinting at the chance of his winning at least a few cash prizes. And because of an illegal push in the sprint, Mario Fazio (g.s. Bottecchia) was relegated seven places in the stage results.
And the grandfather? It is nine o'clock, and he has yet to arrive. Will he get here before midnight? Are we to imagine him humiliated and defeated, a gasping wreck, picked up by a compassionate trucker, to be delivered to his home as if he were some piece of furniture? Or can we believe in the triumph of a simple soul over the decrepitude of old age? I imagine him in the heart of the darkening forest, struggling on clumsily, ridiculous but heroic.
"Take heart, old Ceo. You don't see them, but the spirits of the dead champions have joined you, and with spectral legs pedal ghostly racing bikes. They too are old and decrepit, very tired, and a bit crazy. They escort you silently; and now, to give you courage, all the frogs of Calabria will sing you their little marching songs; and now, to guide you all along` the way, the lightening bugs, usually so uncharitable, will light their tiny lamps just for you.
(Note: I have no idea who Buzzati is referring to (di Bacco?) - there's no one on the start list by that name. Anyone have any idea who this is? AR)
* * * * *
Translation can be a tricky art, especially if you aren't fluent in the language you're translating. The new translation computer programs help, but aren't quite the tool they need to be. Below is a sample of the original Italian race recap from the 3rd stage, followed by the old Alta Vista translation. The next step involves translating the translation - give it a try! (Here's a few hints - "santi" is "known to you", "coppi" is "goblets", "volpi" is "vixen", and "fondeli" is "bottoms").
3^ tappa - lunedi, 23 maggio
VILLA SAN GIOVANNI - COSENZA 214 chilometri
IMPRESA FIRMATA DE SANTI
Poco dopo le nove prende le mosse la Villa San Giovanni Cosenza, terza tappa di questo Giro, che approda in Calabria (e quindi nel continente) dopo la due giorni siciliana. E' ancora e sempre festa, il pubblico delle grandi occasioni non abbandona mai la massima corsa ciclistica nazionale. I continui saliscendi spezzano e ricompongono il serpentone; una rampa piu secca mette in crisi il dolorante Bof. Forano e rientrano nello spazio di pochi chilometri Astrua e Lazzerini. Scilla, il gruppo transita compatto. Ad accendere le polveri ci pensa poi l'eterno Volpi, autore di un poderoso allungo sulla strada che porta a Bagnara: alle spalle del toscano si seleziona un sestetto comprendente: Coppi, Fumagalli, Astrua, Pasotti, Peverelli e poco oltre ecco apparire la tunica rosa di Cottur. Con questa situazione ci si innalza verso l'entroterra silano. Ancora qualche chilometro di sostanziale equilibrio, quindi la picchiata su Gioia Tauro riaccende gli animi: molto attivi Vittorio Magni e Pezzi. La strada che conduce quindi a Vibo Valentia e Pizzo Calabro un toboga, ed obbliga il plotone ad un elastico incessante. Spira pure un fastidioso venticello quando si affronta il Tiriolo, secondo Gran Premio della Montagna di questo Giro, ma la salita non provoca selezione, anzi il gruppo =E8 compatto ed in vetta transita per primo il forte belga Jomaux, il quale precede di stretta misura Logli e Coppi. La salita non ha deciso ma la discesa confeziona l'azione della giornata: scatta Pasotti, Vincenzo Rossello tenta di accodarsi senza fortuna; =E8 invece De Santi, abile e coraggioso, ad agganciare la ruota del pavese. Ancora pochi chilometri ed il triestino pianta in asso il compagno di fuga e s'invola verso il traguardo. Mancano piu di sessanta chilometri alla meta, ma il premio di centomilalire posto in palio dagli sportivi cosentini in caso di successo solitario con piu di due minuti di vantaggio sul secondo, stimola il generoso Guido. Il vantaggio a questo punto di 1'e 30" su Pasotti e 4' e 50" sul gruppo. Tutto possibile. Sempre saliscendi, tratti controvento e ripide discese, mai un attimo di tregua. Il gruppo rosicchia parte del vantaggio ai battistrada sempre equidistanti. De Santi é affaticato, come d'altronde "Pasottino", ma il traguardo s'avvicina, e quando si raggiunge Ferraro, all'arrivo manca pochissimo. Ed é con la situazione invariata che si raggiunge la linea d'arrivo, De Santi bravissimo e vincente, il tenace Pasotti a poco piu di un minuto e mezzo ed il gruppo a 3' e 13". In tema di classifica generale da segnalare nessun patema per Cottur.
