For Dino Buzzati, the bike race is an excuse for an extended meditation on Italian history and in these first few years after World War II and the defeat of fascism, the pressing question of what it means to be Italian. Eventually in a roundabout kind of way, he pays attention to the bike race.
With the expedition from Genova and a day of training rides completed, it was time to get down to the business of actually racing. The ’49 Giro began in Palmero, but first, Buzzati has to set the scene with a dispatch dated, the night of May 20.
"Everything is ready," he writes. "The bicycles are ready, shining like noble steeds on the eve of the tournament. The pink number plate is official sealed the frame. The lubricant has reached all the right spot. The tires so narrow, are as smooth and taut as young snakes."
Apparently, lubricant looks like blood. I lube my chain with the blood of my enemies. Coppi said that. Or if he didn’t, he should have. I’m not sure about the snakes part. Somehow, Medusa and bicycle wheels got mixed up together. Maybe lay off the acid next time, Dino.
For Buzzati, Garibaldi’s battle to unify Italy is the recurring and central metaphor for the Giro. In fact, this idea of the Giro standing for Italian unity remains alive today and the road book for the Giro d’Italia is known as il Garibaldi.
"Who will hold out, oh gallant Garibaldians without bayonets? Who will become your Garibaldi?... Victory with its inscrutable visage, smiles indiscriminately on everyone."
We don’t really read Buzzati for the bike racing, though the 1949 Giro d’Italia proved to be a legend. But even Buzzati knew that the story of the ’49 Giro was the rivaly between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. He would have had to live entirely under a rock — or between the covers of the Homeric epics he so adores — to have missed it. Also, bro’s never met a adjective he didn’t love.
"Will the great endeavor be reduced to a duel between the sport’s two giants, the two legendary aces? Or will a new name, destined to criss-cross the world, emerge unexpectedly from the ranks of the youngsters? Old Pavesi, discoverer of champions, the Nestor of the Giro, has a slight, diplomatic grimace on his good-naturedly Mephistophelian face... Tomorrow we shall see."
My, what orange legs you have, Fausto. Coppi was known as "the Heron" for his long, sexy legs. Bartali, the Pious, is too hard to draw.
"The prologue has come to an end. We turn to the first page of the novel. We see a long road under the sun... and in the background, barely visible, a small, dark thing moving foward. God, how it is flying!"