Part 26 -

(copied from BiciVenetto)

The Fable of the Bicycle Will Never Fade Away
And next year, the start will once again take place, and yet again the year after, from spring to spring...Until (but will we still be living?) reasonable people will say that it's absurd to continue; in those times bicycles will have become rare, almost comical junk, used by a few nostalgic maniacs, and voices will be raised, saying that it's time to put the Giro to rest.
No, don't give up, bicycle. At a cost of appearing ridiculous, set sail once again on a fresh May morning, off along the ancient byways of Italy. We will travel for the most part by rocket train then; atomic energy will save us even a minimum effort; we will be very powerful and civilized. Pay us no mind, bicycle. Fly, with your little energies, among mountains and valleys, sweat, toil, and suffer. The woodcutter will still descend from his isolated mountain hut to cry "Evviva!," fishermen will come up from the beach, clerks will abandon their ledgers, the blacksmith will let his flame die out to come to celebrate you, the poets, the dreamers, the creatures humble and good will still line the roadsides, forgetting, to your merit, their troubles and hardships.
And maidens will cover you with flowers.
Dino Buzzati, Corriere della Sera, June 14, 1949


Part 25 - One "Corrieri" between Turin and Monza

(In Italy in 1949 it is Sunday, June 12th - there is no "Corriere della Serra" today.)
Part 25 - Stage Recap and Results - One "Corrieri" Between Turin and Monza

The final stage of this exciting Giro d'Italia departs Turin at eight o'clock, the sixty-five survivors riding easily for the first sixty kilometers, until the sprint into Novara which is won by Bevilacqua from Maggini, Logli and Corrieri.
Climbing towards Varese and Como, and hampered by a strong wind, Leoni, not in good physical condition, suffer the pains of hell, and the entire Legnano team stays with him. A nasty fall disturb the good mood in the main group, the victims include Conte, De Fazio and De Santi.
The climb of Ghisallo is not as casual. At the top Bartali takes the prize ahead of Pasotti and Martini. Then the long march to Monza, with a "parade" lap of six and a half kilometers around the autodrome. The Belgian Jomaux launches the sprint perfectly for his teammate Corrieri, who takes over at the front and holds off a fast-closing Mario Ricci, Fausto Coppi, Tonini, and Brasola. Then the large crowds surge forward to embrace Coppi, Bartali and all the others, including the taciturn but friendly winner of the maglia nera (black jersey), Carollo.
Stage Results
1° Giovanni CORRIERI (Italia), gs.Bartali, 267 kilometers in 8 hours 51 minutes 29 seconds (30.142kph average)
2° Mario RICCI st
3° Fausto COPPI st
4° Tonini st
5° Brasola st
6° Frosini st
7° Pasotti st
plus 50 more riders finish with the same time as the winner

BEST TEAM: Wilier Triestina
BEST YOUNG RIDER: Astrua (white jersey)
Contrasto: Fazio
Tiriolo: Jomaux
Rolle: Bartali
Pordoi: Coppi
Gardena: Coppi
Abetone: Pasotti
Passo del Bracco: Pasotti
Col di Nava: Vittorio Rossello
Col du Vars: Coppi
Col de l'Izoard: Coppi
Monginevro: Coppi
Ghisallo: Bartali
1° Fausto COPPI (Italia) gs.Bianchi, 4088 kms in 125 hours, 25 minutes, 50 seconds, average speed of 32.566 kph (based on actual time before time bonuses).
2° Bartali a 23' 47"
3° Cottur a 38'27"
4° Leoni a 39' 01"
5° Astrua a 39' 50"
6° Martini a 48' 48"
7° Bresci a 49' 04"
8° Biagioni a 54' 10"
9° Logli a 56' 59"
10° Pedroni a 1.02'10"
11° Fazio a 1.06'10"
12° Maggini a 1.13'23"
13° Simonini a 1.14'13"
14° Schaer 1.15'39"
15° Franchi a 1.17'54"
16° Goldschmidt a 1.20'35"
17° Volpi a 1.21'42"
18° Vincenzo Rossello a 1.22'43"
19° Vittorio Rossello a 1.24'13"
20° Jomaux a 1.25'26"
21° Pezzi a 1.25'44"
22° Soldani a 1.27'49"
23° Carrea a 1.28'07"
24° Cerami a 1.29'26"
25° Pasotti a 1.33'37"
26° Pasquini a 1.38'22"
27° Milano a 1.39'46"
28° Fornara a 1.47'49"
29° Brignole a 1.50'07"
30° Drei a 1.52'02"
31° Rossi a 1.52'17"
32° Corrieri a 1.55'37"
33° Seghezzi a 1.57'52"
34° Cecchi a 1.58'03"
35° Magni a 2.10'47"
36° Doni a 2.12'06"
37° Tonini a 2.15'56"
38° Lambertini a 2.16'17"
39° Ausenda a 2.17'34"
40° Bevilacqua a 2.23'52"
41° Croci Torti a 2.43'02"
42° De Santi a 2.50'07"
43° Ottusi a 2.51'14"
44° Bellini a 3.06'08"
45° Barducci a 3.09'16"
46° Coppini a 3.28'22"
47° Paolieri a 3.36'33"
48° Servadei a 3.39'50"
49° Ricci a 3.40'27"
50° Bonini a 3.42'40"
51° Zanazzi a 3.51'09"
52° Missine a 3.52'42"
53° Frosini a 3.53'26"
54° Della Giustina a 3.56'07"
55° S.Coppi a 4.26'04"
56° Pinarello a 4.42'20"
57° A.Fazio a 4.57'04"
58° Crippa a 4.59'50"
59° Brasola a 5.01'17"
60° Fulcheri a 5.10'28"
61° Conte a 5.51'37"
62° Zuccotti a 6.18'39"
63° Benso a 7.41'58"
64° Malabrocca a 7.47'26"
65° Carollo a 9.57'07"
Starters: 102
Finishers: 65
Other numbers from the Giro 1949
Age of the winner: Fausto Coppi 29 year 8 months and 28 days
Percent retirees: (102 partiti, 37 ritirati) 36,28%
Longest stage: Roma Pesaro di 298 chilometri (Vinta da Leoni su Luciano Maggini e Pasotti)
Shortest stage: (timetrial) Pinerolo Torino 65 chilometri (Vinta da Bevilacqua), (mass start) Genova Sanremo di 136 chilometri (Vinta da Luciano Maggini)
Highest elevation: 43,368 nella crono da Pinerolo a Torino. In linea la Udine Bassano con 39,856 (Vinta da Corrieri per distacco su Doni e Fornara)
Maggior distacco tra vincente e piazzato: Cuneo Pinerolo, Coppi e Bartali divisi all'arrivo da 11' 52"
Maglie Rosa assegnate: 3 giorni Coppi, 3 giorni Fazio, 5 giorni Cottur e 8 giorni Leoni


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

1° Toni BEVILACQUA Italia gs.Atala chilometri 65 in 1 ora 32' 03" media:
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"

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


Part 23 - Bartali and Coppi Finally Do Battle In The Alps

First, a quick bit of classical literature:
"Summary of the plot of The lliad" from "The Homer Web Page" (no longer on-line)
The plot of Homer's ILIAD centers around the Trojan War 4, which rages for ten years between the Greeks (or Achaeans) and the Trojans. The war is caused by the irresponsible actions of Paris, son of Priam, who is called upon to judge a beauty contest among the goddesses Aphrodite, Hera and Athena. All three of the goddesses offer bribes in order to tilt Paris' decision in their favor, but Paris declares the winner to be Aphrodite, who has promised him the hand of the beautiful Helen. Helen, as it turns out, is the wife of Menelaus, an Achaean chieftain, and the Achaean expedition to recover her escalates into a full-fledged war against the city of Troy.
However, there are conflicts within the Achaean ranks. A fight breaks out between King Agamemnon and star warrior Achilles when Agamemnon endangers the Achaean forces by disrespecting the priest of Apollo. The priest, Chryses, offers a healthy ransom to Agamemnon in exchange for the return of his daughter, Chryseis, who Agamemnon has taken as a prize. Agamemnon stubbornly refuses, and asks Apollo to cut down the Achaeans with a plague.
Achilles is appalled by Agamemnon's selfish behavior and demands that the girl returned to her father or he will not participate in Agamemnon and Menelaus' war. Agamemnon agrees to return Chryseis, but takes Achilles' wife Briseis in her place. Heartbroken, Achilles calls upon his mother, the sea nymph Thetis, and begs her to intercede on his behalf, calling up an old debt owed her by Zeus and asking him to impede the Achaeans' progress in order to punish Agamemnon.
Thetis approaches Zeus and fulfills her son's request. Zeus agrees, though he is cautious of provoking the wrath of his wife Hera, who is sympathetic to the Achaean cause.
As Achilles sulks at home, the war continues. Even without his talents, the Achaeans are able to bear down so hard upon the Trojans that Trojan leader Hector has to return home to request special prayers and sacrifices to the gods in order to shift their luck. While he is in the city he visits his family and his brother Paris, who is also sulking at home. Soon after this the tide turns in the Trojans favor, and the Achaeans are left with no recourse but to ask Achilles to return to the battle. Achilles refuses, but grants his dear friend Patroclus permission to lead in his stead, garbed in his own personal armor.
Patroclus fights gallantly and turns the tide of battle in the Achaeans' favor once again, but through the intervention of Apollo, he is killed by Hector. After an intense struggle, the Achaeans gain possession of Patroclus' body and flee back to their camp. Achilles is distraught when he learns of his friend's demise and decides to return to the battle in order to wreak vengeance upon Hector. However, he has no gear to fight in as Hector has stripped his armor from Patroclus' corpse. This problem is solved by the intervention of Thetis, who begs the smith of the gods, Hephaestus to forge new armor and a mighty shield for Achilles.
Achilles returns to the battle, slaying a great number of Trojans in his pursuit of Hector. Finally, the two arch-foes come face-to-face in a head on charge and Hector's throat is impaled by Achilles' spear. With his dying breath, Hector begs Achilles not to defile his corpse. Achilles nonetheless drags the body from the back of his chariot, much to the dismay of Apollo. Zeus recommends that a ransom be given to Achilles in exchange for the body, and Achilles reluctantly surrenders the body to Priam, Hector's father.
Hector's body is taken back to Troy and given a grand cremation worthy of a man of his stature.
And now, the article.
Part 23 - Bartali and Coppi Finally Do Battle In The Alps

