6/11/2009

Part 24 - Competing Against Themselves From Pinerolo to Torino

(a quick note - Coppi's successful solo attack yesterday lasted 190
kilometers. Also, today is the first time the Giro d'Italia has included a
time trial since before the Second World War. A.R.)
 
"And spirits are already falling a bit, out of sadness, as is always the
case when something is near it's end; it doesn't matter whether the ending
is beautiful or terrible, because, either way, it makes man realize how fast
time flies and how short life is." Dino Buzzati
 

Torino, the night of Saturday, 11th June 1949. Dino Buzzati writes. . .


The time trial: the only stage in which the last arrive first and the first arrive last. Each rider departs alone from Pinerolo, one rider every four minutes, beginning with the last rider on the general classification - that rider whose abilities are most modest. The race leader, the "pink jersey", will start last.
 
It is a race in which you must be calculating: the racer challenges himself only, the convenient draft on another rider's wheel is not there to pull you along, nor the incitement of your adversary to spur you on; also absent are the tactical maneuverings among teammates. At last the most modest riders, the "gregari," can play at being stars; there is no worry that the team leader will ask for their wheel, or have them stop somewhere to buy cold orangeade. It is a race in which the spectator has no way of knowing who is winning or losing - like today, when everyone was focused on the aces, and after computing the odds concluded that Coppi would win, forgetting all about Antonio Bevilacqua of the Atala team who, having purposely conserved his energy yesterday in the Alps, took off like an express train at an average speed of forty-two kilometers an hour, faster than all the others, and they paid no attention to Corrieri or De Santi, who were also faster that the campionissimo; it seemed that he didn't commit himself too much today.
 
The excitement generated by this kind of racing is a bit theoretical: it is measured at little tables, where all the calculations are completed and the numbers are compared. The racer's only rival is the hand of the stopwatch, released at the start and stopped at the finish. How far has it traveled in between?
 
To see them as they start off, alone, faces flushed and tense, it is hard to imagine why the champions are so uneasy. It could be said that much of their energy is wasted in pointless worry. A feeling of dreariness permeates the event, as it does all solitary endeavors: it reminds one of a chess player fretting over a problem; a lonely retiree, concentrating on a game of solitaire; a self-educated man with no free days who in the evening studies English through a correspondence school or from phonograph records. In short, after seventeen days of hand-to-hand combat, it resembles a target-shooting competition.
 
The last starts first. His name is Sante Carollo (of the Wilier Triestina team), a day laborer by trade, who deprived Malabrocca of last place in the overall classification, below which there is no one. It's a placing that many riders would like, for last place arouses the public's curiosity and sympathy quite a lot more than does, say, seventh or eighth in the standings. The last rider becomes, in a sense, the standard bearer for all the other destitute and needy on this earth; he's considered a sort of brother by all those who, in the arena of life, have failed to find more than standing room in the bleachers section, and perhaps not even that. But in addition to the sentimental interest, last place has had an actual prize tacked on this year. Every day, bundles of money orders and checks from all over Italy are delivered to the Giro's promotional group, the "Giringiro," whose idea it was to give a prize to the racer who achieves this inverted glory. Factory workers, schoolchildren, priests, teachers, landowners have all contributed to this bonus for the so-called "black jersey." And it has been estimated that Carollo, by dint of being last, will pick up more that two hundred thousand lire.
 
What a strange feeling it must be for him to be the first: ahead of him, two traffic policemen on motorcycles are clearing the road; behind, a team car following just for him, plates with his name mounted on the grill and the back; and people applauding at the edges of fields - not many, to be honest, because the army of sports enthusiasts won't show up until later to pay tribute to the greatest champions.
 
One must admit that, for the public, no stage is more enjoyable than this. The entertainment is not limited to two of three seconds - the time that it usually takes a peloton of cyclists to pass in front of them - but instead goes on for hours; and it doesn't cost a thing!
 
Finally! There's no longer any anxiety of having to single out Bartali's or Coppi's number from among the seething tangle of caps and jerseys. On the contrary, all the aces can be savored one by one without any chance of confusing them; and you also have time to discuss things before the next rider arrives.
 