1 Guido DE SANTI Italia gs. Atala chilometri 214 in 7 ore 03'31" media: 30,317
2 Alfredo PASOTTI a 1'38"
3 Luciano MAGGINI a 3'13"
4 Soldani st 5 Leoni st 6 Martini st 7 Jomaux st 8 Ronconi st
9 Peverelli st 10 Fondelli st
1 Giordano COTTUR Maglia Rosa
2 Carrea a 1'07"
3 Fazio a 1'18"
4 Schaer a 1'34"
5 Ronconi a 1'49"
Maglia Bianca: Carrea
3^ stage - 23 mondays May
SAINT VILLA GIOVANNI - COSENZA 214 kilometers
SIGNED ENTERPRISE DE KNOWS TO YOU
Little after the nine Giovanni Cosenza, third stage of this Turn takes to the movements the Villa Saint, that she lands in Calabria (and therefore in the continent) after the two days sicialian. E' still and always festivity, the public of the great occasions never does not abandon the ciclistica run principle national. The continuous ones saliscendi break and recompose the serpentone; rampa a more sand bank puts in crisis the dolorante BOF Pierces and re-enters in the space of little kilometers Astrua and Lazzerini. Squill, the group journeys compact. To ignite powders it thinks eternal the Vixens then to us, author of a poderoso I lengthen on the road that door to Bagnara: to the shoulders of the from Tuscany one a sestetto is selected comprising: Goblets, Fumagalli, Astrua, Pasotti, Peverelli and little beyond appearing the tunica rose of Cottur here. With this situation it is raised to us towards the entroterra silano. Still some kilometer of substantial equilibrium, therefore the dive on Tauro Joy relights the minds: many assets Vittorio Magni and Pezzi. The road that leads therefore to Vibo Valentia and Pizzo Calabro is a toboga, and obligates the elastic platoon to an incessant one. Coil pure an annoying one venticello when the Tiriolo is faced, second Great Prize of the Mountain of this Turn, but the climb does not provoke selection, indeed the group is compact and in summit it journeys for first the Belgian fort Jomaux, which it precedes of tightened measure Logli and Coppi. The climb has not decided but the reduction manifactures the action of the day: it releases Pasotti, Vincenzo Rossello tries to take the rear without fortune; it is instead De Knows to you, skillful and brave, to couple the wheel of the pavian. Still little kilometers and the triestine plant in ace the companion of invola escape and s' towards the goal. They lack more than sixty kilometers to the goal, but the prize of centomilalire place in racing silk from the sportswomen cosentini in case of succeeding hermit with more than two minuteren than advantage on the second, it stimulates the generous one I guide. The advantage to this point is of 1' and 30"on Pasotti and 4' and 50" on the group. All it is possible. Always saliscendi, features counter wind and steep reductions, never a minute of rest. The group rosicchia part of the always equidistant advantage to the outrider. De Knows to you is tired, like however "Pasottino", but the goal s' approaches, and when Ferraro is caught up, to the arrival it lacks least. And it is with the invariata situation that catches up the arrival line, De Knows to you best and winning, the tenacious little more than a minute and means the 13"and and Pasotti group 3'. In topic of it classifies general to signal no worry for Cottur.