Pinerolo, the night of Friday, 10 June 1949. Dino Buzzati writes. . .
Quando oggi, su per le terribili strade dell'Izoard, vedemmo Bartali che da solo inseguiva a rabbiose pedalate, tutto lordo di fango, gli angoli della bocca piegati in giu per la sofferenza dell'anima e del corpo. . .
Today, on the terribly steep climb of the Izoard, when we saw Bartali set off in lone pursuit of Coppi, pedaling furiously, spattered in mud, the corners of his mouth turned down in a grimace expressing all the suffering of his body and soul - Coppi had passed by quite a while before, and by now was climbing the final slopes of the pass - when we saw Bartali, something was reborn in us, after thirty years, a feeling that we had never forgotten since our days at school.
It was thirty years ago when we learned that Hector had been slain by Achilles.
Is such a comparison too solemn, too glorious? No. What use would our classes in "classical studies" have been if fragments didn't remain with us, becoming an integral part of our humble existence?
True, Fausto Coppi certainly does not have Achilles' icy cruelty. On the contrary, of the two great champions, he is without a doubt the more cordial and likable. But Bartali, even if he is more aloof and impolite (without realizing it, perhaps) lives the same drama as Hector, the drama of a man destroyed by the gods. The Trojan hero finds he is fighting against the goddess Athena herself, and he was destined to fail. And it's against a superhuman power that Bartali fought, and he could do nothing but lose: victim of the destructive power of aging.
His heart is still formidable, his muscles are in perfect condition, and his spirit has retained the toughness of his better days. But, without him noticing, time has wreaked havoc on him, as little by little it undermined his marvelous collection of internal organs - not by much, as neither the doctors nor their instruments could find the slightest change, and yet the man is no longer the same.
And today, for the second time, he has lost.
Today's stage, which devoured cyclists - "we've never seen such a dreadfully hard bicycle race," the most experienced technicians were saying this evening - began in a gloomy valley in the rain, beneath enormous clouds, with a mist floating just above the ground, in a climate of uneasiness, an atmosphere of depression.
Bundled up in their waterproof jackets, the racers kept close to one another, almost as if seeking shelter from the hostile weather, dragging themselves up from the Valle Stura like big lethargic snails. It seemed as if autumn had arrived unusually early, the road was deserted - perhaps we would not come across any more towns or people, perhaps the caravan would find itself later this evening in a wasteland of crags and ice, having used up all its strength, and would never again hear the dear voices of their loved ones.. That was the overall mood.
Only occasionally did the drapes of mist open, allowing a glimpse of distant black peaks. But shafts of white light, filtering through beneath the massive clouds, reminded us that somewhere on earth the sun was shining.
This dispirited troop of fat, mistreated snails finally emerged from the darkness and rain above Argentera. We were already quite high up, and the valley was spreading out wider.
We drove ahead and then looked down from the bastions of the Colle della Maddelena toward the slippery road, whose zigzags disappeared into the bottom of the valley.
The sun!
And by a stroke of good luck, we were present at the decisive moment, at the war's most important engagement, which erased any and all doubts and put an end to the discussions and debates that had gripped the entire country.
It was from that very brief moment, taking place in the majestic solitude of the mountains, that the rest of the race was written: the triumph of one young man and the inevitable twilight of another, who was no longer young.
Hundreds of thousands of Italians would have paid who-knows-how-much to be up there where we were, and to see what we were seeing. For years and years, we realized, there would be endless talk about this brief moment which by itself did not seem to be of special importance: merely a man on a bicycle, who was pulling away from his traveling companions. And yet in that instant on this stretch of road came to pass what the Ancients used to call "Destiny."
The Iliad, book 22, line 249:
Then Father Zeus held out his sacred golden scales: in them he placed two fates of death that lays men low - one for Achilles, one for Hector, breaker of horses, and gripping the beam mid-haft the Father raised it high and down went Hector's day of doom, dragging him down to the strong House of Death.
We looked down so steeply at the racers that the perspective, almost vertical, transformed them into slender, colorful insects slowly sliding along. This column quivered lightly here and there - are they waking-up at last?
Suddenly one of them, just a tiny orange spec, broke away from the others and rapidly outdistanced them. We realized immediately from his colors that he was not one of the giants - it was Primo Volpi of the Arbos team.
(Buzzati's text is a little confusing there, since the Arbos jersey is blue, not orange. AR)
However, another of those little shapes, this one colored white and blue, immediately sprang out from the side of the group, arching its back. It darted ahead, and in a few moments had reached the orange jersey. They were still at least five hundred meters away from us (as the crow flies).
"But it's Coppi! It's Coppi! You can see very clearly it's his riding style," they shouted.
In fact it really was him, and with impressive speed, if you consider the steepness of the climb, he literally flew toward the summit, dragging the little orange spot with him for three or four switchbacks. But very soon Coppi was alone.
The drowsy swaying of the group stopped as two other riders kicked away sharply in Coppi's wake, detaching themselves from the peloton.
Then two more.
And Bartali?. . . was our great one not going to react? Yes! We saw him extricate himself with great difficulty from the middle of the peloton, move to the right, and give some sharp heaves on the pedals in pursuit.
But strangely, it seemed as if he was performing without conviction, that he didn't believe in what he was doing, that he assumed all that activity off the front was just a harmless ruse.
We climbed back into the car and, amid the thick and intimidating clouds alternating with shafts of sunlight, we reached the Passo della Maddelena, losing sight of the racers.
From here on, these two were the only racers we would see all the way to Pinerolo; the fugitive and his pursuer, the two great heroes fighting tooth-and-nail for a kingdom.
The others remained behind, farther and farther behind, separated by high valleys and steep precipices, battling energetically among themselves; but from this moment on they were no longer racing for victory.
Everything came down to this, a battle between two solitary riders, and all hearts were gripped with emotion.
When we had descended the tricky Maddelena road (at breakneck speed, it should be noted) into a dark valley, we were met by blue-uniformed French gendarmes, stationed at every intersection as if they were our welcoming committee. We heard voices different from ours echoing along the extremely steep road, still encircled by crags, rising mercilessly toward the Col de Vars. Other mountains appeared in the distance, wild and gloomy-looking, and behind us, for a few moments, we could see an immense turret of rock with massive and imposing pilasters of purple ice, and we began to understand why people said the stage in the Dolomites was a joke compared to today's battle. The Colle della Maddelena would already have broken the back of an ox, and we had still just barely begun.
From the very first moments of the duel Victory took her place at Coppi's side - anyone who saw him no longer had any doubt. His pace up those accursed climbs had an irresistible power. Who could have stopped him?
Every so often, to relieve the discomfort, he raised himself up out of the saddle, and he pedaled so easily it looked as though he merely wanted to stretch to rid himself of excess energy, as an athlete does on awakening from deep sleep. The muscles were visible beneath the skin - they resembled baby snakes about to emerge from their rubbery eggs. As in the Dolomites, he advanced with absolute calm, almost as if he were unaware of the wolf following close at his heels. From his team car, always at his side, Zambrini watched him and smiled, now certain of the victory.
The Iliad, book 22, line 255:
Athena rushed to Achilles, her bright eyes gleaming, standing should-to-shoulder, winging orders now: "at last our hopes run high, my brilliant Achilles - Father Zeus must love you - we'll sweep great glory back to Achaea's fleet, we'll kill this Hector, mad as he is for battle!".
At the French border near the Colle della Maddelena, Coppi had an advantage of more than two minutes.
At the summit of the Colle de Vars he had four minutes and twenty-nine seconds.
Then, from the bottom of a long and frightful gorge, appeared the terrible wall of the Izoard.
As for Bartali, was this the final collapse? Had not the inclement weather, which was once his faithful ally, given him any advantage? Has his legendary endurance suddenly failed him?
No, Bartali remained always himself: stubborn, tough, relentless. But how can anyone resist someone favored by the gods?
He was filthy with mud, but his face, though gray with dirt, remained unmoved by the effort. He kept on pedaling as if a hideous beast were chasing after him, and he knew that if he were caught all hope would be lost.
It was time, irreversible time, that was running after him, and it was an inspiring sight to see this man alone in the wild gorge, engaged in his desperate battle with the advance of the years.
The Iliad, book 22, line 354:
"And now death, grim death is looming up beside me, no longer far away. No way to escape it now. This, this was their pleasure after all, sealed long ago - Zeus and the son of Zeus, the distant deadly Archer - though often before now they rushed to my defense. So now I meet my doom. Well, let me die - but not without a struggle, not without glory, no, in some great clash of arms that even men to come will hear of down all the years!".
They were unable to see each other - every minute the barrier of gorges, crags, and forests widened between them, and the adversaries fought to the very end.
Now came the fantastic terraces of the Izoard, which would take even an eagle's breath away, terraces which end in a bleak amphitheater of huge, precipitous crags, with towers of yellow rock that almost appear human. Then comes the dizzying climb above Briançon, a rise of a thousand meters.
Was that the finale of this massacre? No, it still wasn't finished. There was a fifth torturous wall to scale, the Sestreire, destined to chastise these men for their sins: another half-kilometer of climb to grind out on the pedals.
What do the details of a report matter in so great a battle? In the final reckoning, how much importance can be attributed to Coppi's five flat tires today, and Bartali's three?
Coppi flies on toward the summit, no longer worried by the same apprehension he knew during the first hours, now certain of finishing alone.
And Bartali continues to resist, but little by little the minutes between them accumulate.
Six minutes and forty-six seconds at Montgenèvre.
Seven minutes and seventeen seconds at Cesana.
Almost eight minutes at Sestriere.
Nearly twelve minutes at the stadium in Pinerolo.
Today, for the first time, Bartali has lost. It fills us with bitterness, because it reminds us so intensely of our common fate. Today, for the first time, Bartali understood that he has reached his twilight years.
And for the first time he smiled.
We witnessed this phenomenon with our very own eyes - a spectator at the side of the road waved at him, and Bartali, turning his head slightly in that direction, smiled.
That cantankerous, dismissive, disagreeable man, that unmanageable bear with the eternally sullen grimace of unhappiness, him?
Yes, him. . . he actually smiled.
But Bartali, why did you do that? Didn't you realize that by doing so you have destroyed the thorny aura, the spell which protected you?
Are you beginning finally to appreciate the applause, the hurrahs of the fans who don't even know you?
So, is it the weight of your years?
You have accepted it, at last.
Stage Results - 17° tappa - venerdì 10 giugno
CUNEO - PINEROLO 254 chilometri
1° Fausto COPPI (Bianchi Ursus) in 9 ore 19' e 55" media: 27,218
2° Gino BARTALI (Bartali Gardiol), a 11' e 52"
3° Alfredo MARTINI (Wilier Triestina), a 19' e 14"
4° Giordano COTTUR (Wilier Triestina), st
5° Giulio BRESCI (Wilier Triestina), st
6° Giancarlo ASTRUA (Benotto), st
7° Serafino BIAGIONI (Viscontea), a 23' e 37"
8° Adolfo LEONI (Legnano Pirelli), st
9° Umberto DREI (Benotto), st
10° Dino ROSSI (Cimatti), st
Col de Vars:
1° Fausto COPPI (Bianchi Ursus), 1' bonus
2° Gino BARTALI (Bartali Gardiol), a 4' e 29", 30" bonus
3° Primo VOLPI (Arbos), a 4' e 31", 15" bonus
4° Léon JOMAUX (Bartali Gardiol)
5° Giancarlo ASTRUA (Benotto)
Col d'Izoard:
1° Fausto COPPI (Bianchi Ursus), 1' bonus
2° Gino BARTALI (Bartali Gardiol), a 6' e 54", 30" bonus
3° Léon JOMAUX (Bartali Gardiol), a 10' e 41", 15" bonus
4° Giancarlo ASTRUA (Benotto)
5° Bruno PASQUINI (Bianchi Ursus)
Col du Montgenèvre:
1° Fausto COPPI (Bianchi Ursus), 1' bonus
2° Gino BARTALI (Bartali Gardiol), a 6' e 46", 30" bonus
3° Alfredo MARTINI (Wilier Triestina), a 17' e 40", 15" bonus
4° Giancarlo ASTRUA (Benotto)
5° Giulio BRESCI (Wilier Triestina)
1° Fausto COPPI (Bianchi Ursus), maglia Rosa
2° Gino BARTALI (Bartali Gardiol), a 23' e 20"
3° Adolfo LEONI (Legnano Pirelli), a 26' e 54"
4° Giordano COTTUR (Wilier Triestina), a 37' e 33"
5° Giancarlo ASTRUA (Benotto), a 39' e 22"
6° Alfredo MARTINI (Wilier Triestina), a 42' e 27"
7° Giulio BRESCI (Wilier Triestina), a 45' e 38"
8° Serafino BIAGIONI (Viscontea), a 50' e 21"
9° Nedo LOGLI (Arbos), a 54' e 24"
10° Mario FAZIO (Bottecchia), a 58' e 55"
Maglia Bianca: Giancarlo ASTRUA (Benotto)


