Among poppies and bluebottles

The stage had ended a little more than an hour before with Magni winning alone. He had ridden for 203 kilometres from L’Aquila to Campobasso in 6 hours 9 minutes and 2 seconds, followed by Bresci at 17” and relegating Ferdy Kubler, the pink jersey Koblet, Bartali and Maggini at 50”. It had been a though hard stage, with many slopes under the shade of the Maiella and the Macerone descent rewarding Bonini. The mechanics were arranging the bikes on the square in front of an elementary school that had been converted into a hotel for the occasion. A fiddly, meticulous and repetitive job to be done every day until the early evening.
A small annoying crowd had formed around the Wilier team and space was becoming tight. Simeoni could hardly move; Bepi had to whirl to reach the van and get the spare tyres, using the worn out palmers he had just removed from the rims as a whip. Working in those conditions was impossible. Giordano Cottur came in support of the mechanics after complimenting Magni and calling Mr.
Dal Molin on the phone to inform him about the successful performance. “Make way– he commanded with his unmistakable accent– get away from here and let us work”. No one moved. “We need space. Is that clear?” he screamed louder. A distinguished young man emerged from the crown. He was wearing a dark jacket. His white shirt was freshly laundered with his tie slightly loosened.
He raised his arms, drew the fans’ attention and gave the order. As by magic the crowd subdued. The square was deserted after five minutes. The young man introduced himself: “I apologise for my fellow citizens’ behaviour. They mean well. They couldn’t wait for the Giro to stop in Campobasso. We have gone through some harrowing moments, the War was terrible. Most of us live on sheep breeding and the very little this harsh land has to offer. Our people are so poor that often they can’t have lunch and dinner on the same day.

The Giro gives them a break, an event they will remember for the rest of their life, like their wedding day and the birth of their first child. Being close to you, watching you while you fix your bikes and brushing the champions is like living a dream.”
“Also for me – added the man from Molise by slightly lowering his gaze – I will remember this day as long as I live. My dad is a chemist and I am studying at the university to taken over my dad’s business one day. Here there are not many opportunities to exchange opinions. People from other areas rarely come here. If it is not too much bother for you, I’d like to stay a little longer”. I won’t get in the way. At the end of all operations the student in jacket and tie was still there, charmed by the daily gestures of the men from Wilier, intent on their ritual. Having arranged the bikes and checked the water and oil level of the car and amaranth red van, the mechanics looked for the “room” assigned to them in the school. They found themselves in a classroom with desks stacked up on top of the other, next to the teacher’s desk and the black board with a series of equations written by the uncertain hand of some novice pupil. Five camp beds were aligned on the floor. That is where they would spend the night. Bepi, having an urgent need, started looking for the toilets. He found what was to be the bathroom at the end of the corridor. He summoned his courage and opened the door. The stink made him breathless. He managed somehow.
That evening, before falling asleep he said to Cottur, who was already lying on the makeshift bed next to his.
“Giordano, tomorrow I am waking up at five. If you want you can come with me…”. The alarm clock went off at the set time. Bepi and Giordano got up quietly and looked at the school yard. They got in the car as the sun was rising. Fifteen minutes later they were in the middle of a field, far from the town, with their pants down. “They relieved themselves” among the poppies and bluebottles.
It was a freeing experience like no other.

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30th July 2013