Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Church Bell Tells the Tale

In this photo either Fausto is passing water to Gino, or Gino to Fausto depending on which story one believes. Personally, I'd believe Bartali.

You may not be aware, but we are in the middle of the Giro d'Italia, maybe the best Grand Tour race of the year (Denis Menchov is leading). This is from Cycling News. If you interested in bicycle racing from a historical perspective it is a good source. The following is about maybe the greatest rivalry in cycling history. In the contest of Fausto Coppi versus Gino Bartali, I come down as a Coppi man.

"One defining aspect of both Coppi and Bartali's legacy is their great rivalry. The pair is inextricably linked thanks to battles in Italy and France, where the two Italians were successful over two decades - first Bartali, then as he came of age in the professional ranks, Coppi.

The two men were polar opposites; Bartali, the Tuscan with a powerful build, square face and broad nose while Coppi was the lean, elegant and long-limbed Ligurian. Their personal philosophies differed significantly - Bartali held strongly to the aforementioned Catholic faith, whereas Coppi made no mention of any religious persuasion. The traditional, conservative element of Italian society made the most of this fact when throwing its support behind one of the country's cycling stars. Bartali was seen as the 'moral choice' whereas Coppi was the representation of a slowly-emerging social freedom.

There's one day in the many that these two riders were pitted against each other on the road that garners particular attention in the annals of cycling history, however: June 10, 1949. Coppi's stage win in Pinerolo came after conquering five tough mountain passes, most of which were ridden solo, and at the finish he held an advantage of 11 minutes 52 seconds over Bartali. He climbed the Passo di Rolle, Pordoi and Gardena solo in an attack that encapsulated the spirit of Italian cycling. That mystique was continued by countrymen such as Felice Gimondi and Marco Pantani. On that day in 1949 Coppi's panache had a 'victim': Bartali. Whilst it was Adolfo Leoni who wore the maglia rosa when riders set off from Cuneo, Bartali was Coppi's main rival.

The older of the two rivals couldn't match the younger man's audacious move and eventually finished runner up when the race finished in Milan two days later. Almost half the final deficit of 23 minutes and 47 seconds was accumulated on that one stage - an incredible feat achievable only by a rider of Coppi's flair. 

According to Raphaël Géminiani, "When Fausto won and you wanted to check the time gap to the man in second place, you didn't need a Swiss stopwatch. The bell of the church clock tower would do the job just as well." The Frenchman's statement was particularly pertinent on June 10, 1949.


reverend dick said...

I lik everthing about this.

I must say, though, that I gained great respect for Bartali after hearing about his involvement in the Italian resistance against the Axis. Using his riding no less.

Gunnar Berg said...

Ahh, we have a Bartali man. I cannot defend Il Campionissimo on moral grounds. He was a pill popping womanizer. Although keep in mind, the pills were not illegal nor against cycling regulations then. The Lady in White, now she was a more serious sin. I do know know that he was a brave and beautiful man on a bicycle.