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Il Giro d'Italia: Whereupon Buzzati Explains Cycling

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How could a guy who previously had paid so little attention to the sport summarize it so effectively? Here Dino Buzzati sees the sport as reflected in the faces of his journalist traveling companions. This is the last excerpt, and it's worth the full read.

... They told me so many stories that, whatever thecase, whether the Giro turns out to be a constumed kermesse or a torture or a gigantic affair of a lyric poem or a comedy or a savage war, at least one of them, the veterans who lecture me, will be right.

One of them says the Giro is a wonderful physical tonic, and an extraordinary outing in the country, a pilgrimage from one trattoria to another through gastronomic Italy. At one time, he says that he used to go every year to Montecatini; now, instead, he follows the Giro and benefits far more from it. When he gets back home, he tells us, his wife is amazed at how much younger he looks.

Continued on the Flip:

Another one, with equal experience and seniority, instead maintains that the Giro is an infernal machine designed to destroy men, racers, helpers, officials, journalists, photographers, et cetera. He says that for three weeks you fast, or almost, eating at most a heavy sandwich at breakfast, and in the evening a meal that is choked down because you are in a hurry and exhausted. As for sleep, he adds, that's even worse. Last year, for example, he affirms, he managed to sleep four hours in a row only between stages, and he got a complete night's sleep only after the last finishing line. But can that be true?

One fellow tells me it's all a set-up. The cyclists arrive first, second, and third, and so on, on the basis of prearranged plots, corruption, obscure higher interests. He is probably a believer in dialectical materialism that explains everything with so-called economic factors, even Malabrocca's boils. Nonetheless, it is stimulating. The crowds are naive, he says, and the fans who rave and lose sleep at night if their favorite has lost a couple of minutes are insane. The favorite probably had his own reasons, they can be sure.

But there is also the other fellow, no less shrewd and intelligent, who swears to the sublime purity of the Giro. He sees in it one of the last great phenomena of individual and collective mysticism. Even if they have loads of money, the racers are knocking themselves out just for the Idea. And it is the Idea, nothing less, that draws crowds to the sides of the road. Him, he repudiates everything: money, special interests, even the muscles. It is the Spirit, he says, only the power of the Spirit, that turns the wheels, climbs the Falzarego or the Pordoi mountains, and breaks records. In his opinion, the champions are Chosen heroes, the organizers priestly celebrants, and the anonymous sports fans a tide of burning faith.

There is yet another who complains all day long, cursing his decision to accept the assignment to the Giro again. He already anticipates dreadful strains, downpours, discomfort and bedbugs in the hotels, and colds. He swears that since a certain racer is absent, the race doesn't have the least interest for him and that it might as well not have bene held, and that people don't give a hoot. In his worst moments, he even guarantees that bicycle racing is dead, dead and buried, that the champion breed has vanished, that in the atomic age the pedal crank is scrap metal belonging in a museum, and that to obstinately keep this shoddy affair going is ridiculous. But I look at him. He is about forty-five years old, robust, and always seems about to fend off a surprise attack; his face is a bit rough, stern, but likeable. I have been observing him closely for a day. I haven't figured out if he is a team manager or sports director of one of the teams, a head mechanic or masseur. He grumbles, sneers, looks on the dark side of everything, rushes from one spot to another breathlessly, as if a catastrophe were always about to happen. He sweats, curses, and smokes until late at night. He will stay this way, I assume, until the end of the Giro. A misfit, one might think at first glance, a person obliged to work unwillingly in an atmosphere that is hateful to him. So it seemed on first meeting him. But then, I changed my mind. I observe him now, as he gripes and dashes around acting like a sulky bulldog. I watch him with great pleasure and ask myself: How long has it been since I have seen anyone so happy?