The Canavese, north of Turin, was the epicentre of Italian cycling in the 1920s. Giuseppe Enrici won the mythical Giro of 1924, but the area also produced one of the most underrated Giro riders of all time. Giovanni Brunero won the thing in 1921, 1922 and 1926, and that explains why Costante Girardengo, the first campionissimo, didn't. And yet when Giro know-it-alls blather about the great champions, poor "Giuanin" always seems to be overlooked. Question is: Why?
Brunero's problem was (and still is) the fact that he was born at the wrong time. He was a pure climber, probably the best on the planet, at a time when there was no TV. Back then the stages invariably finished in big cities, and the public wanted to see the likes of Girardengo and Pietro Linari sprinting for the tape. Brunero's epic escapes saw him win in splendid isolation, denying the great unwashed the spectacle. Had he been born fifty years later we'd be feting him as a genius, right up there with Marco Pantani and Charly Gaul. Only he wasn't and therefore he isn't, but the fact is that neither matched his Giro record. So there.
SEE, HEAR, FEEL...
"L'Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli italiani…"
It was the great 19th century novelist, artist and statesman Massimo D'Azeglio who said (more or less), "Italy is done. Now we just need to sort out the Italians".
D'Azeglio was born into starchy Piedmontese nobility, but wanted nothing to do with it. Instead he south to Rome and became a painter. Later he started moving in literary circles, and his life became progressively more politicized. He abhorred the notion that Italy be the subject of foreign rule, and called for an awakening of national sentiment.
Thereafter he dedicated his life to politics. Alongside Cavour fought tirelessly for the unification of Italy, insisting that Rome – and Romans – were as integral as Milan, Venice and Turin. Italy became one country in 1861, and D'Azeglio returned to Piedmont for his dotage.
MOMENT IN TIME
Back to Giuanin's Giro of 1922, if only to underline how the Canavesani dominated cycling. Between them they won five stages, amongst them Bartolomeo Aimo's fulminating gallop into Turin, his home town. Poor Aimo was the original "eternal second". Though four times a podium finisher at the Giro (and twice at the Tour) he never once claimed the biggest prize of all. That's why cycling-mad Ernest Hemmingway named one of his characters after him in "A Farewell to Arms".
Here he finished twelve minutes down on Brunero, whilst another Canavesano, Enrici, was third. A solitary Milanese, Sivocci, got fourth, whilst the Torinese Domenico Schierano rounded out the top five. His deficit was over four hours, while last man Romolo Valpreda lost almost twenty-four! And that over ten stages!
At this point the Giro starts to take on a different complexion. Most of them are tired by now, and have been for a few days. The non-GC riders are starting to think about self-preservation, so psychology comes into play.
You have to be sure to know how to get the best of each of them. The only way to get through the Giro is to stay positive, and to stay together as a group. Some of them support the fatigue better than others, and a lot of them will be dreading what's to come. So sometimes it's mind over matter, and my job is to convince them to keep racing aggressively.
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