So he goes, the blond Carollo, absolutely unconcerned about the activity of his closest rival, Luigi Malabrocca (of the Stucchi team), who is next to last in the classification, and left four minutes after him. Already a gap of more than two hours separates them in the general classification, and it's hard to imagine Malabrocca going slowly enough over a sixty-five kilometer route to pull a fast one and pinch Carollo's title. Not even if he were to climb off and walk from time to time. Now and then, Carollo can even relax enough to entertain dreams of victory. Who knows? Those huge clouds on the mountain could unleash a storm of biblical proportions, surprising the competitors starting after him. Who knows? The wind could blow hard enough to knock them out of the saddle, leaving them immobilized in the middle of the road until nightfall, and he, making an overpowering leap up the classification, tomorrow could put on the pink jersey of race leader. But these are just fantasies. The clouds have already burst, emptying their water all along the road, but it was just an ordinary, harmless June rainfall. In reality, everything has already been decided; if anything can change in the classification, it certainly doesn't involve first place. The Giro - at least in the opinions of all the professors - has nothing of further importance to reveal, not even in tomorrow's stage, which takes us to Monza. And spirits are already falling a bit, out of sadness, as is always the case when something is near it's end; it doesn't matter whether the ending is beautiful or terrible, because, either way, it makes man realize how fast time flies and how short life is.
 
In any case, the most significant battle today concerns second place, because Adolfo Leoni of the Legnano team trails Bartali by only three-and-a-half minutes, and time trials have never been Bartali's forte. But the race did not go well for Leoni today, partly because he has a large boil; in fact, he himself was passed by Coppi after no more than twenty kilometers, so instead of a step up the classification, he slipped down to forth, leaving third place to Giordano Cottur of the Wilier Triestina team.
 
And Bartali? Today, once again, Bartali demonstrated his great honesty as a racer, doing his utmost as if he were going to win. But he knew full well that, today, victory would not be his.
 
At Pinerolo, waiting for the starter to call his name, trying to extricate himself from a mob of boys who had besieged him with postcards and pencils, hoping for an autograph, the loser on the Izoard took refuge in our car. He was serene, and seemed in perfect form, and was unusually talkative. As always, he had to grumble about something in order to remain the real Bartali, and he started to complaining that Leoni was scheduled to leave after him instead of vice versa. Therefore, he did not have a chance to regulate his speed with regard to Leoni's pace, but Leoni could do so with regard to his. Then he asked us: "And you, who will you follow in your car? Coppi, right?" For a moment there was a touch of bitterness in his voice, "Oh, everybody will follow Coppi today - he's riding well. I don't know how any more!" But he said it without rancor, as if it seemed logical to him, and he'd resigned himself to it.
 
Then he spoke about yesterday's stage. He said that when Coppi attacked, he thought it was just a prank. But he offered no excuses, quite the contrary. He did not protest, and he spoke as if he were just talking to himself, trying to convince himself. "You see, I am no longer the same. Now I am afraid on the descents. Yesterday, descending the Izoard, I lost two minutes. In the past, I would have shot off into thin air, but now I am afraid. When I see a sharp turn I slow down. Who knows, perhaps it is also the Torino accident. That really shocked me. In the past I flew downhill, I went hard. . . Now I race hard uphill, but not downhill any more. I am afraid now"
 
Then a voice from the starting line was heard calling his name. Bartali adjusted his pigskin mitts, climbed out of the car, and walked to his bicycle just like a man on his way to work.


***********

 
RESULTS 18th tappa - sabato 11 giugno
Cronometro PINEROLO - TORINO 65 chilometri

ORDINE D'ARRIVO
1° Toni BEVILACQUA Italia gs.Atala chilometri 65 in 1 ora 32' 03" media:
43,368
2° Giovanni CORRIERI a 1' e 32"
3° Guido DE SANTI a 1' e 33"
4° Coppi a 2' e 08"
5° Astrua a 2' e 21"
6° Cottur a 2' e 47"
7° Ausenda a 2' e 49"
8° Bartali a 3' e 20"
9° Rossi a 3' e 32"
10° Logli a 4' e 28"

CLASSIFICA GENERALE
1° Fausto COPPI Maglia Rosa
2° Bartali a 24' e 32"
3° Cottur a 38' e 12"
4° Leoni a 38' e 46"
5° Astrua a 39' e 35"

Maglia Bianca: Astrua

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