1 Guido DE KNOWS Italy to YOU gs. Atala kilometers 214 in 7 31 hours 03' "average: 30,317
2 Alfredo PASOTTI to 1' 38 "
3 Luciano MAGGINI to 3' 13 "
4 Soldani st 5 Lions st 6 Martini st 7 Jomaux st 8 Ronconi st
9 Peverelli st 10 Bottoms st
IT CLASSIFIES GENERAL
1 Giordano COTTUR Mesh Rose
2 Carrea to 1' 07 "
3 Fazio to 1' 18 "
4 Schaer to 1' 34 "
5 Ronconi to 1' 49 "
Mesh White woman : Carrea
Let's here it for the "Mesh White woman" - Andrea Carrea!
Messina, the morning of May 22nd, 1949.
Dino Buzzati writes...
Don Antonio Pizzolari, an elderly and wealthy gentleman; fifteen years ago he was well known by the nickname "il Bel Antonio" (from the book by Vitaliano Brancati... "So radiant was his face, and so numerous were the women who vainly threw themselves at his feet, confessing their love for him." Don Antonio turns over lazily between the bedsheets in his elegant house in Catania, at the incredibly late hour of half past ten...
"What now!? The people of Catania no longer have the right to sleep??? What kind of infernal racket is going on?"
(In his room, which is already lit-up by bright reflections pouring through the slats of the Persian blinds... he heads toward the window, in his pajamas. He squints through a slit in the shutters, sees the noisy crowd below... they yell out names unfamiliar to him. An imposing cluster of people surround a young man in a blue jersey, holding onto a bicycle; he draws back from this ridiculous seen, wipes a hand over his forehead, and closes the inside shutters, plunging the room into cool, shadowy darkness. He huddles down again into his bed, buries his still-handsome face in the pillows, and goes back to sleep.)
(A small boy, out of breath from running, arrives in the piazza Palestro di Catania at 11:35...)
"Where's the starting line?... What??? They've already left? (Dammit! Dammit!! Dammit!!!) Why?... When did they suddenly started taking-off exactly on time?"
(A billie goat, grazing among the lava flows near Misterbianco, addresses another goat...)
"Ba-a-a-a-a! Ba, Baaa. Baah-ah-AAA-a-ahh!"
(Translation - "Don't make me laugh!, going on like that about "Fausto Coppi"! - Let's see if Bartali doesn't put him in his place on the climb up Mount Etna.")
(Eighteen-year-old Rosi Capuana, appearing at a window on the main street of Paterno, talking to herself...)
"So how about this: If the first racer that passes is wearing a blue jersey, then it means Carlo will come over tonight; if not, then it means he's history."
(Giuseppe Ambrosini, the merciless race director of the Giro, standing in his car, his face bright scarlet, frantically waving a little red flag, turns toward a car full of journalists trying to get through in the middle, amidst the frightening torrent of racers, cars, trucks, and motorcyclists...)
"I told you, stay to the right! You're always in the middle - To the right! To the RIGHT! Understand? Do you want me to send you home?"
(In Adrano, a sick child, blonde and very pale, a pretty girl. A kitchen chair has been placed on the sidewalk especially for her; she sits smiling, flanked by three plump friends who look after her as if she were their own child...)
"No, leave me alone... the sun won't bother me. There they are!... Yes... yes, look at them, over there in the distance. They're coming! Look what beautiful colors they're wearing! They look like a garden of flowers!"
(An ancient, arthritic olive tree, wind-bent and twisted out of shape, leans to a much younger companion...)
"Vanitus vanitatum, you say? You claim these Giro participants are fools because they happily punish themselves for nothing, racing as if possessed by the devil, for no reason at all? But what about everyone else? Aren't they worse, those others who claim to toil for more "serious and important" things? Trust me, I prefer these racers... at least they have the courage not to promise their fellow men some overly-complicated Heavenly Paradise! They race for nothing, true; they aren't building anything. But explain to me why the people, even the naturally-gloomy locals, look so happy when they see them?"
(Race Director Ambrosini, about whom we spoke earlier, still tirelessly waving his little red flag...)
"You again? How could you possibly not understand you must stay to the RIGHT! TO THE RIGHT! TO THE RIGHT!!!!"
