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.
A minute passes.
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.