Part 22 - Supreme Judgment Tomorrow on the Izoard

Cuneo, the night of Thursday, 9th June 1949. Dino Buzzati writes..
Imagine a provincial theater bursting at the seams with people - Arturo Toscanini is conducting! One hour before it is to begin, and there isn't an empty seat. Society ladies and gentlemen from all over the region have arrived for the occasion. Trepidation, anxiety, pulses are racing. As far back as anyone can recall, the town has never seen such an event, and people have talked about nothing else for the last month.
The entire orchestra is already assembled on stage. There's a hum of voices and discordant notes as the musicians tune their instruments.
At precisely nine o'clock the lights are dimmed, and the audience holds its breath.
There he is!
A figure in white tie and tails enters from a side door and strides to the dais. A tremendous burst of applause is unleashed.
There he is! Toscanini!
But why does he have black hair?
Why, it isn't him, it's someone else! The news spreads quickly throughout the hall. An unfortunate incident has prevented Toscanini from coming. Replacing him is this young maestro, whom everybody says is a very capable conductor. For a moment the thunderous applause is suspended, while the audience members look at each other, perplexed. But then, to show they are up to the standards of good manners, and in order to avoid humiliating this excellent young man who is, after all, not to blame, the applause resumes. But everybody is deeply disappointed.
The mood was similar this afternoon in Cuneo among the crowd that poured out along the roads coming into town, and onto the long home stretch to the finish line. A powerful roar welcomed the first group of riders to appear, and within this roar it was easy to discern the usual two names shouted by thousands of fans: "Bartali! Coppi!" But Gino Bartali was not there. Nor was Fausto Coppi. Fausto's brother Serse was there among the twelve breakaways, all of them talented and experienced young men, and the winner of the sprint, Oreste Conte of the Bianchi team, certainly earned the applause he received.
Nevertheless, it wasn't Toscanini.
Why should we newspaper columnists remain silent about the public's disappointment, which has been repeated with depressing regularity ever since the Giro began, but for the exception of three stages? There was certainly no disappointment in Catania, happy to see its very own Mario Fazio in first place. Nor was there any disappointment in Salerno when Coppi won in a sprint. And there was none in Bolzano, where Coppi won the battle of the Dolomites.
But in the other thirteen cities, even though they were too polite to let on, the fans were very upset. As we all know, emotions are not subject to logic, and the enthusiasts' spirits remain impervious to the cold logic that points-out the absurdity of their demands. What's important to the great champions is to be among the leaders in the overall classification, and one can lose all the skirmishes without need for concern, provided victory is achieved in the war overall. There are two decisive battles. One was in the Dolomites, which did, in fact, turn the overall classification upside down, and gave big gains to the two "great ones." The other is tomorrow's conflict in the Alps. But try to explain this to the fans. What long faces they pull, seeing their two favorites arrive amid the big battalion of latecomers, without disgrace, but also and without glory,. Their blind love does not waver, but they have a hard time understanding, and feel they've been betrayed.
In Sicily, during the first stage, while the racers were panting up the steep slopes of the Colle del Contrasto, the "old ones" told us with a superior smile: "These hills are mere trifles. Wait until you see what happens in the stage from Villa San Giovanni to Cosenza - yes, that one is definitely an ordeal. At least a third of them will quit."
We left Villa San Giovanni, began the murderous climbs and descents of the Calabrian mountains, and the very wise "old ones" conceded: "Yes, an exhausting stage, but it is of relative unimportance" That's what they said. "In the Dolomites, ah, yes, in the Dolomites, these boys will sweat blood. Everything will be decided up there. For some, it will be their Waterloo."
We went up the entire Italian peninsula, arrived in the Dolomites, climbed the Rolle, and then the Pordoi, and then the Passo di Campolongo and the Gardena, and the "old ones" looked at us with their little Mephistophelian smiles: "Fine stage, no denying, but it will take more than that. A mere stroll, this, when compared to the French Alps. You'll see. You'll see the Izoard, and then you will truly understand!"
Thus from stage to stage, the wait for the next day's race became a bit of a nightmare.
Today's stage went by as smoothly as an intermezzo - an indispensable stage, yes, because it was necessary for us to reach the foot of the mountains, but in the end it was meaningless. In fact, if the racers had traveled from San Remo to Cuneo by train or motorcoach instead of on their bicycles, the result (from a sporting perspective) would have been identical. Neither the Colle di San Bartolomeo, nor the Colle di Nava were enough to shake the champions, and a kind of perfect harmony reigned in their little family as far as the gates of Cuneo, where (so as not to lose face ) came the rebel's usual breakaway.
Tomorrow, then, on the Giro's most difficult stage, the appeals trial in the Bartali case will take place. As strange as it may seem, the enthusiasm for the campionissimo after his defeat in the Dolomites has increased enormously,. The comparison with a trial is justified. A guilty sentence, rather than an acquittal, swells the popularity of the accused, and the loser is much more poignant than the winner.
If Bartali wins back his lost crown tomorrow, an explosion of celebration the likes if which was never seen before will shake the peninsula. However, this is his last chance. Although he is a man of extraordinary reserves of energy, and he does not let adversity dishearten him, it is widely believed that tomorrow he will undergo the ultimate test. Millions of Italians continue to believe, with touching naiveté, that Bartali is unbeatable. After the Dolomites they said to themselves: "Of course, Bartali needs to warm up! On the Pordoi he wasn't yet in top form. You will see, in the Alps!"
We will see an endless flood of well wishes and prayers go with him. But watch out! If he were to yield again tomorrow, it could be an irreparable blow.
How fickle is the crowd's love. After so many disappointments, even the most stubborn faith is destroyed.
Beware, Bartali!
The public is already lining up at the court's entrance. The most famous lawyers have donned their solemn robes, and their most compelling arguments are ready, down to the last comma.
The judges, that is to say, the mountains, sit enigmatically, their very appearance quite intimidating.
Final appeal: On the profile of the race, the Dolomites look like a frightening series of peaks, similar to the temperature chart of malarial fever - a total of 3900 meters uphill and 3800 meters downhill, with four passes to climb over. However, the profile of tomorrow's stage is even more impressive and quite worrisome: Five passes, the Colle della Maddelena, Col de Vars, Izoard, Montgenevre, and Sestreire - 4700 meters uphill, 5000 meters downhill. It is natural to make a comparison with mountaineering: the Civetta wall is frightening, a classic grade six, but the Eiger, encrusted with green ice, is even more terrifying.
Today on the Col di Nava, after the racers had gone by, a Bartali fan lost patience with an opposing fan: "But did you see him? Do you want to add another ten thousand lire to the bet for tomorrow? You see. . . you're not willing to bet! But did you see how he was catching Coppi? He covered the last three hundred meters looking behind him, as if he were playing around, and when Coppi took off, what did he do? He wasn't even bothered, I swear. Two, three thrusts of the pedals and he charged ahead again. And he kept on looking behind him.. Like a cat, absolutely! Like a cat that amuses himself by killing a mouse! Another twenty thousand lire, look, I bet another twenty thousand lire that tomorrow your Coppi will fall apart!"


