TWO NAMES FOLLOW THE CYCLISTS DURING A TRAINING RIDE ALONG THE COAST
(From Dino Buzzati’s Giro d’Italia)
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?
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
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
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.
The harder they go, the more sudden are the shouts that pursue them, the
misunderstanding easier and more frequent.
Nothing else. like a spiteful, never-ending echo.
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?
A NIGHT ONBOARD AN OCEANLINER FOR THE HARDMEN OF THE ROAD
(from Giro d’Italia by Dino Buzzati)
Onboard the passenger liner “Saturnia”, the night of May 17th, 1949.
Dino Buzzati writes.
We open the door to cabin number 223. Darkness, and the musical whisper of
an electric fan. In here are Lucienne Buysse, Roger Missine, Jef Van der
Helst, and Giuseppe Cerami, racing cyclists. They are asleep.
We open the door to cabin number 234. Darkness here, too. This room is
assigned to Albert Dubuisson and Jean Lesage. They, too, are asleep.
And here and there, behind the bright white doors which line the deserted
corridor, are others:
Ferdi Kubler, Nedo Logli, Monari, Valenta, Conte, Crippa, and on and on,
borne through the Mediterranean night, lulled into slumber by the quiet purr
of the ship, whose stupendous lights can be seen (even at such a great
distance) by fishermen in their small boats, as if they were seeing a
mirage. And though they know what it is, they point and call out to one
another, hardly able to believe their eyes.
Bysse, Missine, Van der Helst, Cerami. names - some famous, some not.
Tomorrow morning we land at Napoli.
In the evening we set sail on another ship. And the day after that, the
landing at Palermo.
One more day after that, and then everyone will climb into their saddle,
position their feet on the pedals and, teeth clenched, off they will gallop,
ready for this great adventure.
But tonight, in this brilliantly illuminated ship, how relaxed their dreams
Thus this morning in Genoa the 32nd Giro d’Italia began with this strange
maritime debut - actually, only a small number of the Giro’s protagonists
are here on board the passenger liner Saturnia: team managers, technical
directors, mechanics, masseurs, etc.
As for actual cyclists, there are only 23. Fausto Coppi, for example, is
not here. Nor is Gino Bartali.
Many of the cyclists, having never sailed before (especially those from
rural areas) blindly believed the terrible tales of seasickness, and instead
are currently traveling down the Italian peninsula in old, worn-out trains.
Many will join the sea travelers in Napoli for the short trip across the
Mare Tirreno to Palermo. But, for the record, the story of the 1949 Giro
d’Italia began this morning, when the gangplank was removed and the mooring
lines were cast-off.
Can we compare this with the departure of Garibaldi’s “Mille di Quarto”,
which left from Liguria on May 6th, 1860? It would be wrong for us not to
do so, for it is impossible that whoever devised this unprecedented start
did so without remembering the “Leone (Lion) di Caprera”.
And even if the organizers didn’t do so consciously, they have copied, for
cycling rather than military purposes, the same reasoning which Garibaldi’s
used 90 years ago.
Is there perhaps a sort of “peninsular strategy”, a recurring, obligatory
solution for whomsoever decides to conquer Italy? A strategy which does not
allow any deviation from the traditional path, even when the invasion is
launched by bicycle?
Tonight, however, the heroes of tomorrow’s adventure are not “keeping watch”
as Garibaldi’s sentries did on the maintops of the ships “Piemonte” and
"Lombardo." These heroes are sleeping, savoring the sweetness of this
comfortable, elegant night, lulled by the hundred voices of the ship -
voices which in the wee hours tell wonderful stories about oceans, whales,
skyscrapers, exotic lovers, and distant cities with names too difficult to
Tomorrow, at breakneck speed, they will tackle the road, straight and long -
the great enemy that ends in nothingness on the horizon, or snakes it’s way
through a steep crag, the very sight of which takes one’s breath away. A
road covered with stones or dust or mud or tarmac, or ruined by potholes. An
endless ribbon that must be consumed, little by little.
But tonight there is only the immense, broad avenue of the sea, which has no
potholes, nor ditches, nor climbs. A soft carpet that the ship’s prow cuts
with startling ease, as if it were made of silk. No need for leg muscles to
push it with turns of the pedals.