(A large, handwritten sign, waving above the crowd in Bronte...)
"Coppi, Best Wishes, From Your Friends."
(The volcano Mount Etna, speaking to the world in general...)
"THSTILL the thsame rotten luck! Nineteen yearths thsince dat Giro come thfrough Thsicily, and dis year it finally come, and in fact it even been kind 'nuff to thsircle 'round me, and today it'th actually gonna climb up over my back, and wouldn't you jutht know I'd catch a blathted cold, and for two dayths now I've been trying to chasthe these thstinking cloudth away, and dey're covering my head, and dey're blocking my view, and I can't thsee NUFFIN! How many of those brave boyths have I been able to thee? NONE! Not ONE! Not even one have I thseen. But I can feel dem rollin' over my body. When dey racthe over me dey are like a lotta quick antths. But did I get to THSEE dem? No!, not at all!"
(A child, perched on top of a little wall, asking the occupants of a car...)
"Who's leading? Huh? Who's leading? Is Corrieri there? Is Corrieri leading? Who's leading? Huh? Who's leading now?"
(One motorist waves a hand in a vague gesture, and the car disappears down the dusty dirt road.)
A lava gnome (if you believe in such things) emerges from an immense, petrified black cloud...)
"Something must have happened. ??? Nasty business, I'd say. A disaster, perhaps? Or maybe it's my insane father, Etna... has he started spewing again? If not, why are they all in such a hurry to get away?"
(That is, of course, only if you believe in gnomes and such.)
(Miss Silvia Greene, sitting on the edge of a terrace in Taormina, addressing her mother...)
"Come, Mommy, look at all those cars down there. Can you hear the noise? You'll see, Mommy, they must have captured that bandit, Giuliano. Poor fellow! Why are they so set on tormenting him? (He's so cute!)"
(For more on the bandit Salvatore Giuliano, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvatore_Giuliano)
(Ambrosini, implacable race director, his face redder than ever, waves his little red flag as hard as he can...)
"To the RIGHT! TO THE RIGHT! It's always the same ones! TO THE =
A motorcycle policeman in Messina's Piazza Municipio, creeping along... almost at walking pace, brushing against the enormous crowd which overflows from both sides into the finish area... Trying to keep them back...)
"Hey YOU!... I'm talking to you! Don't you dare lay a hand on me! Move Back! Or do you want me to give you a couple'a black eyes!?"
(A fan, thinking he sees movement at the end of the wide avenue, heralding the race's arrival, screams like a madman...)
"They're Here! Here they are!"
"Long live Corrieri!"
"Cor-rie-ri, cor-rie-ri, cor, rie, ri... cor... Oh."
(gradually fading - it was only a false alarm)
(A young physician with his wife, their child, and a niece, lost in the crowd a few minutes after the finish...)
"I can't believe it! Yesterday I sat at home and heard on the radio who had won the stage immediately, along with the complete order of arrival. Today I'm here on the very spot, and I've been asking for ten minutes who won, and haven't been able to get an answer yet!"
(And guarding the port, the small statue of the Madonna, contemplating the spectacularly happy throng swarming in the sunshine...)
"My Goodness! I've never seen so many people in my whole life. I didn't know... I really couldn't imagine that I had so many people to love!"
* * * * *
Race summary, Stage 2
Catania-Messina, 163 km
Catania was still celebrating Mario Fazzio's pink jersey when the race resumed on stage 2, 163 kilometers from Catania to Messina.
First attack came from Antonio Bevilacqua with Paolieri and Vittorio Rossello. They are soon caught. Cottur counter attacks. Cecchi is not well, and is dropped by the field in Adrano, and he will suffer alone. Other attacks from Rossello, Maggini, Corrieri, Malabrocca and Lambertini, but the pack reels them in each time.
The road then turns towards Randazzo, climbing from the coast to 1000 meters, but without any consequences. On the dangerous descent Brignole crashes, taking Cerami down with him. They chase for ten kilometers before regaining the group. Cargioli attacks, chased by Busancano, Vittorio Rossello, Martini, Casola, and the pink jersey Fazio. Martini tries unsuccessfully to attack.
