Silandro, 2013. There could be a rotating socket underneath him. We, we wouldn’t notice. Because this is how he stands. Grizzled. Taller than you’d expect. Like a sculpture, moving slightly from one side to the other. Work-oriented. A physical poem. Yes. As a physical poem, he stands on the podium with three microphones under his nose, this immense nose that he used his entire career, always ready to sniff up possibilities where after his legs would finish off the job.
With a hoarse, mushy voice he is considering today’s event, contemplating an outcome. His is an outpost. His mere presence suggests that something is about to unseat us, because nobody lets a man of his stature into the ring for no reason. Face, alert. His eyes are observing his surroundings while commenting on them, now calming people down. It is simply mildly upsetting for people to see him. And so this is his life: when he shows himself to his people, his people break out in chants.
Tanned, fit and rested, as they say of presidents back from vacation.
But look! He is moving forward. Wait. There was no socket underneath him after all? No. He is indeed moving. And he is moving toward us! Yes. He has decided to walk. Down the street, across this Piazza perhaps, and he is walking with ease. Wait, no. He is not walking. He strolls. God, how this man can stroll. He greets his people, half-puzzled yet content, like he is studying what his wife has planted in their garden.
Somewhere a church bell goes off.
Behind the barriers are old and young. Grandparents are holding babies in mid-air. They hang there, non-moving. With eyes that open and shut endlessly. Everywhere, small children like dolls dangling. Women reach out. They want to hold his hands. They want to applaud him. They want to tell him what he means to them. For forty years he has been the centre of Italian cycling, arguably the centre for all Italians.
A national treasure. A movable landmark.
Women want to kiss him. And if they dared, but they don’t, men would stick cigars into his breast pocket, and somebody could let the tape roll and the film director from Rimini, Federico Fellini, would have his first scene in the can, the way only he could capture this country’s human spirits, the city of Rimini, oh yes, where Marco Pantani went under in shame and guilt and then more shame, but had he been alive today, Pantani, he would have walked to the same chanting as our man here does now.
And while we are cheering because of what he was once capable of, we are also cheering because of his age, and no one cherishes the old as the Italians do, because getting old means that you are a winner, you have made it through life, and now is your time to enjoy respect and admiration from all sides of society. That’s right. So this giant is being cheered just because, and we feel intoxicated. The excitement surrounding the piazza is becoming overwhelming, and what is more overwhelming than a great accomplishment or an achievement done in the moment, right there, in front of you? And so this is how we get to Giro d’Italia.
This year was its 100th edition. Which means that no living person can remember an Italian summer without Il Giro. Because the beginning of summer in May is also the beginning of the country’s unification year after year. It is the slow-moving accumulation of time, and it is something the Italians patiently accept. They walk into the summer celebrating their unification, and there is no bigger unifier in Italy than the Giro d’Italia. Or perhaps the people are celebrating themselves. Why not? The Italians are celebrating the tradition of this race, the tradition being that of giving Italy back to the Italians. Live on television. Or perhaps outside their doorsteps. And this will remind them that they are indeed Italians, and that their beautiful country is indeed something to be proud of.
The Giro d’Italia belongs to everyone and no one. It shows us the lakes. The islands. The big mountains. The major plain of the Po, Val Padana, the wine fields of Tuscany and the dry south, all the way down south, in its heel. And all this reminds the Italians that Italy is a huge country. In fact, it is very huge with vast resources.
And this huge, beautiful country with its vast resources and people never cared much about stories of doping or other technicalities that makes the rest of the world go crazy, because don’t you understand it? the Italians ask us, the riders are just smaller pieces in the Giro d’Italia. It is the race itself that is the main attraction. The riders are mere employees, but if they perform well, they can become a natural unifier inside the Natural Unifier, and the way he strolls back into the VIP section, the way the gates are opening up, of course, he doesn’t have an accreditation, of course, of course, because what is the sole inheritor of Italian cycling going to do with a back-stage pass? It is so superior, how the gates open and close behind him. Have they been practising this?
You have to wonder whether he is performing or whether it comes naturally, the timing of opening and closing a gate. What is going on? you wonder. It seems as if the show has begun before the show has begun, and so now the excitement is becoming a small hysteria, because a large mass of people have gathered around a common idea. The idea this morning is that of celebrating Italy’s biggest sporting event.
The Giro d’Italia has been with us for as long as anyone can remember, and its rightful owner is now right there. You can almost touch him, but how would you even dare? No no, all men stand back and enjoy greatness from a distance. We enjoy the fact that if we don’t have what it takes, then luckily someone else has it for us, and the person walking by has shown it again and again — and again — with one formidable achievement after another, and when he finally, finally, won the Giro d’Italia in 1984, he took the step into the Italian folklore, went from being an extraordinary bike rider with a first name and a surname to becoming the only man able to lift the legacy of Fausto Coppi — becoming a great campione — and he has ever since been in the hearts of all good Italians as their man, the keeper of this race, if you will, and you will, because he is our protector and our sheriff, lo sceriffo, right now, and in plain sight, strolling about with the common name of Francesco Moser.
If you liked this story consider purchasing Soigneur Cycling Journal 18 where it was first printed.