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this day in the '49 Giro d'Italia(3 posts)

this day in the '49 Giro d'ItaliaSpirito
May 18, 2002 9:57 AM
(transcribed by Aldo Ross)

Aboard the passenger ship "Citta di Tunisi," the night of May 18, 1949.

Dino Buzzati writes.

A sparse crowd (very sparse, to be honest) waited at the gates of Napoli
harbor at 7:30 this morning (actually, the "gates" are no longer there) -
children in shabby clothes, others dressed a little better, an extremely
well dressed little old man, a dozen street urchins (do they still call them
"scugnizzi?"), and a couple of girls.

What brought them out of bed at such an unlikely hour? Presumably the
arrival of the "Saturnia," since at that moment the splendid ship was coming
alongside the Beverello wharf.

But did the little crowd know who was supposed to disembark? The youths,
the old man, the scugnizzi, and the two girls, all still a bit sleepy, gave
not a clue.

In Napoli it is difficult to characterize people at first sight, but it
became clear when the cyclists disembarked and headed toward the vast square
behind the wharf: they were there to welcome the Giro d'Italia racers!

A dark cloud hung over San Marino, but the chrome on the bicycles sparkled
brightly in the weak, misty morning sun.

Over there, a distinctive and familiar color, the familiar light blue of a
Bianchi team jersey - the champion cyclists were dressed to ride, almost as
if the Giro would begin over there, a few steps away, in the Piazza

After leaving the "Saturnia" early in the morning, the racers had until
evening to board the "Citta di Tunisi," for the rest of the trip to Sicily.
They had an entire day at their disposal - twelve precious hours to exercise
the legs which on Saturday will be subjected to one of the most grueling
competitions ever conceived by man.

Beware of starting the race without warming-up beforehand! A few days of
inactivity are enough to make the muscles sluggish and wooden, so this free
day to stretch the legs comes as a blessing: a ride of one hundred, one
hundred and fifty kilometers - or perhaps more - at thirty-five kilometers
per hour, south along the Gulf road, toward Sorrento and Amalfi.

The little crowd becomes restless. They are well-intentioned, even
affectionate, but they lack the latest information.

"Bartali?" they ask, "Coppi? Isn't Coppi here?"

Amid the confusion, it is easy to be mistaken, and even though he is a bit
too tall, from a distance Crippa can be mistaken for Fausto Coppi, the great
champion from Castellania.

The little old man waves his cane in the air and winks joyfully at his
presumed idol, supporting the misidentification.

But the racers move on, trying to get out of the enthusiastic mob without
making a fuss. It's not that they give themselves airs, that's just the way
they are: serious and seemingly preoccupied.

(Perhaps they were expecting more?)

They seem detached and indifferent as they pass through the crowd, which
only serves to increase the curiosity and persistence of these tifosi.

"Long live Gino!" someone shouts, answered by spotty applause here and

But the racers continue through the crowd, carrying their shining bicycles,
so spindly and light. They do not smile, nor are they overly friendly.
Perhaps they have been hurt by the hurrahs for Coppi and Bartali, without
actually realizing it. Those hurrahs serve as a reminder of the differences.

And these men, the gregari, the unknown ones - the Monaris, the Nanninis,
the Marangonis, the Brignoles, the Bensos - they know only too well the
differences - it is easy to fool oneself, but only to a certain point:
stopwatches and finishing orders speak clearly enough. Yes, there are
differences, but must they be reminded?

Coppi is not here, he will arrive by train.

Bartali didn't take the ship, either. Haven't you realized that your
favorites are not here?
part 2Spirito
May 18, 2002 9:59 AM

However, the tifosi are kind - in a sense extremely kind - for they are
easily satisfied. In the absence of the biggest guns, these small-caliber
riders will do.

The fans are not fussy. When they finally understand that the two supreme
giants are not present, they still welcome the other cyclists just as

"Bravo che-RA-mi!" one of the few well-informed fans shouts, referring to
the most brilliant member of the Ganna team, Pino Cerami, recognized thanks
to a photo in the newspaper. But Cerami is a Belgian-Italian: his name is
pronounced se-ra-ME, so he is unaware that they called his name.

"Bravo ku-BLEY-rey!" yells another kind-hearted fan. Perhaps he's a fan of
the Swiss cyclist, Ferdi Kubler? Certainly not!, but he found out that
Kubler was on the "Saturnia". The name was more or less familiar to him, so
he thought it would be nice to welcome him.

The enthusiasm stored up for the two great ones has to be expended somehow,
one can't just take it back home after getting up so early. So. "Bravo

But guess what? - Kubler isn't here either. At the last minute he decided
not to board. Instead, he will go on to Palermo by train.

And even if he were here, he probably wouldn't turn around, hearing his name
pronounced so badly.

Finally extricating themselves from the crowd, the racers prepare to ride.

Everybody crowds around them. "No, no" the scugnizzi would like to say, the
youths in shabby clothes and those better dressed, and the two girls (the
little old man has gone, disappointed, twirling his cane disdainfully) - "it
really is YOU we are here to welcome, not Bartali, not Coppi, but you! If
we shouted Bartali and Coppi, we were only trying to be polite, but we
couldn't care less about them! It is really you we love - you, the young
men of the future. You, Conti, you also, Crippa, and you just the same,
Cerami, who everybody says is gifted - even if your name is pronounced the
French way."

After all, aren't they heroes, too?

The spontaneous cheering grows louder and heartier. Someone takes it a step

"Down with Bartali," he shouts, hoping it will be appreciated.

But the racers remain withdrawn, silent and serious - almost sullen, as if
brooding over a private, personal insult.

They slide one foot into the toe clip, lift their other foot from the
ground, and depart somewhat awkwardly across the Piazza Municipale.

Already they are at the corner of Via De Prettis.

.now they have disappeared.

Eventually the tifosi disperse, amid embarrassment and slight uneasiness.
They light cigarettes, they yawn, as if it was only by coincidence that they
were there at all.

Meanwhile, the racers ride farther away. The Rettifilio (one of the broad
avenues of Napoli) is already behind them. They pedal furiously on the road
to Castellamare. Various windows are flung open. The silhouettes of
several boys are seen flying through doorways and rushing to the edge of the
road, but they get there too late - the vibrant metallic rustling of the
bicycles is already far away. But in their wake, the cyclists can here
yells pursuing them, growing ever louder. Formless voices, shouts, nothing
else. But two vowels are constantly repeated, always the same haunting

"Aaah! Oooh!"

"Bartali! Coppi!"

That's what the impromptu tifosi send forth, but they are only guessing.

Angry, the cyclists pedal on, at forty, forty-one kilometers an hour,
thrashing away to free themselves from those unpleasant sounds.

No use.

The harder they go, the more sudden are the shouts that pursue them, the
misunderstanding easier and more frequent.

"Aaah! Oooh!"

Nothing else. like a spiteful, never-ending echo.

The sun is already high. It's hot. Hunched over in their labors, their
part 3Spirito
May 18, 2002 10:01 AM

The sun is already high. It's hot. Hunched over in their labors, their
expressions set hard on their burning faces, the young champions continue
their headlong flight. From the fields, from the dark doors of the houses,
from the ditches, always the same damned two sounds.

Other people's fame.

And what about their own?

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(courtesy of aldo r.)