Casola wins the intermediate sprint in Taormina ahead of Martini and Busancano. After the long descent back to the shore, Paolieri, Schaer, Cottur, De Sante, Ronconi and Sergio Maggini gain a small advantage, with Carrea and Vincenzo Rossello chasing.
The lead group battles to stay ahead, Cottur in particular. Fazio is at his limit. Paolieri drops from the lead, suffering from cramps. De Santi is next to drop off. Cottur rides a long fast sprint, but in the final 50 meters he is passed by Sergio Maggini of G.S. Atala, who wins ahead of Cottur, Schaer, Ronconi and De Santi.
The pink jersey now goes to Cottur.
1. Sergio Maggini (g.s. Wilier Triestina), in 4h46'46" (time bonus 1:00)
2. Giordano Cottur (g.s. Wilier Triestina), at 30" (time bonus 30")
3. Fritz Schaer (g.s. Stucchi), at 45" (time bonus 15")
4. Aldo Ronconi (g.s. Viscontea), same time
5. Guido De Santi (g.s. Atala), same time
6. Léon Jomaux (g.s. Bartali), at 1:13
7. Luciano Pezzi (g.s. Atala), same time
8. Luciano Frosini (g.s. Legnano), same time
9. Giovanni Corrieri (g.s. Bartali), at 2:24
10. Glauco Servadei (g.s.Viscontea), same time
Overall after stage 2
1. Cottur, 12:36:13
2. Andrea Carrea (g.s. Bianchi), at 1:07
3. Mario Fazio (g.s. Bottecchia), at 1:18
4. Schaer, at 1:34
5. Ronconi, at 1:49
6. Jomaux and Pezzi, tied at 3:02
8. Alfredo Martini (g.s. Wilier Triestina), at 3:34
9. Corrieri, F.Coppi, Logli, Bartali, Leoni, Astrua, Brignole, Croci-Torti, Drei, Simoni, Volpi, L. Maggini, all tied at 4:13
Catania, the night of May 21st, 1949. Dino Buzzati writes...
A breakaway! A prank, which started as soon as we left Palermo.
The crowd was still there on the roadside, roaring.
The small houses.
Young women peering from behind curtains: confused looks and tousled hair still permeated by recent slumber.
"Was that the race already?"
(No, more like a parade, a show, a triumphal procession, such as might accompany a departing army.)
Amid the roars, the one hundred and two bicycles passed in an unbroken metallic rumble. When the sound reached them, the tifosi trembled.
The sun, still hanging low in the sky, stretched and distorted the racers' shadows:
There was Fausto Coppi's profile, and Adolfo Leoni's.
There was Gino Bartali's Michelangelo-esque nose reflected on the white plaster walls.
Looks like a splendid day! (But what are those three dark bagpipe-shaped clouds up to, skulking over Monte Pellegrino?)
On such occasions, there is always someone fooling-around, hinting at what could happen in the race, at the right place and time, once things get serious, like a child threatening with his little toy gun and shouting "BANG!".
(Sometimes, though, - and we don't know how - sometimes those inoffensive little guns really do go off.)
With 4068 kilometers left to go (out of 4070 kilometers to race!) four riders broke away: Bartolomeo Bof (Atala), Glauco Servadei (Viscontea), Adriano Lugatti (Bottecchia), and Gildo Monari (Fiorelli).
Oh, certainly nothing to worry about - they'd be the first to admit that, especially Servadei, who's tired old knees have become stiff with the passing years. In fact, they're ready to be caught at any moment, "swallowed up by the main group" as they say.
And, just in case the Giants look at them with "knives shooting from their eyes", they smiled as if to say "You're not angry, are you? If we can't have a bit of harmless fun, what would we have left?"
It was then that Mario Fazio (g.s. Bottecchia) gave in to temptation. Mario Fazio - thirty years old, born in Catania and now living in Brescia, dark complexion, full lips, thin face - a classic Sicilian face.
