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The 1954 Giro began amidst a great fuss. The war had a devastating effect on Italy’s roads, infrastructure and wider economy, leaving millions of Italians disoccupati, out of work. In Tuscany the Piaggio fighter plane factories had been totally destroyed by allied bombs in 1943. Enrico Piaggio, heir to the family silver, was tasked with rebuilding not only the factory, but with it the wealth of the Piaggio dynasty. Reckoning that what Italians most needed was small, affordable transportation, he had Corradino D'Ascanio, his chief designer, set to work on a clean, cheap two-wheeled vehicle. It had a faring covered engine at the rear, no filthy chain, and space for a passenger. When Piaggio explained that the thing looked like a wasp, D’Ascanio took it as a compliment; ‘There we are then, we’ll call it just that.’ The Vespa went into full production in August 1946, followed in short order by a competitor brand, the Lambretta. This, no less than a transport revolution, saw to it that by the early fifties Italy’s bicycle factories, hitherto sole sponsors of the country’s professional racing teams, found their sales, and by extension their fortunes, somewhat diminished.
Amongst the biggest casualties was Ganna. Fiorenzo Magni, triumphant at the 1951 Giro on a Ganna bike but searching now for new sponsorship, hit upon an idea. Why need the sponsors be the same hardcore band of bike and component manufacturers? Why not spread the net and invite non-cycling related businesses to patronise the sport? Nivea, a face cream manufacturer, needed no second invitation. Eager to bolster sales in Italy (and evidently failing to notice the irony implicit in their bankrolling gnarly, bald as a coot Magni), they stumped up. The French cycling federation predictably kicked off, insisting that Magni’s perspicacity was in fact an outrageous act of heresy, the beginning of the end of the sport. They refused to invite him to their races, whereupon his mate Coppi, the biggest draw of them all, refused to cross the border without him. The French came over all truculent and declined to send a team to ride the Giro. In response the UVI, Italian cycling’s governing body, refused to enter the Tour. We’re not coming to your party, either, so there.
Stage one saw the Giro caravan make a long overdue return to Sicily for a 36km team time trial around Etna. Coppi’s Bianchi utterly dominated proceedings as Koblet’s Swiss team ceded the thick end of five minutes and with them, apparently, the Giro itself. At dinner that night Coppi, invincible on the bike and frivolous with love off it, treated himself to the local speciality, a generous seafood salad. Bad idea Fausto, very bad idea. The following day, an eight-hour marathon under a broiling Sicilian sun, he started to feel unwell, losing in excess of 12 minutes to a breakaway containing Magni, the new maglia rosa Minardi and two Swiss, the climber Schaer and Clerici.
Back on the mainland for stage four, the Giro re-invoked the golden age with an insane 352km, 11½ hour epic from Catanzaro to clay hot Bari. The stage, won by teak-tough little Angelo Conterno, provoked a wave of protest amongst the bar and shopkeepers of the Calabria and Puglia, the deepest of Italy’s deep south. They were outraged that the riders, spitting feathers so scorched was the earth, so arid the day, had stolen more than their fair share of drinks. Giro tradition at the time dictated that the girini be allowed to help themselves to such sustenance, within reason, as they saw fit. Coca Cola, with its high caffeine and sugar content, was prized above all else, the amber nectar of the professional cyclist. For their part the proprietors would be glad of the prestige, grateful for the magic these extraordinary young men left, by way of exchange, in their wake. Race Director Torriani, incensed by what he perceived as a taking of liberties on the part of the riders, called a meeting, chastising his peloton for indulging themselves. They returned fire by inviting him, in no uncertain terms, to ride a bicycle at speed for 11½ hours in what amounted to a kiln. Touché. Thereafter a further vehicle was added to the Giro caravan. It would tag along behind the riders, stopping at the bars which they’d ‘patronised’ and paying the gleeful proprietor the (usually hugely inflated) tab.
Extract from Maglia Rosa by Herbie Sykes, published by Rouleur in 2012
- @tribryan Hi Bryan, that’s a discontinued Irish Country Jersey which is no longer in production, sorry to disappoint.
- @vickiewoodsford @richardhier @daithetooth Thanks Vickie, glad we were able to help too.
- @ServiceCourse @richardhier @daithetooth You’re all too kind, thank you.
- @richardhier Thanks Richard, have a good weekend. Will pass on your thanks to Peter.
- Stylish, creative, sharp? We all know a sartorial city rider that can be tricky to buy for. See our guide for hints → http://t.co/dul9phwMoX
- Who's excited for snowy racing #inbend this weekend? We brought tshirts and coffee for the weekend.… http://t.co/aYYPjQEXTG
- @playa_mansa Sorry, somehow missed this. Our backpack is great for general use. Most of us here use it both on and off the bike.
- @TheRaceRadio A man experienced in sheep aerodynamics, perhaps. → http://t.co/4ysrDy5bie
- The most recent Rapha Gentlemen’s Race took place in Adelaide with 18 teams lining up for the rolling 160km route. → http://t.co/ZQ3Dzz0NEX
- @andersmagnus Hi Anders, there’s been a delay unfortunately, but thanks for being patient. It will be out as soon as possible.