We're close by Pavullo here so who else but the late but not terribly great Romeo Venturelli, Fausto Coppi's wayward apprentice? 'Meo was massively gifted, but he had three fundamental problems as a cyclist. The first was that he liked women more than riding a bike, the second that they liked him still more. The third was that he was as mad as a box of frogs, and nigh-on unmanageable. Fausto and Gino Bartali gave him a pro' contract with their San Pellegrino team all the same, and tried to instil at least a modicum of discipline.
The degree to which they were successful is debatable, but by the time Coppi died in January 1960, 'Meo was being tipped as a world-beater. Four months later he pitched at his first Giro, an up-and-down opening stage time trial at Sorrento. There he annihilated the great Jacques Anquetil and pulled on the pink jersey, but seemingly overdid the celebrations that evening. The following day he collapsed, and on stage three climbed off altogether. The rest of his “career” was a comedy of errors but he remains arguably the greatest unfulfilled talent in the history of cycling.
SEE, HEAR, FEEL...
Sestola, population 2600, is a ski station on the Apennine Ridge. It's one of the eleven villages which constitute the Frignano Mountain Community, and their story is analogous with many throughout the peninsula.
The “economic boom” of the 1950s and '60s saw thousands migrate to burgeoning industrial cities like Turin, Bologna and Milan. The area lost an estimated 25% of its population, but they're a pretty hardy bunch here. What comes around goes around, and those who had migrated to the factory floor suddenly had disposable income, and free time in which to spend it. The Frignanesi dusted themselves down and began to market the area's extraordinary natural beauty. As a consequence they began to harvest their fair share of the spoils of the new consumerism, and continue so to do.
MOMENT IN TIME
Before the Dolomites there were the Apennines, at least in a cycling context. And it was on the Passo Abetone, a half-hour or so from here, that 20-year-old Fausto Coppi announced his virtuosity. The Legnano team had selected him to ride the 1940 Giro in support of Gino Bartali, Italy's great champion. However on the Florence to Modena stage, the eleventh, Coppi began to rewrite Italian sporting history.
With Bartali undone by injury and ill-luck, they gave him free reign to ride as he pleased. When he went most assumed he'd take the mountains points and then come back to them, but Coppi never was one for hanging around in groups. He pushed on and, over 100 kilometres later, pulled on his first maglia rosa.
This will be fast straight from the off. First because it's the day before the rest day, second because the teams who have missed out will be starting to worry, third because the final 60 kilometres are mainly climbing.
The break will need a big advantage by then if it's to have a chance. If it goes after 10 kilometres and it has fifteen good riders, then maybe. If it goes after 40 kilometres and it has five ordinary riders then no chance. There's a lot to consider on days like these, and one of the important factors is looking after the gregari for later on. So whilst it's clear that the winner is going to be a very good climber, he's unlikely to be a pink jersey contender.