Perhaps he hadn't given it any thought, or if he had, perhaps he preferred not to dwell on it, but this first stage finished in Catania, his birthplace, and so this would mean a lot to him.
(He asked himself "Is it possible? Then let's risk it!")
So he took the risk, shooting out of the group, which didn't pay any attention to him. Perhaps he was hidden by the infernal line of cars and motorbikes which try to keep an eye on everything, creating a frenzied merry-go-round of horns and sirens and klaxons and whistles, until the entire race becomes one big maniacal free-for-all. Perhaps that was how he escaped, and Serafino Biagioni (Viscontea) slipped out behind him, sticking to Fazio like glue.
(Come on, let's catch the four who took off as a prank. There they are, rounding the curve way down there!)
A few minutes later two others took up the chase: Antonio Bevilacqua (Atala) and Andrea Carrea (Bianchi). Now there were eight of them doggedly continuing this folly.
Ahead of them lay mountains... nothing but mountains, hills and valleys, all the way to the finish.
And behind them - the great Champions, whose pulse rates are 40 beats per minute even at the top of the Passo Stelvio, as if they'd just awakened from a long nap.
(It's wonderful to feel young and invigorated on a Sicilian morning (You, too - right, old Servadei?), surrounded by green countryside, with the sea below, deserted, without even the tiniest boat, and rugged cliffs plunging into the sea like ancient battlements.)
:::Forty-two, forty-three kilometers per hour. How long will they be able to maintain this pace?:::
Their faces, which just a few minutes ago in Palermo seemed so boyish and smooth, without a wrinkle, gradually became distorted masks; you could almost believe they were made of wax, melting in the heat, forming flaccid folds.
This is man locked in a dreadful struggle, as if it were a prison: the world no longer exists to him.
Houses become a blur.
The tifosi become an illusion.
Like a rock climber hanging onto a vertical wall, who sees below him the small hotel, the red cars, the tennis courts with their tiny white moving figures, all that carefree, serene life, but to him it no longer seems real, so absorbed is he by the abyss.
So it is in the race, as little by little, everything around Fazio becomes shadow; vague, shapeless images flowing past on either side.
Shadows of carts, olive trees, carabinieri with machine guns.
Shadows of black-clothed seminarians, running down down down, panting, in search of Gino Bartali ("Gino The Pious" they call him). But Bartali is not here.
(So it's these eight who are here - isn't that good enough?)
Perhaps it's because their names don't sound as nice: "Bartali! Bartali!" the seminarians scream, their voices blaring.
(Don't these morons have anything else to say?)
Fazio's foot begins to hurt. (I tightened the toe strap too much, but if I pause to loosen it, I'll be done for. It's hot. Couldn't these accursed cars stop passing? What are they honking about?)
Descending into the valley at breakneck speed, you can make a good run for it.
"Careful, there's a bit of gravel on the road." (Now I can take a breather) "Your turn, Lugatti - keep it steady!" (Is this climb very long? No, thank God.)
Two hundred meters ahead the reflection from the sun is already visible. (Damn, now the saddle is beginning to hurt. It's new - I should have known it would hurt.)
(But will mamma be at the stadium in Catania???)
The breakaways are dancing on their pedals, surprised by another climb - they arch their backs and loosen their bodies, like giraffes stretching in the morning mists.
They swing their heads comically from side to side; seen from behind it looks as if they're saying "No, no, no" in a sort of desperate rage, aimed at some invisible heckler who keeps moving in front of them and never lets them catch-up.
Now, the climb up the infamous Rock of Cefalu.
Now, the famous cathedral, "magnificent Norman-style temple, begun by King Ruggero in 1131, etc.".
But what do they matter today, the cathedrals, the sea, the landscape, even if they are among the most impressive in the world?
Only the road is real. Nothing else.
And the road continues to climb, steep and rough and unyielding.