Part 21 - The Old Racers Refrain

(Here's one of the favorites)
San Remo, the night of Wednesday, 8th June, 1949. Dino Buzzati writes. . .
The bicycle has two wheels - one which guides and one which runs; one obeys the brain when deciding whether to go left of right, the other obeys the legs, our professionals' legs. When you touch them, they shout "But this is wood!" And for each leg there's a pedal.
The pedals! This is the cross we have to bear. Never, never will they be satisfied: when one is up, its twin is down, and each one always wants to do what the other is doing; they continue to run after one-another and never, ever catch up.
And yet, who can say no to them?
When one is up, we push it down, then it's the other one's turn, otherwise an injustice would be done.
And the pedals drive the chainring, the chainring pulls the chain, the chain pulls the cog, the cog turns the wheel, and the wheel carries us forward, forward.
The legs! Therein lies the big problem. Some people's legs are hard and knotty. Others are long and tapered like a ballerina's. One has thighs like a hog, another those of a wading bird. But they are all magnificent, strong, courageous, obedient.
But our poor legs! Miserable, enslaved, bruised, overused and tired, they carry along, carry along this little piece of machinery cruelly called life.
There are those who study, others who cultivate fields, or make clothing or pots, those who manufacture trains or pumps; there are those who care for the sick or bury the dead; there are those who teach children, and others who say Mass.
But we do none of this. We do not manufacture or cultivate anything. We move our legs, see, and nothing else.
Absolutely nothing else.
And for this we have been given a brightly colored jersey, and a number has been put on our back. Then they print our names in the newspaper. They give us money, too.
But for how long?
They throw flowers at us, adore us, kiss us, ask for our autograph.
But for how long?
Until the day, good people, when our legs say "No". They will say "Enough going around and around, pushing pedals up and down".
And without a number or a jersey, we, too, will sit on our doorstep on these days in May and June, watching other legs turning.
No longer ours, though.
Ours will rest firmly on the ground, like the legs of landowners, like those of pharmacists, teachers, hat makers, plumbers - in sum, like all those who still have all their faculties. And we will say "Thank heavens! No more backbreaking work for us. No more dust and torment. Oh, oh. . . and no more dysentery! We've had enough of that hellish life, the life of a convict!
(God, though, how wonderful it was!)
Do you remember? At 8:30 on the dot, the starter lowered his little white flag, and off we went together; it was cool, the day was magnificent. They said good-bye to us, but it wasn't a farewell. And very soon the Venetian rider Guido De Santi broke-away, and we pedaled with all our might, and the pace was crazy in a gear of 51x15, and we no longer saw mountains or villas, woods or taverns, nor the ruddy mouths laughing and shouting our poor names - all we saw was the backside of the rider in front of us, his red jersey bursting with supplies of food, and as we sped along the loose chips on the asphalt became long, dizzying streaks. During this time we relayed each other at the front. And then, who knows how, we found ourselves all alone - remember? For us were reserved the roars and the applause, as well as the banner at the center of town, with a 25,000 lire prize. It was around noon, it was hot, there were no trees to give us a little shade. The good old days, right?
Nineteen hundred forty-nine! Nineteen days of slaving away - at the time it seemed as though we were falling to pieces.
But on that day there will be no more flat tires, no more feeling completely shattered, no more team discipline, nor getting up at the crack of dawn, nor falls into the gutter, nor fines, nor disqualifications, nor injustices from the esteemed panel of judges, but instead, a comfortable chair on the doorstep in which to sit like a gentleman and watch the others sweat blood, finally. All the same, how gratifying! Don't you think?
But is it really?
Did you really think we were serious and wanted that loathsome chair outside our front door so we could die in it, little by little? The road is our agony, but also our daily bread, and at night the ridiculous dreams of racers like us roll up and down. And if the Giro is penal servitude, it is also a great adventure, a game of kings; it is also war, an outing in the country, an exam, madness, all those things that greatly remind us of our youth.
And so I ask you - you, the racers, if someone gave you a purse full of millions, saying to you, "forget it, here is the money, just give up and stay safely at home, no mud, no cramps," what would you reply? You'd reply, "What, give up everything and start rotting in an armchair?" Would you accept, my wretched friends, old convicts, simple-hearted ones, who talk about contracts and salaries, and yet you'd sell your souls, your ugly unfocused souls, for a fine sprint, wouldn't you wheel ahead of all the others, watched by a huge crowd that paid to see you? Come on, if you have the courage, answer. Wouldn't it be a dreadful thing to sell the best of what you have for a scrap of paper?
On the mountains, the real mountains, those with ice at their peaks, those mountains that make us cry and think of home, it was three o'clock in the afternoon. When we were just below the crags, the battle signal was given; Coppi opened fire with an artillery barrage along the entire front, and one by one we fell into the pit of our own sweat. Twirling his huge saber, however, Gino Bartali was seen getting up, shakily, to defend his long-standing crown. And people were telling him "You are great!"
All around us, girls were looking at us. They were shouting, applauding, waving their arms about. Now we hate to tell you this, but to be honest, in everyday life you are nothing very special, but today, yes, while you greeted us, you were lovely, very beautiful, so many darlings - you seemed to be offering yourselves, body and soul. But heaven help you if we were to stop! Then you wouldn't laugh any more, would you? Your faces would harden..
In fact, wherever we go, it is always a holiday: a carnival, playtime, a life of pleasure. There they are! There they are! Who's leading? Hurrah for Gino! Hurrah for Fausto! Hurrah for everybody! It's always Sunday: triumph, prizes, tournament, parade, procession to honor the saints; and everybody is happy, joyful, and well fed. And Italy is our velodrome: in the middle of it, we go around and around, with the brave people all around us, 45 million of them, and ever increasing.
And just as we caught our breath and everyone was chatting together, Mario Vicini took a bad fall and landed on the edge of the road. But it was impossible for us to stop. Then came the lightening, claps of thunder, hail, rain, shivers began, but we never stopped. When the bottle of tea was empty, when the food was gone, when we had taken the pep pills, when not even a cube of sugar was left - it was right then came the famous breakaway by numbers 36 (Coppi), 15 (Leoni), and 86 (Pasotti).
And we asked: Why do we do it?
It is Hope that makes us do it (you think that's nothing?): mama waiting at home, sitting by the radio; grandma, who is at the hospice; our wife's collection of shoes; cod liver oil for our children; keep us going, going.
But for how long?
Dear Esteemed Race Director,
With your permission, we respectfully lodge a complaint. Subject: the distress that, during the race, is unfairly inflicted upon us by mountains too difficult to climb with our rebellious legs, miserable and tired, that are on strike this morning and no longer want to drive this little piece of machinery called life.
This is why we request a twelve-month extension.
One more Giro. Please tell us you understand.
The starter will lower his little flag. Clean and fresh, we will be on our way, young and old in one single group, our colorful jerseys will look like a bouquet of flowers.
At least let's take the first steps together, as if we were all the same age.
And then whatever happens, happens.


Part 20 - Little Pasotti is Much too Alone






San Remo, the night of Tuesday, 7th June, 1949. Dino Buzzati writes . . .

Today, the sea. . .

Flowers - a waterfall of carnations and roses rained down on the caravan from the garden-like balcony railings. . .

Railroad crossings - from Pegli all the way to Savona a pesky little local train regularly blocked the crossings, and since the racers could pass beneath the barrier, but the cars could not, the result was a series of frightening pursuits, thankfully protected from "on high" by the merciful God of the Giro. . .

Amaryllis, broom, and all those magnificent ornamental plants whose names we have never been able to learn. . .

Crowds of spectators as always, but of a different kind: that is to say, these people were mostly vacationers on holiday, accustomed to living peacefully, and who had certainly not woken before ten o'clock. . .

Young women, already well tanned, half-naked in their sundresses. . .

Lifeguards in brand new uniforms. . .

Convalescents in pajamas. . .

Kids from the holiday camps wearing large white cloth hats. . .

Here and there we spotted a few Scandinavian "poetesses" who seemed to regard us with disdain. . .

And at Cogoleto, Mr. Antonio Buelli's brass band was playing music. Each year that the Giro passes through Cogoleto, the band strikes up a little triumphal march.

