2014 Giro d'Italia stage 21

That'll be Giordano Cottur then. In 1946 the stage to Trieste was heavy with symbolism. Italy had the city, but Tito's Yugoslavia wanted it, and so a scruffy little war over sovereignty continued long after the cessation. Slavic militants were determined that Trieste would be theirs, and therefore the Giro had no place there. As the riders approached the town they were pelted with stones, gunfire was heard and the road blocked with all manner of detritus.

The organizers annulled the stage, but local boy Cottur was having none of it. He knew that the city would erupt if they didn't appear, so he and 16 other patriots insisted on doing just that. American armoured cars dropped them on the outskirts of town, whereupon they saddled up once more. Cottur won the "stage" amidst delirious scenes, and calamity was averted.

Fittingly enough, we're concluding our Giro d'Irlanda and Italia with the mighty James Joyce. There's a very fine bronze of him on Trieste's Ponte Rosso, wistfully overlooking the Grand Canal. Question is: What is the author of arguably the greatest 20th century novel doing here, and what's he to do with the Giro d'Italia?
Joyce lived in the city, on and off, for fifteen years. He taught English (by all accounts badly), fell out with his brother, drank himself into near-oblivion and generally drove his poor wife to distraction. He also became a father here, and cooked up any number of hapless moneymaking schemes. He was to become a cinema magnate, import Irish tweed, all manner of hair-brained ideas.

Above all though, it was in Trieste that he began seriously to conceptualize "Ulysses". It would become masterpiece formed in Ireland, and in Italy, and bequeathed to all of humanity. Does that sound at all familiar?

Back, finally, to 1919, appropriately enough for the birth of a legend. A 21-year-old named Costante Girardengo had won the 430 kilometre stage to Rome at the 1914 Giro but then the war had written off four editions. He wasn't favoured to win here (Azzini and Belloni were) but on stage two he smashed it to bits. He rolled into Trieste nearly four minutes ahead, and would hoover up seven of the ten stages in all. He won the Giro by almost an hour, and the Gazzetta gave him the moniker the campionissimo.

That he most certainly was. Though he only won one more Giro – something always seemed to go wrong – he helped himself to 30 stages. Six times he won Milan-Sanremo, and three times the Tour of Lombardy. Not bad for a kid from Piedmont nicknamed the "Novi Runt".

Well that's it! You count up who you have left, then reckon with you've achieved and what you haven't…

I can't give you any great insight into the journey, excepting to say that the Giro giveth and the Giro taketh away. Two years ago it was fantastic for us, and last year it almost finished me, my team and my career in cycling. We don't have the budget of Sky, BMC, people like that, but I guarantee you that my team will race aggressively and give their absolute best. Hopefully, then, the public and sponsors will appreciate the efforts we make.

We know we're lucky to have been given another chance, but I also think we were blameless in what happened last time, and that my riders deserve it. I guarantee we'll not be found wanting as regards desire, heart or respect for the Giro.

E allora? Ci vediamo a Trieste!

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