We're beginning the best part now - we are below the Colle del Contrasto, eleven hundred meters of climbing, with its King of the Mountains sprint at the top, and a one minute time bonus.
(What are the tifosi throwing now? Rose petals, that's what. To hell with rose petals; how far back are the great champions? That's what's important now. Have they finally decided to join the battle?)
The sun has suddenly disappeared into clouds. The festive atmosphere that permeated the landscape has also gone.
Clouds, wind, chilly mountain air.
(And Bartali, where is he? Seven minutes back, the motorcyclist yelled, but can we believe it?)
"Servadei? Where have you gone, Servadei?" Looking back down the climb, he's nowhere to be seen. (He's exploded.)
Bof gives up too.
It's cold. Right now they are alone, alone on the sinister mountain. After passing through Mistretta, there's nothing along the sides of the road except grass. Grass, and in the distance, small flocks of sheep, and the occasional shepherd, like something out of a fable, laughing aloud like a child, without even knowing why.
(Biagioni? Bevilacqua? - are you struggling, too?)
They have been dropped, and on Contrasto's final steep slopes, it's Monari's turn to set the pace.
(Is that the line up there, over that hump? Yes, God willing!)
A large red banner, whipping in the wind, marks the "King of the Mountains" sprint. Two young shepherds, standing on boulders, hold it suspended over the road.
Fazio sprints ahead furiously. Monari, who thought he already had it won, sees him sprint past at an angle to his right, like a charging buffalo.
Monari tries to strike Fazio. (What's going on between those two? Was that a dirty move?)
They cross the summit in single file, Fazio, Monari, and Carrea, and immediately dive down the other side, while right behind them the cars pour over the crest like a mad horde, tires howling, screeching through the curves, right on the precipitous edge.
Cold air, a black sky, the first drops of rain from a passing storm leave round spots in the dust.
And the Giants? The Giants arrive. The road is still long - the remaining climbs are smaller but so numerous, one wearies of counting them.
(No doubt they'll get tired, the little finches, long before reaching Catania.)
The Giants take their work seriously, and the great strength of the large peloton increases their firepower. They inspire fear when they hurtle through the hairpins, faster than skiers racing down a wide, white slalom.
(Doesn't that kind of abuse burn-out the hubs? Won't the tires catch fire?)
The earth's dizzying gravity is not enough by itself, and the racers attack with all their strength, whistling past at over 80 kilometers per hour.
(Mountains, when will you end?)
Fazio and Carrea are still alone, but now they are tackling the plains. In this low country everything has to be earned, and even the solitary defiance of two men against a hundred has it's cruel price. Thighs become leaden, burning sand has penetrated the knees, pedals are bogged down in thick mud, they are so stiff.
(Will mamma come to the station? She said she would, and my brothers, too - what will they say if they miss my arrival? Where are they right now? Have they finished eating? Are they already on their way?)
Alas, looking behind him, across the other side of the valley, Fazio can see the long glittering line of chrome snaking its way down the mountain. Still far away, it's true. . .
(My God, they're moving fast! Coppi's over there. Ronconi's over there. Bartali's over there, with the visor of his cycling cap turned up, leading the group, pedaling with authority, stern and vengeful, coming to inflict the punishment.)
Sweat is pouring down Carrea's Dante-esque face; he, too, feels like his legs have turned to stone.
There is the final climb, the one leading to Adrano. The two racers appear to have stopped suddenly, they are climbing so slowly, while behind them, like a pack of wolves, the Giro's greats surge in one solid mass.
It is over.
It is over to such an extent that one of their pursuers reaches them. It is Cottur, in his flame-red Wilier-Triestina jersey, driven onward by stubborn and wonderful youth.
"Fazio!" yells the good-natured lad who looks like Dante, as if he were passing along a bit of gossip, "Go!, Go, Fazio! Go on!" Carrea touches Fazio on the shoulder.
Then suddenly - a miracle.
The fiery agony which was burning him, marking the maximum limit beyond which his heart would explode, suddenly disappears. A fresh flood of energy seeps into his muscles, loosening the iron knots gripping his legs, freeing the wheels from their shackles.