The Cogoleto band is a monument to bicycle racing. Just look closely at the instruments: each one has a small copper badge bearing an inscription, such as "Giro d'Italia 1919" or "Giro di Lombardia 1921" or "Milano-San Remo 1922", etc. And if they could speak in addition to making music, each one would speak volumes, evening after evening.

Antonio Buelli now manages a restaurant, and he doesn't complain, but once upon a time (and we must go back to the deep abyss of the past, back to the 1920s, to the fabulous days of Costante Girardengo) Buelli, then a bicycle racer, had trouble making ends meet. Passion for cycling he had, perhaps even too much, but his legs were his weakness.

There is a rider in this year's race, Luigi Malabrocca of the Stucchi team, who's only real claim to fame is his position as last in the overall classification, the so-called "black jersey." That "honor" has been stolen from Malabrocca by the rider Sante Carollo of the Wilier Triestina team, who now holds last place by a wide margin (a negative margin, of course), almost too wide a margin to be bridged. And Carollo firmly intends to hold on to last place, for ownership of the black jersey (a jersey which does not really exist) confers on the holder a bit of sympathetic popularity, and a prize of ten thousand lire per day, offered by kind-hearted sponsors.

So imagine Buelli as a Malabrocca of thirty years ago, but without the roguish glory, for in those days last place did not equate with cash; no one was interested in it, and Buelli, who almost always found himself at the back, did not attain any glory from it.

The fact is that Buelli, realizing that winning races was not exactly his forte, fell back on his second and, until them secret, ambition: music. He continued to pedal, resigned to swallowing the dust left in the wake of the aces, but he no longer had any delusions. So the task of establish a brass band in his hometown of Cogoleto became Buelli's new purpose in life, and by pedaling, pedaling - every so often winning a few meager primes in small towns, the music lover was able to put away some cash on the side.

Through his work as a racer, struggling and sweating, he was able one fine day to lay the cornerstone of his great monument: he bought a drum, so when the next race came through his district, the racers (and he, too, was among them) were welcomed to Cogoleto by an enthusiastic drumroll, like those at the circus announcing that the trapeze artist was about to perform a death-defying triple leap. A man wearing a braid-trimmed cap, and trained by Buelli himself, stood in front of the line of people, beating his donkey-skinned drum with the rhythm of a virtuoso. Thus the great band ensemble was born.

And he still raced, the brave Buelli, always intent on achieving that second objective of his. From a prime at the Giro d'Italia came the first cornet, and from a series of track meets, the first trumpet. Meanwhile, the years went by, and the legs that had never been all that great were getting heavier.

Six, then seven band members now awaited the race caravan - an impressive group, especially for the volume of their sound compared to the original lone drum. But it was not yet the authentic, complete band that Buelli desired.

By sweating and making economies, the dream finally became a reality, and then one day Buelli himself was standing there to welcome the Giro's racers; wearing a richly braided cap, and holding a baton in his hand, he led a line of at least sixteen musicians with all the instruments required of a band worthy to be so called. The maestro lifted his right arm very high and, with a dictatorial gesture, gave the go-ahead for the trumpets' blare.

Was he happy? Yes, the great project had been achieved. Cogoleto possessed a real band ensemble, for which the envious neighboring towns would eat their hearts out, and it was all thanks to him.

He had not lived in vain after all.

But at the same time, he considered all the years he had used-up;

He saw his already-worn face reflected in the shining brass of the trombone;

He thought about his bicycle gathering dust in a closet, its tires flat and twisted;

He heard the voices of the champions greeting him as they passed.

The champions, spurred on by their youth, moved away at top speed along the big highway, while he instead had to remain there in Cogoleto, within these four walls, henceforth immobile, forever.

Buelli was in his usual place today, with his splendid band, faithfully keeping this sentimental rendezvous. In truth, very few of the racers today knew who he was. Hardly anyone shouted a greeting to him. Nevertheless, we had never heard music so strongly permeated, so to speak, with the spirit of cycling's epic deeds: it spoke of an entire golden era, of mad dashes on the track, of gasping ordeals climbing in the Alps, of Ganna's and Galetti's legendary breakaways, of velodromes thundering with applause, of memories and nostalgia, together with the promise of the most amazing victories.

It would have taken a lot more than mere music to move the hearts of the old-timers, by now skeptical and completely without illusions. However, those notes penetrated the hearts of the youngest, who pricked up their ears and suddenly wondered if fate was calling them.

Most of all, the music must have warmed the heart of little Alfredo Pasotti, of the Benotto team. Just yesterday, during a conversation at the Bracco mountain summit, we were talking about this elegant racer, who has great plans in mind, and who has shown himself to be among the strongest on the climbs. Did the music remind him of some of the memorable breakaways that have taken place on today's course? And on the short climbs and descents on the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo, and Capo Berta, did he think of emulating some of Coppi's remarkable achievements?

All alone he went on the attack, right after Alassio where the road started to rear up - but too soon! He gained some ground. . . he plummeted down toward Andorra like a little falcon, then flew up the wide, steep slopes of the Cervo, and was first over the Capo Berta as well. But after that there were twenty kilometers of flat roads, and his small lungs, no matter how good they are, were no match for the twenty pairs of lungs working in concert, climbing behind him and following on his heels.

When we left him he was still riding along solo; we hurried to the San Remo finishing line where everyone was waiting for him. However, it was a small group we saw storming into the finish. There were eight of them, and in the final sprint, Pasotti ended up fifth. They had caught him, cruelly, just as the vision of victory seemed to smile on him (and perhaps with the friendly sound of the old racer's trumpets still echoing in his mind).

Too bad - he battled hard.

He had earned it.

But men are wolves.


Part 19 - The Local Ligurian Air Gives Wings to the Rossello Brothers

Genoa, the night of Monday, 6th June, 1949. Dino Buzzati writes. . .

Here are the most notable features of stage fourteen; two-hundred-twenty eight kilometers of bright sunshine, mountains, valleys, coastline - a succession of turns, not just on a road, but through an almost unbroken human corridor: another day on which the two giants would not commit themselves, so out of fourteen stages thus far, only the one in the Dolomites can truly be said to have been fought tooth-n-nail (certainly a distressing situation for those who naively wish the super champions to do battle every hour of the Giro, but nothing will change until some new rival emerges).

So here they are, two locals, brothers Vincenzo and Vittorio Rossello from Savona, racing for the Legnano team, finishing first and third in Genoa, with Silvio Pedroni (gs.Frejus) between them in second, the three of them finishing two minutes ahead of the peloton.

They say that racing in their "local air" can give riders extraordinary energy, an adage which is often confirmed. As soon as they approach their hometown and begin to hear hints of the local dialect so familiar to them, then even the "nags" - the lowest level of gregari relegated to the bottom of the overall classification - can transform into lions.

There is a Latin proverb which states that "No man can be a prophet in his own country," but this is not applicable to cycling. On the contrary - if you want to be loved by your neighbors, become a bike racer. Then, whatever your level of success, in your own neighborhood they will consider you another Costante Girardengo, another great champion. This affection is a source of great pride; even the most wretched will manage for a few minutes to vie with Coppi. At the very least, when a local rider cannot count on the strength of his legs, he will break away near his hometown. Posters singing his praises hang from telephone poles and balconies, his name is chalked in huge letters on the asphalt along with the names of the "great ones" and people recognize him immediately, without having to first check his race number.

It's like a reunion, happily anticipated for many days. Waiting for him there will be his mother, his fiancee holding a little basket of rose petals, his former schoolmaster who taught him his ABCs, today wearing a dark suit in honor of the occasion, the priest who baptized him, the young girl who gave him his first kiss, his childhood friends with whom he made his first bicycle rides on a rickety old heavy contraption so big that his feet never reached the bottom of the pedal stroke, his manager - the president of the local sports club - who bought him his first real racing bike, the policeman who fined him once for speeding, the town's beauty queen who never tired of teasing him, friends, strangers, old enemies, all lined up, all bad feelings forgotten, yelling his name.

What does it matter then if, ten kilometers up the road where no one knows him, the poor racer falls apart and is this evening having a difficult time just making it to the finish within the time limit? Isn't it all worthwhile? Isn't it wonderful to come through your hometown all alone, ahead of Leoni and Bartali, like some triumphant hero?

In the more fortunate cases, the rider hopes to win a cash prime, and in the best cases (but this takes some real expertise) he may have his heart set on actually winning the stage itself.

Down in Sicily we saw Mario Fazio drop everyone to win in his hometown of Catania. We saw Antonio Bevilacqua and Guido De Santi sprint ahead beneath the banners held aloft in their hometowns in the Veneto region. Oliviero Tonini did the same in Emilia. Renzo Soldani did the same yesterday in the hills around Pistoia. And today, it's the likable Rossello brothers, who are no second-raters, for their names always seem to be mentioned when anything exciting is happening.

They shot off with Pedroni on the descent of the Recco, then stepped on the gas hard to take two minutes out of the giants by the finish; never have we seen two such happy boys arriving at the finish.

But couldn't the giants have overtaken them? A more malicious person might suggest so. Weren't the giants being rather lenient? But even if that is so, does it matter? The Rossellos did a great race, and their compatriots, on seeing them, seemed to have gone crazy. What more can one ask?
Alfredo Pasotti, twenty-three years old, from Pavia, winner yesterday of the mountain prize on the Abetone and today on the Bracco - he is perhaps the most graceful racer in this Giro. Not movie-star handsome like Leoni, but well proportioned, slender, his face still that of an adolescent, courteous, and in the saddle he has a well-balanced style. If he wasn't so slim and delicate, he probably would already be a great champion.

Since the elimination of his teammate Luigi Casola (for being outside the time limit), Pasotti he has been leader of their Benotto team. Today on the slopes of the Pordoi he had been the last rider to be dropped by Coppi - all the others had already been left behind in the valley, but still Pasotti resisted.

