Starting again: the Giro uniting Italy

Rubble and bereavement everywhere but the Italians were already rolling up their sleeves. Life slowly got back to normal and cycling was ready to play a leading role in a wounded country determined to get back in the game. The referendum had just ousted the monarchy, throwing open the doors and hopes to a republic with the vote for women for the first time. At Wilier, just a few steps from the river Brenta, work proceeded despite the signs left by the bombs dropped by the allied bombers. Cranks, brakes, sprockets, handlebars, rims, spokes and saddles were quickly assembled on the frames by the workers. The first bikes left the factory, business got going.

Giro d’Italia 1946: Overflowing crowd in Trieste as the Italian flag triumphs.

15/06/1946: Near Turin, Cottur flies towards victory.

Finally a new air.
Mr. Dal Molin looked to the future with faith and equipped a competitive team. With Giordano Cottur as the captain, the racer from Trieste who had won the Bassano-Monte Grappa twice (1935 and 1936), the team was formed of cyclists from the Triveneto regions. At the orders of Giovanni Zandonà – the sporting director with a racing past behind him – Giannino Piccolroaz, Angelo Menon, Toni Bevilacqua, Egidio Feruglio, Angelo Degano and Giovanni Brotto got back in their saddles. Sound, tenacious, combative cyclists ready to put everything on the line along bomb damaged roads. Saturday 15 June the seven members gather at the start line in Milan. “A robust team” was the definition of the Gazzetta dello Sport dedicating ample space to the Venetians. It was finally time to get serious. The cyclists from Bassano had formed the “Triestina”, in homage to the still divided regional capital, and were capitalising on the success obtained by Feruglio in the Giro dell’Emilia (Tour of Emilia). An infinite crowd besieged people and vehicles in piazza duomo (“Cathedral Square”). Curiosity, amazement, lightheartedness after dark years. A new Italy gathered around the cyclists. The racers of Wilier Triestina were surrounded, pampered, hugged so tightly they could hardly breathe. The Revival Tour kicked off with Giordano Cottur winning first place. At the Turin finish line, after 185 kilometres, he defeated his team mate Bevilacqua by 43” and wore the first pink jersey after the war. The Venetian would get him back the following day in 190 kilometres of the Turin-Genoa: Bevilacqua broke away at 1’ 48” from Bailo and seized the jersey from the captain. The same thing happened again two days later at the end of the 40 kilometres of Montecatini Prato: the third success out of the four stages for Wilier. A triumphal beginning: the feats of the red halberd team were on everyone’s lips. The road from Prato to Bologna is not suitable for racing: the Apennines tested Toni’s legs.
Bartali was in the lead over the hill though overtaken by Fausto Coppi at the finish line. Heroes emerged from the Giro. The jersey went to Camellini of team Olmo. Overcoming impossible roads, the convoy headed south. The race’s turning point was at Naples. Vito Ortelli became the leader. Turning northwards, the great racers paced themselves, aware that the Dolomites would be decisive. Oreste Conte won the Florence Rovigo stage, overtaking Bevilacqua who was on his home turf.
Coppi won the Muraglione climb. Sunday 30 June: from Rovigo to Trieste, where the day after the caravan would take a day of rest. There was tension in the air. Tito’s Yugoslavia disputed the city, which does welcome the arrival of the Giro. With the enthusiasm erupting along the roads, the race was healing Italy. Wilier Triestina, whose name refers to unity, sounds like a provocation towards those who had bloodied their hands to stop the Italian flag flying over St. Giusto. On the Pieris bridge, at the entrance to Trieste a huge crowd had gathered in the meantime; a group of separatists, ensnared by Tito’s communists, entered into action. The protesters threw flowers at the cyclists; however there were stones hidden inside.

The racers were hit and a couple wounded. Warning shots were fired from a field near the bridge. The cyclists dropped to the ground terrorised, looking for cover. They had ridden more than 150 kilometres along flat ground by the sea. There were screams, shouts, curses and heart stopping shots.
The American military and police escort intervened. It could not end like this. With the initial loss overcome, the competitors got back on their bikes. Seventeen cyclists, with the entire Wilier team, decided to reach the Montebello hippodrome at any cost. Soldiers, gun in hand, made those brave men get on their trucks to escort them to the finish line. Feet on the ground and set time for the rest of the caravan. At Barcola the racers stopped the jeeps, unloaded their bikes and started pedalling. Even if the classification was not going to be touched, at least they wanted a real sprint. Giordano Cottur knew the roads which surround his home town like the back of his hand. He had ridden them thousands of times, before and after training on the barren karst hills. A short but tough slope leads to the hippodrome. The ideal launch site. The sudden attack took place there. A few meters were earned: just enough to precede the team mates Bevilacqua and Menon on the finish line. Three Wilier Triestina men in the top three places in Trieste: an apotheosis. The people went wild and invaded the track. Giordano Cottur was lifted on their shoulders and carried triumphantly. A slap in the face for Tito’s communists and their hatred towards Italians. Another eight years would pass until Trieste could return to Italy, but the arrival of red halberd jerseys was a glimpse of the city’s future. “An emotion never experienced before” Giordano Cottur said for years afterwards, with his clear eyes which always welled up at the extraordinary memory.

“The people of Trieste give a delirious welcome to the Giro d’Italia”

was the title of the Gazzetta dello sport and Bruno Roghi wrote an article on cycling’s history.

“There are no more flowers in the gardens of Trieste.
The bells no longer ring in Trieste.
The flags in Trieste are no longer flying.
No more kisses come from the lips of Trieste.
All the flowers, flags, rings and kisses have been given to the Giro d’Italia”.

Cyclist of the Giro: Giannino Piccolroaz.

Cottur ahead of Vincenzo Torriani.

Cottur cheered by the crowd in his hometown of Trieste .

15/6/1946, Giro d’Italia: Cottur on a break away.

After a day of rest the caravan got going again: from Udine to Auronzo di Cadore, with the Mauria pass to be climbed.
The legends took centre stage. They must restore the hierarchy. Bartali won the mountain finish line, Coppi got the final. Ortelli, third, finished at 1’34”.
The jersey went to Ginettaccio, the man of iron that the war did not tire, giving him back his old glory. He wanted to establish once and for all that he was the first in the class. No one must dare tricking him. Coppi run-down, back from prison, had been warned. That was the start of a dualism that would provide the background for epic battles. The next stage ended right in Bassano, Wilier’s home town. The town was thrilled. The memory of Pieris was alive, amplified by the radio and newspapers. In first place: Fausto Coppi alone. Bartali had been warned. In the mountain the captain of team Bianchi was flying. Age was on his side. Entering Mercante among the wild crowd after a ride where he was even in the lead in the Falzarego pass. Bini ended at 1’12” preceding Bartali. In tenth place was Cottur, at 1’57”. Mario Dal Molin and all the craftsmen of Wilier were at the velodrome. There were four stages to go. In the Bassano-Trento, with the Rolle pass, Aldo Ronconi is ahead of Coppi. Bartali, third, lost another nine seconds to the Bianchi leader, but managed to hold the jersey. Conte got the Trento-Verona ahead of the Zanazzi brothers while in Mantua success smiled on Elio Bertocchi. The last stage, 176 kilometres from Mantua to Milan, went to Coppi but the jury downgraded him: first place again to Oreste Conte. The Revival Tour was won by Bartali with 47” over Coppi. In eighth place was Giordano Cottur at 38’28”. Bevilacqua and Piccolroaz ended in 17th and 18th place; Feruglio 37th. The other team mates of the halberd team withdrew.

Next issue 

14th May 2013