Just when the rumbling motors had closed in, announcing the arrival of the army, a few quick thrusts of the pedals, and the two take off again, as they did at the gates of Palermo.
Their faces have become dehumanized, swollen, dripping sweat, yet here they are, charging like a locomotive.
Catania is down there - at last the clouds have parted, and now its rays of sunlight rain down on the countryside and onto the lava flows, casting a radiance upon the garlands, the motorcyclist's blue coveralls, and the innocent female laughter along the roadside.
(Come on, you're beaten, Coppi! You cannot catch me now!)
black-clad seminarians unfurl once more, searching for Bartali,
but now these are festive images.
As he enters the stadium for the finish, the cheers of the crowd pouring over him, Fazio's eyes search for just one thing...
...and there she is - right there, at the finish line, behind the wire fencing: Mamma's face, plump and soothing, full of kindness, tranquillity and laughter.
It lasted only an instant, for there was one more lap around the track and the final sprint to be completed.
And yet, somehow, he'd caught sight of her.
Even if the crowd had been a hundred times larger, he would have spotted her just the same.
Never before had he seen her look like that, laughing and crying at the same.
* * * * *
Race summary: 21 May 1949
PALERMO - CATANIA 261 km.
The first stage of the 32=B0 Giro started fast. The first attack of the race came from Serafino Biagioni, Glauco Servadei (both from the Viscontea team), Adriano Lugatti, Mario Fazio (both Bottecchia), Bartolomeo Bof (Atala), Gildo Monari (Fiorelli). They remained together through Pontisso, where Antonio Bevilacqua (Atala) and Andrea Carrea (Bianchi) were the first to catch them. At kilometer 34 the eight riders had an advantage 2'35".
At kilometer 50 old Servadei was dropped, the pace too fast for the stocky rider from Romano. The group's lead climbed to 4'20", an average of 41 kph. At the crossroad of St.Stefano the piemontese Carrea attacks, and only Fazio, Lugatti and Monari can follow. After 115 kilometers the peloton trails by 9 minutes. On the difficult climb to Mistretta, 900 meters altitude, Lugatti loses contact. The Mountain Grand Prix Montagna on the Colle del Contrasto (1120 meters) goes to Fazio, earning him a bonus of 1 minute, followed by Monari, with a 30 seconds bonus, then Carrea with 15 seconds bonus.
Monari has a puncture, and slowly loses contact. At 180 km the lead is 6'50"; Fazio and Carrea of still strong and increasing their advantage. Monari tries to regain contact with the leading pair, but suffers another puncture 60 km from Catania, and the 31-year-old from Emilia gives-up the chase.
While the fans all cheered for Fazio, the main field has fallen to pieces, and Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali lead the chase. Giordano Cottur (Wilier Triestina) chases the leaders. He quickly gains time on the two leaders, but fails to catch them.
Fazio drops Carrea, and rides on alone into Catania. Carrea is second, Cottur third, and Fausto Coppi leads in a small group to take fourth ahead of Corriere and Bartali.
1 - Mario Fazio, in 7h47'55" (time bonus 2:00)
2 - Andrea Carrea, at six bike lengths (time bonus 0:45)
3 - Giordano Cottur =E0 36"
4 - Fausto Coppi =E0 2'21"
5 - Giovani Corrieri (same time)
6 - Gino Bartali (same time)
7 - Adolfo Leoni (same time)
8 - Fritz Schaer (same time)
9 - Luciano Maggini (same time)
10 - Nedo Logli (same time)
1 - Mario FAZIO g.s. Bottecchia
2 - Andrea Carrea g.s. Bianchi at 1'15"
3 - Giordano Cottur g.s. Wilier Triestina at 3'02"
4 - Fausto Coppi g.s. Bianchi at 4'21"
5 - Giovanni Corrieri g.s. Bartali at 4'21"
Pink leader's jersey - Fazio
White "Best Young Rider" jersey - Fazio