We're at the foot of the Po Valley today, in one of the strongholds of Italian cycling. In that sense we can take our pick from any number of champions, but you can read about them anywhere. Instead let's turn our attention to one of the also-rans, Parma's Erminio Rizzi. You won't find his name in any list of Giro stage winners, much less in a cycling hall of fame, and that's precisely the point.
Erminio rode professionally for just two years, 1982 and '83. He finished 27th and 80th respectively, and never once finished top ten in a stage. Those giri were won by Messrs' Hinault and Saronni, and he's the first to admit he wasn't remotely in their class. All fine and well, but for the likes of Erminio merely getting round was a huge undertaking, harder probably than for super-champions like Hinault to win it. He accomplished it twice, and for that we salute him, and all his creed.
SEE, HEAR, FEEL...
Salsomaggiore Terme is rightly famed for its magnificent thermal baths. In the '60s and '70s it was one of the tourist destinations in these parts, and it's somehow synonymous with those times. The rest cottoned on and caught up, and these days more Salsomaggiore doesn't quite have the élan it once did. Nor does it attract the high-end visitors, many of whom have migrated to the Tuscan coast. And that, in many respects, is the greatest of all its charms, and why it's deserving of our
To visit Salsomaggiore is to be acquainted with a treasure trove of magnificent parks and gardens, and with some of the finest Liberty architecture in Italy. To do so out of season, far from the madding crowd, is a truly beguiling experience. It's to be transported back to fine de siècle Europe, to a continent bursting with creativity and untouched by the brutality and cynicism of war.
MOMENT IN TIME
Today's stage, the tenth to conclude in Salsomaggiore, is a paean to Gino Bartali. It was here in 1936 that he produced his first Giro masterpiece, rubberstamping the first of his three maglie rosa.
It was in 1959, however, that the town showcased two of the biggest talents in the history of world cycling. The opening stage, a 135 kilometre gallop from Milan, was dominated by Rik Van Looy, arguably the greatest sprinter-roadman of all. The following day played host to an individual time trial around the town, as the Giro began in earnest. The race had been billed as a showdown between Jacques Anquetil and Charly Gaul, the passista and the scalatore. Anquetil was at his imperious best. He stuffed 1' 30” into Gaul, and set the tone for three weeks of punch and counterpunch. Breathless stuff…
This is a sprint, no question, so there are teams who won't do a thing here. They will sit in the wheels, because there's nothing to be gained as regards a result. That's fi-ne, and for the GC teams you could argue that it makes sense.
On the other hand you're dealing with cyclists' morale. My team is popular with the public because we always race aggressively. People might think we do it just to get on TV, but that's not the issue. The point is that a cyclist who gets in the break, or animates the race, is a cyclist that feels good about himself. He's not feeling sorry for himself because he's tired, or he's not sleeping, and that makes the difference once you get into the guts of the race.