We passed close by him at his moment of crisis, his face ashen, looking at us with the aggrieved expression of one who is being wronged, but he was resigned to it. Soon he was left behind, a classic case of the rider "blowing-up," he had perhaps expected too much of himself. Obsessed with the idea of keeping up with Coppi, he had forgotten to eat. He was second rider over the Pordoi summit, then he completely caved in.

And yesterday, too, we saw him in total crisis on the descent of the Abetone. But suddenly, and quite unexpectedly because we were flying along, a rider passed us at an insane speed. Number 86 - Pasotti. We looked behind us, but no one else was coming. Like a downhill racer concentrating entirely on his ski jump we saw him, light and delicate, disappear in front of us. To attempt to follow him closely would have been madness.

But just after the next turn we saw him again. . . he was off his bike, and tearing-away at the front wheel - this was his second flat, and he looked around desperately, searching for his team car to provide him with a change of wheel. But the car wasn't there, and tears were running down his face, tracing tiny, thin, crooked grooves through the mud encrusting his cheek.

Twenty-five years old Serse Coppi, Fausto's brother and teammate, took third place in the intermediate sprint at Chiavari. It's the first time in this Giro that his name has been mentioned in the newspapers, however modestly. We certainly cannot claim to have "discovered" him, for many have spoken and written about him before. Who among us is not familiar with this unique counterpoint to the great champion, a "fratello gemello", a "doppelganger", a younger "twin" brother who shares the same face, same blood, same last name, but is in a way pitiable because he does not share of his brother's athletic abilities - almost an ironic imitation.

But who does not know already of the exemplary affection between these two brothers, not at all compromised by the enormous difference in abilities? Not only does Serse feel no envy, but he rejoices in Fausto's victories, even more-so than Fausto himself.
Fausto cannot do without Serse, and feels lost if he doesn't know that somewhere behind him, amongst the backmarkers, Serse is slogging away faithfully. The experts say that Serse, though not lacking in talent, is the only cyclist in the world who doesn't know how to ride a bicycle, and even laymen will agree. His style is embarrassing - some compare it to a duck, others to a giraffe, still others an accordion. They say that, if he didn't sway his hips at each pedal stroke, he could do a lot better, but it seems there is no remedy.

His face is just like his brother's (minus the crafty expression) but with the addition of a pair of very kind and extremely gentle eyes. He is often mistaken for Fausto, and this increases the emotional tension created by the situation. At the end on one stage we saw for ourselves an austere gentleman of about fifty approach Serse and offer him a huge bouquet of roses, stammering confused words of congratulations.

"But, you know. . . " began Serse, very embarrassed.

"Oh but please, allow me!" the admirer begged.

And Serse, with a sad, cherub-like smile, answered "But, you know. . . Me, I'm his brother!"

Does it not seem like a sentimental play, the life shared by two such different brothers, one indifferent to glory, the other heedless of mediocrity and misfortune? Serse's terrible crash near Terontola in the Giro two years ago was surely misfortune, as was the annulment of his victory in the last Paris-Roubaix race. In the world of Italian cycling this is perhaps the most talked-about topic when the object is to arouse the public's sympathy.

But is all this true, after all? Does Serse deserve so much compassion? We have become somewhat doubtful - that is, we mean to say that the roles ought to be reversed. On the basis of many small signs, we believe we have discovered the newest truth about the Giro. . . a very surprising truth.

Here's the fascinating hypothesis - That Serse is Fausto's lucky charm, his guardian spirit, a sort of living talisman, a little like the magic lamp without which Aladdin would have remained a beggar. Who knows - perhaps the secret of his champion brother lies within Serse? If Serse were to give up cycling, perhaps the magic would disappear, and Fausto would suddenly find himself without strength, like a limp rag.

Partners, then - they are so close that neither is capable of living without the other. It is really Serse who wins, for without him Fausto would have fallen to pieces a hundred times. Serse is the deserving one, and that's enough reward for him - it helps him to withstand the terrible efforts (knowing he'll finish among the last riders), to endure the humiliating comparisons, to not get angry when he is mistaken for Fausto and is offered flowers which are not meant for him. But, of course, Serse is worthy of all this generosity, even if you think this hypothesis is a mere fairytale. Just look at him with that nice-guy face, those two big gentle eyes - so sympathetic they seem to be hiding something.

There is one other person who figured in the stage, mentioned last only as a matter of chronology. An officer in Genoa's police department, whose actions turned one of the Giro's finest day's into one of it's most regrettable scenes. This officer, a tall fellow of about thirty with a sharp, bird-like face and thin Mongol-style mustache, was assigned to maintain order at the finish line at Lido d'Albaro. For no apparent reason he charged his jeep into a group of journalists, team managers, and race judges, who had just gotten out of their cars and had gathered at the finish line, as they have always done and always do without causing the slightest inconvenience. We were there, too, and stood flabbergasted as the officer, yelling and twirling his black rubber truncheon, rained down blows on the nearest heads. The race director, Giuseppe Ambrosini, was standing right below the jury rostrum, and the officer dealt him a fierce blow to the forehead, lacerating the skin. As his jeep inched forward he went after several others, and many of our colleagues were beaten this way, among them Ciro Verratti and Guido Giardini, who lost his watch during the incident. Was this just the senseless excess of individual zeal, or did the officer really suffer a mental breakdown? The local police chief, who came rushing to the scene, understood fully the anger it aroused throughout the Giro's entourage, and shortly afterwards the mayor sent Emilio De Martino, director of the sponsoring sports newspaper "La Gazzetta dello Sport" a letter stating how very sorry Genoa's citizens were about the incident.

In Genoa, an immense and festive crowd had turned-out to welcome the Giro. It had been a day of sunshine amid stupendous countryside and magnificent crowds, but it all ended so stupidly.


Part 18 - The Great Ones Don't Even Flinch When Lesser Men Break Away

Modena, Saturday 4th June, 1949. Dino Buzzati writes. . .

Imagine a magnificent morning on the road from Bolzano to the plains of Verona, with the race caravan revitalized by an entire day of rest. From our perch high on the mountain we can see it all - here is the first vehicle, a jeep with a closed body shaped very much like an ice cream truck, with four journalists aboard and driven by our stocky colleague Slawitz, who woke up late, missed breakfast, and is now hurrying ahead in search of food.

The jeep moves on and we enjoy of minute of quiet before the arrival of the caravan's first outriders - the cars belonging to radio stations and the press, fitted with odd, insect-like antennae; then the cars belonging to the race organization, the race jury, the time keepers; and mixed among these, the noisy confusion of motorcycles with reporters, messengers, photographers, couriers, and the tireless Milanese traffic police; and also on motorbike, the very popular Corsi, a giant in the hearts of the children, everyone's favorite, as happy as a bird in springtime. . . he is performing acrobatic leaps and stunts with his motorcycle to entertain the spectators lining the roads.

There are uniforms of every type in the caravan; big fur-lined jackets, cowboy shirts, swimsuits, crash helmets, red American-style baseball caps, big pirate-like neckerchiefs. Normally sober family men take advantage of the Giro to display the most outlandish, clownish items of apparel - things they wouldn't dare dream of wearing at home.

A few minutes later the main group of racers appears: first a formation of traffic police on motorbikes, and right behind them, the cyclists - a multicolored swarm which from a distance sparkles and glistens like a carnival.

Immediately after the riders comes the dynamic race director, Giuseppe Ambrosini, his little red flag in hand. Then come various team cars bristling with racks full of spare wheels and bicycles, each car painted in the team's colors.

More press cars, more motorcycles, repair trucks, press vans with huge loudspeakers mounted on top blaring out the latest news and little tunes.

At the tail end of the peloton we see a rider struggling to catch-up after having a flat tire, but we are too far away to see who it is.

And finally come the two rear-guard motorcycles, and an unruly train of fans in cars or on motorcycles or on bicycles, proud to breath the same air that, moments before, had been in the lungs of Coppi or Bartali or Leoni.

It's a fine sight, the Giro's caravan, so new and cheerful, and it inspires faith in life. This morning it made its appearance in perfect order, well-groomed, newly shaven, glowing like an athlete after his bath. And it doesn't seem to be in a hurry.

We come down from our spot in the mountains and rejoin the cars at the front of the procession. We never go faster than twenty-seven kilometers per hour. The warm sun temps us to take a little nap. But all of a sudden a car carrying the logo of a well-known newspaper careens past at an insanely high speed. Why? What has happened? Has someone broken-away from the peloton, and is now right at our heels? Should we race ahead too, to avoid creating a jam of vehicles?

Nobody knows anything, but the mere sight of that speeding car sets-off the alarms. An illogical hysteria grips the drivers and motorcyclists. Another care shoots off after the first one, and then a third car, with sirens wailing, tries to get ahead of them. We feel as if we're on the race track at Indianapolis! There's an awful bellowing of car horns resounding through the valley. . . the speedometer wavers around one hundred sixty kilometers per hour.

At last the lead vehicle is all alone, out of view when we near the Adige River.

We look back - not a living soul in sight.

We stop.


Sparrows chirping.

A minute passes.

Then two.

Then five.

Finally the others begin arriving. But what had happened?

Nothing, absolutely nothing.

The riders are all still together, moving at the speed of a spring outing.

Again we are gliding along very slowly, and begin to doze. . .

. . . zzz zzz zzz. . .

. . . when all of a sudden it happens again! A motorcyclists rushes past waving his right hand furiously, as if he were announcing an enemy attack. What is happening? Nobody knows anything. Tensions rise once again - we think we hear Leoni's name mentioned when a colleague leans out of his car window shouting at us.

"Did Leoni break away?" we ask.

