The drama of Coppi

It was the first of June 1950 when the Giro arrived in Bassano, Wilier Triestina’s city. The racers had been on the move for one hour. The race had started in Vicenza with arrival set in Bolzano. A race in the Dolomites that would give you the chills, with the Rolle, Pordoi and Gardena passes to climb one after the other, like merciless judges ready to measure each athlete’s strength. First in the rank was a 24 year old Swiss of gentle manners called Hugo Koblet. He was far too aristocratic for the group. From good stock, polite and good mannered, he lives in Zurich. Before starting cycling professionally he had been a silversmith. Every morning before leaving the hotel he has the habit of putting a small comb protected in a leather case in one of his top’s pockets. It is a sweet habit of his. Immediately after the finish line he is known to use the water left in the bottle to wash his face and get rid of any dust and sweat. He then combs his thick hair with that bone object, while his mates chuckle. No one is willing to bet on his stamina. ”Coppi, Bartali and Magni can beat him anytime” they claim. But the Swiss is tough and does not give up easily. They will soon realize it! He won in Vicenza, also thanks to Ginettaccio’s puncture and Fausto’s fall, after gaining momentum on the Pian delle Fugazze. The pink jersey is his but the Dolomites are full of pitfalls. “He’s going to burn out by the time he reaches Bolzano” the usual wise guys would say.
The group pedals calmly for the first hour. The celebrations in Bassano have no equals. Wilier Triestina red halberd jerseys are in the first line. The other teams let them, trusting to receive the same treatment when cycling in their area. The time has not come yet to open hostilities. The champions stare at each other. Eyes are the window to the soul. Be wary of those who hide them behind dark lenses. They may be a sign of a crisis to come. Fausto is at the centre of the peloton, surrounded by his trusted squires who never lose sight of him. After the Ca’ Sette crossroads, the state highway 47 enters Valsugana. The road runs through dozens of small villages, playing hide and seek with the Brenta. Pove, Solagna, S. Nazario, Carpanè, San Marino, Cismon. Guido De Santi takes off in search for some glory. His advantage increases to no one’s concerns. He’s from Trieste, like Giordano Cottur, who trained with him on the steep Carso roads. Coppi falls at the entrance to Primolano.
The wheel slides and the handlebar slips away: he finds himself on the ground. A fall without consequences. He promptly gets back on his bike without losing any valuable seconds. The race is still unpredictable; it will become heated later, on the hairpin turns that from S. Martino reach Rolle, in the shadow of the imposing Cimon de la Pala.

Confetti thrown along Bassano’s roads.

Primolano with his four sharp ramps is an introduction to the ascent. De Santi has an advantage of almost fifteen minutes over his adversaries. The peloton becomes disengaged. Coppi falls for the first time, possibly inadvertently hit by Armando Peverelli, who is said to have abruptly deviated from his path to let a car pass. An unexpected obstacle, impossible to avoid, no time to react. Coppi falls heavily on the asphalt. He passes out. The first car to stop is that of Wilier Triestina, driven by Bepi Baggio, who had gone back behind the wheel after taking the way for Valsugana. Cottur gets off and starts tearing his hair out. Giuseppe Ambrosini, the race manager, arrives. The cyclists from Bianchi gather around the wounded racer attentively while waiting for the White Cross ambulance with doctor Campi. Coppi comes to and would like to get back on his bike. They lift him up, trying to put him on the saddle but he can’t do it. The pain in his hip is so sharp to leave him breathless. Campi understands. The fracture is more serious than anticipated. The ambulance takes him to Trento hospital in half an hour. X-rays are merciless: triple fracture of the pelvis. Goodbye Giro. De Santi’s escape ends along the steep ramps of the Pordoi. Having caught up with the cyclist from Trieste, Gino attacks with rage in an attempt to restore the hierarchy now that the super champion is out of the equation. His legs go up and down like pistons and the pedals must undergo incredible stress. The action continues, Bolzano is close. Gino was doing great but Koblet gets him. The Tuscan wins, the Swiss holds the pink jersey firmly while a sad Coppi is at the hospital. It’s the Holy Year, the year of Jubilee. Pius XII receives the cyclists in Rome, where the race ends. Hugo Koblet is the new rising star. The final pink jersey is still his. Bartali comes second before Alfredo Martini with a delay of 8’41”. Fiorenzo Magni is only sixth. At the end of the season he is to leave Wilier Triestina after winning the Giro in 1948. The team from Bassano, which started with Magni, Bevilacqua, Feruglio, Grosso, Selvatico, Molinari and Ausenda completes the endeavour with three victories. Toni Bevilacqua wins two stages (Livorno-Genoa of 216 Km and Ferrara-Rimini of 144 Km); the third one, Aquila-Campobasso of 203 Km, has the name of Fiorenzo Magni on it. Of the seven racers headed by the sporting director Giordano Cottur, at the peak of a career marked by great achievements, four crossed the finish line: Magni (6th), Bevilacqua (29th) with one hour 19’54”, Egidio Feruglio (61th) with 3 hours 01’ 08” and Adolfo Grosso (63rd) with three hours 5’58”.

Back to Bassano. On the right Bepi, mechanic and driver.

The Giro d’Italia in numbers:
105 left, 75 arrived. Black jersey to Mario Gestri.
Overall distance 3981 Km; average speed 33.816 Km/h.
Classification: 1st Hugo Koblet, 2nd Gino Bartali, 3rd Vittorio Rossello.
Best team: Frejus headed by Koblet.

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9th July 2013