Singing under the stars

The War had been over for five years. The wounds were healing slowly. The allied bombers had left ruins and crosses. Italy needed rebuilding entirely, from North to South. Rickety vehicles would drive the roads in awful conditions: Balillas and 1100s, some Alfa Romeos and very few Lancias. The rare asphalt was full of huge holes that would seriously test the springs and tyres.
The year before the Giro had left from Palermo. The organisers had arranged for the cyclists to be transferred by sea, departing from Genoa onboard the Saturnia with a stopover in Naples to leave for Palermo, after ten hours of break, with the Città di Tunisi ferry. The racers were not impressed with this arrangement, scared senseless by the prospect of spending one night among the waves. Coppi, Bartali and Koblet decided to reach Palermo by train. Others copied them. The cars of the teams and the advertising convoy had to face the endless journey through the Apennines, overcoming all kinds of hurdles. Reaching Sicily proved to be a feat comparable to that of Garibaldi ninety years earlier.

Twelve months had passed and Sicily once again was awaiting the racers, not for the Giro d’Italia but rather for the tour of the island. Cottur, having finished his competitive career, had become the sporting director in place of Giovanni Zandonà.
Bepi had been driving for twelve hours now. Together with the guy from Trieste and Simeoni, he had left Bassano in the early morning. It was dawn when the 1100 balestra lunga, laden with bikes and spare parts, had left the Wilier factory in via Colomba. The streets were deserted and one could clearly hear the river Brenta grumble after the recent rain had made it swell. One hour later they were in Padua, ninety minutes later they had reached Bologna. The Porrettana awaited them. It was going to be challenging.
The engine, which had been checked by the Gomiero garage of Piazzale Cadorna, opposite the Tempio Ossario, roared in tune. The gears, thanks to the double clutch, would get in smoothly without fail while the road went up. On the summit, before sliding down towards Tuscany, they treated themselves to a break to let the 1100 breathe.

Florence was two long hours away; it was going to be testing for the drums of the brakes, which a few days afterwards were going to be stressed beyond measure by the Dolomite descents. The three had a quick lunch near Arezzo, went close to Orvieto, clinging to the tuff cliff, and crossed Orte. They reached Rome halfway through the afternoon. Hundreds of kilometres to drive still: their destination was S. Giovanni, on the strait of Messina, where they would take the ferry across. The exertion exploded in Naples. Bepi could hardly keep his eyes open. Cottur, used to looking at the faces of his adversaries for signs of weakness and subsidence, understood that the driver had had enough. “Bepi, let’s stop for a while” he proposed, but the stubborn driver did not take him up on his invitation. Two hours later an exhausted Bepi begged to stop. The evening was soon going to give way to the night. They looked for a restaurant that was still open. A modest tavern, with no guests, was waiting for them. They stopped there. “Bepi, what would you like?” Cottur asked nicely. “One litre of coffee, it will help me stay awake” his friend answered while yawning. While the host left the cups on the counter, the guy from Trieste dismissed the friend with an excuse: “Go check if my door is locked”. The driver left and Cottur took advantage. Two spoonfuls of sugar, a fierce stir and a sip of grappa to go with it. Bepi enjoyed his fortified coffee, appreciating its strong aroma and the taste of vinasse. When the cup was almost empty he felt something hit his teeth. He looked at the bottom of the cup and noticed two pink stains dissolving and got the hint: “Giordano, you son of a …., you tricked me…”
In the space of fifteen minutes, with his right hand on the steering wheel and the left arm resting against the window of the 100, he would loudly whistle with the crickets. The effect of the amphetamine Cottur had sneaked into his coffee cup lasted the entire night.
Getting to S. Giovanni under a starred sky was a piece of cake.

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16th July 2013