He replies "Oh, really? Did Leoni break away?" having misunderstood our question.

And away we go again at top speed.

And the others follow.

And once again a chaotic moment, "much ado about nothing," until we are far away in the silent valley, completely alone.

So we stop.

"What has happened?"

Nothing. The riders are still in a group, still moving at a snail's pace.

This happened four or five times as we drove through the valley, but absolutely nothing was happening among the racers. Our nerves were constantly strained. The battle between the two super champions is like a rumbling volcano about to erupt. There, in the calm of the group, from one moment to the next it could explode, even if the flat road is completely wrong for any such battle.

At each excited shout, at each motorcyclist's gesture, and at the least little sign of anything that could somehow cause alarm, pandemonium would break out: ten minutes of superfluous fever, which subsided again into the lethargic rhythm of before.

And during this time, as we gradually moved south, the sun became brighter, the roofs of the houses became less peaked, the surrounding huddle of mountains became increasingly lower. The Adige river became more austere - fewer and fewer men wearing blue aprons, fewer cliffs crowned with ancient castles, the trees became more stately, and the girls less and less fair-haired.

"Hey, are the racers sleeping?" asked some young boys who had already been waiting for several hours. Not really asleep, but you could almost believe it.

A breakaway attempt by Sante Carollo (gs.Wilier Triestina) just before the town of Roverto was quickly quashed. . . two riders caught up to him, positioned themselves on either side, and, wedging him with their elbows, politely escorted him to the back of the field. The small attacks which followed also had no effect other than to get the cars all worked up over nothing.

So. . . a stage without a story? Almost.

Cycling historians certainly won't remember Antonio Bevilacqua (gs.Atala) taking the intermediate sprint at Verona, ahead of Oreste Conte (gs.Bianchi Ursus) and Adolfo Leoni (gs.Legnano). Nor (at the risk of seeming cruel) will anyone remember the breakaway by Armando Barducci (gs.Frejus)and Umberto Drei (gs.Benotto) outside the town of Ostiglia, which was quickly caught by Bevilacqua, then six others - Conte, Andrea Carrea (gs.Bianchi Ursus), Nedo Logli (gs.Arbos), Vittorio Seghezzi (gs.Edelweiss), Luciano Pezzi (gs.Atala), and Oliviero Tonini (gs.Cimatti). It was predictable, and since none of the nine could upset the overall classification, the others let them go.

The arrival of these runaways in Modena, Conte's victory, and the time gap to the great ones, are all recorded on page 18 of the newspaper, but we should mention some other things here: unequaled sunshine, entire populaces packed along the roadside and almost hysterical with enthusiasm, a sort of apotheosis within the overflowing stadium. . .

. . . and the difficulty for those of us writing to concentrate due to the uproar of the crowd in the street outside - because, unfortunately for us, the public has discovered that Fausto Coppi is staying in our hotel.


Part 17 - The Role of Loser is Not For Him

Bolazno, the night of 3rd June, 1949. Dino Buzzati writes. . .

At this point in our story, it would have been a good opportunity to tell the story of the aging champion who quits the race and begins an irreversible decline. It would have been so moving, so true to our emotions, which first rejoice for the winner, then are moved by the drama of the defeated. The result would be even more effective because, in this case, the man is no longer young. We could not expect revenge in the future - the time left for him is very limited. His youth is a thing of the past. . . this last frontier, beyond which young hopes are forbidden, is no longer some vague myth lurking beyond the horizon, but is now imminent, clearly visible, and far too real.

For someone writing about the Giro d'Italia, it would be so easy to move the reader's emotions by insisting on such a bitter outcome, for no one in the world is more deserving of pity than a man slipping day-by-day from the heights of glory, for no fault of his own, until he finds himself back where he started, when no one pointed him out in the street - his name gradually loses the magic that gave him his fame, and he reverts to being just one of the countless names listed in the phone book.

It would have been so splendid to describe the champion who immediately after the finish shut himself in his hotel room and took a shower to remove the coating of mud, but then found that the warmth of the water, the clean smell of the soap, the fresh and immaculate bed awaiting him, the rest day to come, the crisp copies of today's newspapers, the huge complimentary Milanese cake with it's tricolor ribbon sent in homage. . . found that none of these things comforted him as they usually do.

On the contrary, all of those things only aggravate the wound, reminding him of other showers and other evenings of rest during the golden times when, anytime he wanted it, victory was his.

On the street, the fans who have remained faithful call to him, and for the first time this evening he listens to them with noticeable interest; and he peaks-out, between the slats of the white shutters. What faint voices, and what a miserably small crowd, compared to the roaring masses of the past. He hated them then with a sort of repugnance - dear, simple, generous friends, where are you now?

The scene at dinner: all the cyclists on the team are seated at one long table with the manager, the masseur, the mechanics, etc., but this evening the normal liveliness is absent. No one has the courage to be the first to speak - the way it must feel in the house of a condemned person, right after sentencing.

The champion himself is the one who finally breaks the ice, uttering something unimportant, with not the slightest reference to what happened a few hours before, as if it were just another evening - like during the first training camp each spring, when it's difficult to find a topic suitable for conversation at the table.

But his forced indifference only serves to increase the uneasiness. . .

No one answers his trite remarks, and in the painful silence, his teammates keep their eyes glued to their plates, pretending to be extremely busy de-boning the chicken.

One of them coughs.

Only the waiters, standing motionless a little to one side, stare anxiously at the defeated giant, with the same obsessive and indiscreet curiosity aroused by great physical deformities.

At night, the champion in decline is awakened by bad dreams. Bartali is one of the few racers who smoke - he lights a cigarette, then walks in circles around the room to ease his mind. Inside and outside the hotel, no one says a word, no one is thinking about him right now - they have all fallen into the black abyss of sleep, and take no heed of him.

Think of the overwhelming sadness of this man, surrounded by ghosts of the past - then consider his present fate. From the corridor, and from the nearby rooms, the sound of the rhythmic snores of his teammates touch him; for tonight they are still his devoted subjects, but tomorrow, right under his very own eyes, they will throw themselves into breakaways, and for the first time he will try in vain to keep up with their irresistible pace.

The young generation! They are snoring like animals, storing up more strength, like warriors secretly working at sharpening their weapons, while he smokes and paces and wastes his dwindling resources.


It would be easy, and to our advantage, to insist on this fascinating story line. . .

. . .but in order to do so, it would be necessary to turn the world upside-down, for it isn't really the truth at all - the champion of whom we speak is not someone defeated by life. He is no romantic hero, nor is he some pathetic figure betrayed by the inexorable march of Time.

Rather, we are dealing with a peculiar person; tough, obstinate, in a certain sense not very human, for he is quite unlike you and me. He doesn't experience despondency or the depressing influence of adversity. He grumbles and complains and protests continually, this is true, but he does so out of habit, even when things are going well for him. A rough, thorny stronghold in which there is no room for discouragement. He has been beaten - he knows that - but he does not look for excuses. Instead, he is exactly as he was before. The idea of giving-up doesn't even cross his mind, for he feels in top form, no more or less so than during the greatest days of his career. So he isn't sad, he doesn't have to play a part to show he's calm, he doesn't feel the least bit defeated.

The manager of the Italian national team, Alfredo Binda, who led Bartali to victory in last year's Tour de France, and who yesterday followed the stage through the Dolomites to size things up for the upcoming Tour, told us that Bartali was riding just as well as he had done last summer: but in France, in 1948, Coppi was not there - that's the whole story.

But the drama of physical decline is not for him, at least not yet. It is inevitable in the future, but there's no question of speaking of it today. Yesterday, Bartali was hounded by bad luck, so says his team manager Vittorio Colombo. The rotten luck, he tells us, began right after the feed zone at Predazzo when the racers were eating. Aware that his rear tire was slowly going flat, he mentioned it to his faithful lieutenant Jomaux, who then made the mistake of shouting the news to their team car at the top of his lungs. Coppi heard, and since he's the cleverest racer ever (or so says Colombo), Coppi took advantage of the opportunity by attacking.

Meanwhile, Bartali, always the malcontent, wasted precious time arguing with Colombo about whether or not to change the wheel right away, and then debated about the gear ratio of the wheel itself. And when he finally did launch himself in pursuit he forgot to eat, and when you are racing, food is like coal for a boiler. So, at a certain point, he found himself short on fuel, and his progress down the Gardena Pass was quite bad, at a frightfully slow pace for a normally very fast descender like him.

That is what Colombo said - explanations that could almost sound more like excuses. These were certainly not the words of Bartali who knows, when he loses, to take the punishment without accusations. Nor does Bartali torment himself with regret.

Where, then, is the figure who would have served us so well for the most moving chapter in our story? How can anyone feel pity for a loser who does not feel defeated, or a poor devil who's unfazed by misfortune, or a relatively old man who does not know the misery of old age?

Therefore, last night Bartali found the same consolation in the shower and at dinner as he would any other day. At the table he did not feel the need to feign false serenity, and he groused and grumbled as usual. He did not awaken in the middle of the night to mull things over; indeed, he slept right through until nine this morning.

So do not cry for this defeated champion, not quite yet. And do not feel sorry for him. Do not think of him as a hero in decline. Do not send sympathy cards.

He doesn't need them, and if any one of you suffering from the pains of old age thinks you can be consoled by comparison with Bartali, you are mistaken, for Mr. Gino Bartali is not old, nor is he discouraged or sad.

And he is far too sure of himself to offer excuses.

This morning, someone asked him "Did you really puncture two or three times?"

To which Bartali replied "Puncture? We never puncture."


Part 16 - As a Storm Rages, Coppi Defeats His Main Opponent in a Closely Fought Duel

Bolzano, the night of 2 June, 1949. Dino Buzzati writes. . .