Tomorrow there will be sweat, cramps, aching knees, hearts in the throat,
muscle fatigue, thirst, curses, flat tires, collapses of body and soul. That
bitter taste in the mouth when the others, the good ones, break away,
disappearing in a whirlwind of cheers.
But tonight, lying in the soft berth, with muscles soothed and relaxed, they
are young, resilient, extraordinary, irresistible, buoyed by the promise of
Tomorrow, there will be merciless orders from team manager’s to dutifully
drag the team captain, who is not feeling up to it, to haul him up the
slopes like a sack, fruitlessly throwing away one’s own best strength in the
process, on the very day when this mere gregario was hoping to attack!
But tonight there are no orders from the team manager, no differences in
status. Tonight even the lowliest trainee is like a Napoleon.
And he dreams…
He dreams, this little soldier who has never heard the crowd roar his name,
nor been lifted victoriously onto the shoulders of the delirious throng. He
dreams of what all men have an absolute need to imagine, at one time or
another, for otherwise life would be too difficult to bear.
He is dreaming of HIS Giro d’Italia, an awe-inspiring revenge, and right
from the very start of course!
One hundred six kilometers from Palermo, where the road begins the difficult
climb toward the Colle del Contrasto, more than 3000 feet above sea level,
out of the thundering pack of racers, still as compact as a herd of buffalo,
who leaps out? None other than he, the gregario, the unknown one, whose
name children have never chalked on suburban walls, as encouragement or as
Alone, he hurls himself like a madman up the steep climb, while the others
"What an idiot," says one know-it-all, "That’s the best way to do yourself
in! In five minutes at most he’ll explode.”
But he continues to fly, as if carried by a supernatural force. He devours
switchback after switchback as if, instead of climbing, he was hurtling down
the Stelvio, or some other mountain pass.
Behind him the others are no longer visible. People along the road shout
"Bravo, Bartali!", but he shakes his head, trying to make them understand
that he is someone else.
"Who is he, then?" No one recognizes him. In order to identify him they
must look for his number on the list printed in the newspaper.
And panic runs through Sicily…
"When will this little wretch give up?" This "joke" is annoying everyone.
"Now THIS is TOO MUCH! Let’s teach that madcap a lesson."
The aces arch their backs. Yes!, it is Coppi himself who will inflict the
punishment!. Bartali, of course, is stuck to Coppi’s side. What had
earlier seemed to be so amusing now turns into a gigantic battle.
But he, the anonymous one, the last of the last, has donned wings. A
twenty-minute lead, twenty-five, thirty. Compared with him, who are these
campionissimi? What are Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali? Poor little grubs
plodding in his wake far, far behind, losing minute after minute.
Here, finally, is the city of Catania, and the finish. The rumor of a
"miracle" has arrived before him, unleashing a frenzy of crowds, flags,
applause, flowers, kisses, and brass bands.
The time-keepers, with staring eyes, scan the road. He arrives
unexpectedly, like an arrow, on a road that is clear, totally deserted,
The hands of the stopwatch run on, and still no one else appears.
Forty-seven minutes, forty eight, fifty-five, sixty! One hour and five
minutes go by before the pursuers are seen emerging in the distance. The
crowd has remained, watching them in silence.
How easy it is to dream this night, on board the great illuminated ship. But
why be satisfied with one stage? Why not increase the lead to a couple of
hours? Why not continue the miracle all the way to the finish of the very
:::The average for the Giro: 46 kilometers per hour!:::
:::A day-an-a-half’s lead over second:::
:::Coppi out of his mind:::
:::Bartali confined to a monastery:::
After all, what does it cost, this dream? Lying back in his berth, he who
will never finish in front, this mere “pencil pusher” of the road, this
faithful servant, this most humble of the humble, smiles, victorious,
But perhaps it’s not like that. Maybe even these fantasies are denied him,
and even in his sleep he remains a poor gregario.
Perhaps he is simply sleeping, relaxed like a beast of burden, weary after
the long road raced, exhausted by the distance yet to be covered, because he
knows he has no hope.
So then, it is better to just sleep.
Sleep and nothing else.
And he dreams of nothing.
Happy Giro d’Italia (The Tour of Italy)! This magnificent race just began for the 96th time on 4 May 2013. First stage taken by Cavendish with 3 weeks more of grueling terrain for the worlds toughest riders. Dai Dai!
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