Giro Under 23: where a star was born

Giro Under 23: where a star was born


There are dates that transcend the magic of the moment. They make us understand how everything “has already happened,” while at the same time pointing towards an unexpected future and unexpected perspectives, in an ante litteram expression of what is now called proactivity.” In this particular case the date in question celebrates a triumph over adversity and the birth of a star.

Today the Giro d’Italia Under 23 Enel faces a stage without any major challenges: it is a gentle, level tribute to the Po valley that is crossed at Viadana. The stage passes through an area with a rich landscape, historical and artistic heritage: from the silent banks of the river near which the great and tormented Antonio Ligabue once painted, to the enchanting city of Cremona, home of Monteverdi and Stradivari, the epitome of world excellence in music, and the world home of violin making (as well as the city of Ugo Tognazzi, a great cycling enthusiast who followed and commentated on several editions of the Giro d’Italia with his unique style, and of Mina, the greatest Italian singer of all time).

Yet all this assumes a secondary role when compared with the power of a date: 10 June. It is the day on which, in 1940, Fausto Coppi woke up in Milan after the first of his five Giro d’Italia victories. It was supposed to be a day of celebration, a great beginning (and certainly, in the long run, it was). But on the Monday afternoon of that possible celebration, Italy went to war. And the great tragedy not only brought devastation and unparalleled damage to Italy and to the world but seemed to cut short a sporting career born a few hours earlier and that would eventually go on to become legendary. Fortunately, both Italy and Coppi were able to get back on their feet.

Twenty-year-old Fausto started the Giro as Gino Bartali’s support rider on the Legnano team. He was supposed to follow orders and serve as a humble apprentice in the shadow of his captain’s huge sporting greatness but in the stage from Florence to Modena (not so far from today’s starting line), with Bartali’s blessing after he suffered a fall, he took flight over the Abetone and triumphed with an almost four-minute lead, winning his first Pink Jersey which he went on to keep until the end.

“It was then, under the rain mixed with hail that I saw Coppi come to the world,” wrote the writer Orio Vergani. “I saw something new: an eagle, a swallow, a kingfisher, I can’t say what but under the beating rain and hail, his hands high and light on the handlebars, his legs balancing in the bends, his lean knees turning relentlessly, almost ignoring the exertion, he flew, literally flew up the hard mountain, amidst the silence of the crowd that didn’t know who he was nor what to call him.”

His name was Fausto Coppi. He went on to become the greatest cyclist in history.