It was up there, where the line of fir trees begins to thin out. Higher up there are bare meadows with traces of purplish-blue scree, and the hotel which was visible from the Passo di Rolle; still further up lies the formidable pedestal of Cimon della Pala, immersed in black storm clouds. It was up there that Bartali, who was leading the group, tried to break away.

We saw him from above, rocking in his saddle as he shot ahead a few meters, and at the switchback slowly turned to look back, revealing his sly and suspicious face. Were the riders behind him weakening?

For several moments he saw out of the corner of his eye that the road immediately behind him remained empty. At the same moment he felt the burst of warmth as the sun appeared between two black clouds. Then, all of a sudden, he had a feeling that a shadow was sticking to his back, then two, three, four shadows following closely.

He looked - could there be the least bit of doubt? It was Coppi, and also Alfredo Pasotti and Giancarlo Astrua (both gs.Benotto), Aldo Ronconi (gs.Viscontea), Vittorio Rossello (gs.Legnano), and Giordano Cottur (gs.Wilier Triestina).

Perhaps he mused to himself: "He's holding on well in the mountains, that little one Pasotti! He's still a bit fragile, to be honest, and rather young, but could he end-up being my successor? And what to do now? Should I persist? It's unlikely that they will stay in line, wheel-to-wheel, after one thousand-eight hundred meters of climbing. But perhaps it's too soon? There's an awful lot of work left to do today. Thank goodness I feel in control. This morning I was so nervous; that never used to happen."

He estimated the distance - it wasn't very far to the summit, too late to try for an escape on the grand scale, so he didn't persist. Nonetheless, he continued to ride imperiously at the front, slowly accelerating. The peloton had collapsed - he hadn't been wrong. He saw it in tatters, scattering down the curving road.

The wind.

An ominous and sinister red glow on the edges of the Colibricon.

The roar of the crowd waiting at Pallo di Rolle annoyed him - he could hear them shouting his name.

A "King of the Mountains" bonus sprint, with it's precious prize of one minute. . . he pounded savagely on the pedals.

He felt strong.

Someone else's front wheel appeared alongside of him, trying to pull ahead. Defiant, Bartali lifted himself out of the saddle three times, using all his weight to bear down on the pedals.

(God, what a tough climb!)

Something, perhaps a flower thrown from the crowd, struck him in the face.

The wheel beside him began to fall back. He crossed the line first and, carried by his own momentum, launched himself down into the valley, headed for Predazzo. Coppi followed, as did the others - they had regrouped except for Ronconi, who was fussing with his wheel at the foot of a fir tree - a blowout.

They found themselves still together, plummeting down a dizzying gravel descent through a forest. The clouds overhead were black in the extreme and frayed beneath, darkening the forest. Now and then they'd catch sight through the mist of massive, rugged rocks - the Dolomites.

Hail began to sting their faces and thighs - a storm in the mountains. The scenery and the struggle grew gradually more impressive. The austere fir trees along the roadside rushed away, bent by the speed.


Brakes squealing, like kittens calling their mother.

There was not a living soul up there - nothing but the sound of the bicycles, the violent click-clock of the hail, and the squeal of the brakes. Consequently, nothing could be decided - there were still too many riders in contention at the feed zone in Predazzo.

Down there, at the bottom of the valley, the sun reappeared. . . no more hail or wind. The racers were able to catch their breath. Soon the ordeal would begin again, but for now, on an almost flat road, a large group reformed in an informal truce. The riders could eat, drink, wipe the mud from their faces. Nerves relaxed a bit - some of them were joking.

So, will the decisive attack come on the Pordoi?

Bartali peals a banana with his teeth, focusing on the fruit for only perhaps two seconds, but when he looks up again, he sees three racers bursting clear. "They're breaking away!" he hears someone shout. He flings the banana away, leans over his handlebars, stretching his back in that distinctive way of his, flattening himself on the bicycle, and speeds after them.

He doesn't need to ask who they are - Coppi's silhouette, seen from any perspective, is well planted in Bartali's mind. Then there's the pink jersey of race leader, Leoni, and little Pasotti. They are moving away at top speed, but luckily for Bartali, he has one of his lieutenants with him - the excellent Jomaux. The others in the group - Astrua, Pasquale Fornara and Rossello (both gs.Legnano), Serafino Biagioni (gs.Viscontea), and Ezio Cecchi (gs.Cimatti) - certainly won't give him any help.

So it's on this nearly flat section, where it seemed the least likely, that the great oft-delayed duel began.

Bartali: The devil with that damned banana! How is it possible that I let myself be taken by surprise like some child? What a stupid blunder - and here, on the flat, where they fear me the least! "Come on, Jomaux! Faster!"

But Jomaux can only do so much, and Coppi pulls away.

The sun has disappeared, but at the top of the valley, the snow-streaked walls of Sassolungo are glistening like a fantastic cathedral at Christmas. Bartali is preparing to take the lead again when his rear tire suddenly goes flat. "A wheel, quickly!" His team car is close by and ready - five, six, seven . . . ten seconds. "Is it ready? Let's go!"

Working with Jomaux, he catches the other pursuers, and takes command once again. It will take more than a flat tire to scare him off!

Now the climb begins - that's Bartali's cup of tea, and he feels a fine kettle, with not the least of concerns. But how is it that Coppi and the two others have vanished up ahead, invisible for as far as the eye can see? Damn that momentary distraction!

But is it all the fault of that small distraction? Is it really, or is there something else as well? Look at Fausto Coppi - is he climbing? No, he is not climbing. He is simply riding, as if the road were as flat as a pool table. From a distance you could almost think he was taking a pleasant spin.

>From a distance, that is. . .

But up close we can see his face becoming more and more wrinkled, his upper lip drawn back, giving him an expression like a rat caught in a trap.

And his two breakaway companions? Leoni is outdistanced, momentarily overcome with pain, while Pasotti somehow manages to hang on. Perhaps this is Pasotti's first great day? Could he be the next new star? But alas; one look at him is enough, for there's a quiet, resigned suffering, tightening his child-like face. His eyes are lackluster, it looks almost as though he is blind. Ten more meters, and Pasotti falls apart.

And Coppi is alone.

We followed his terrible undertaking for quite awhile, up to the Pordoi summit, down into Arabba, up through the Passo di Campolongo (another gain of two hundred fifty meters up a very steep climb), then down again to the Plan Gardena crossroads. He proceeded calmly, standing occasionally out of the saddle, rising up above the handlebars, rhythmically moving those long tapering legs, so solid at the thighs, but so slender at the calves.

He doesn't turn to look behind. He asks no advice from his team manager, Tregella, following in the team's light blue car a few meters back.

He keeps pedaling, pedaling, beneath the fantastic Boe peaks, so livid and gloomy in the stormy atmosphere, then climbing among the thin pastures, always profoundly alone.

A racer on a bicycle.

We in the car are not truly passionate fans, and yet, there is something stirring about this slender young man riding in the mountains, day after day, with nothing more than the beating of his heart.
Downhill he does not force the pace, but instead matches the increasing speed with casual thrusts of the pedals; he tenses on a curve, relaxing again as the road straightens; methodically, always true to himself, his physical pain hidden within himself.

And always more alone.

No people in the fields.

No roaring motorcycles.

No headlong avalanche of cars.

Verratti drives past him, shouting "Bravo, Coppi! You're five minutes ahead!"

Coppi lifts his head and opens his lips to say something, but not a sound comes forth.

Yes, Bartali crossed the Pordoi five-and-a-half minutes after him, behind Leoni and Pasotti.

And now we have reached the final torture - the Gardena Pass: another six hundred meters to climb. Dismal crags loom ahead, ominous, as are the wild gorges from which wintry blasts descend. Coppi slows a bit - they are saying he has reached his limit - then he lifts himself from the saddle and after three or four turns of the pedal, he has regained his former rhythm. His triumphant flight in the storm comes to a pause . . . strange rumors arrive with the motorcyclist who left Bartali a short while ago - Bartali had dropped the others, and was pressing on alone. Bartali had gained two minutes on the descent. Bartali is only now beginning to work full-force. If Coppi weakens for even a moment, Bartali will be right on his heels before the final summit.

Just by chance, Coppi catches sight of his rival on a curve. . . far away and very far below, still on the first slopes of the climb. But he is making progress.

And how he stands-out in the dreary landscape, in his yellow "Cicli Bartali" jersey, with his yellow team car following close behind. We stop to observe him, this man who is striving with all of his might. He is actually writhing on his saddle, like a salamander surprised by a hiker in the middle of a trail. But it isn't a sign of exhaustion - this is his style on difficult climbs. And he alone, among all the racers, keeps the exact same facial expression he had at the start this morning in Bassano - cunning, sad, and displeased, like certain ancient masks of the Medusa.

A feeling swept over the valleys, hard to describe - a kind of spiritual tension, pity, astonishment in the presence of this desperate duel. Would the old champion be able to save himself? Or had his moment of destiny finally come knocking? The blast of a horn echoed off the peaks, reverberating - the horn of a motorcycle messenger, but it seemed more like some solitary mountain god giving a signal.

Then Coppi stopped swaying above his saddle - he'd found a second wind from some unknown source, the invisible hand of victory pulling him to the top, then pushing him down the other side of the Val Gardena. He was flying now, and extremely happy, although his face spoke only of pain.

He entered Bolzano stadium, did a final lap, and finished in triumph. The empty minutes went by.







Seven. a resounding roar announced Bartali's arrival. He wasn't alone, for the intrepid Leoni and the young Astrua had managed to catch up with him in the final stretch. Bartali battled to the very last for second place, like a soldier fighting to the end although he knows he has lost.

Long intervals separated the other as they arrived. . .

They looked as if they'd been crucified.