Udine, the night of Tuesday, May 31st 1949. Dino Buzzati writes. . .
The line for the intermediate sprint at the gates of Trieste was on the stupendous seaside promenade. Leoni, with one of his bird-like jumps, - you can see him breaking away suddenly from the lead group, his arms curved over the handlebars, looking just like a kite plummeting down on its prey - took the sprint ahead of Casola and Conte. Brought to life by the sprint, the cyclists entered the city, and at that point the atmosphere of the Giro suddenly changed.
All at once, there was no longer any difference between one racer and another . . . Bartali was on the same level as Carollo, Coppi equal to Malabrocca, Leoni to Brasola. We were suddenly met by fantastic crowds, appearing out of nowhere, swarming on roof terraces, a jubilant population raining flowers from the sky, and flags, flags again and again. There was no longer any difference between the great champions and the boorish commoners, nor between the racers and members of the caravan; the same applied to Ronconi and the motorcycle messenger, Cottur and us, the reporters - we were truly equal.
Because we were all Italians.
Everything that had happened before that moment lost importance - the fact that Bartali and Coppi had not yet done battle; that ever since Venice, the race had proceeded slowly, with only a few brief thrills at the sprints, where the winners were Bevilacqua, Casola, Pasquetti, De Santi, Cottur; and that, thanks to the one-minute time bonus for those intermediate sprints, the "virtual" pink jersey had passed from the shoulders of Fazio to those of Leoni. For several minutes the overall classification had no importance, neither did the strategies of the different teams, nor the aspirations of the Giants, nor the dreams of the young novices. One single thought dominated; even the Champions understood, and they pedaled as if they were on parade, forgetting their rivalries.
The Giro had come to Trieste three years ago, one day before the United Nations declared it a Free Territory. At Pieris the riders had been assaulted, a notorious event which magnified the poignancy of that day. There had been extraordinary demonstrations in the city, a sort of farewell to the Italian homeland, and those who were present tell of how even the most unfeeling people wept like children.
Today, three years later, it was almost like a reunion for the people of Trieste, moments of tremendous joy and, at the same time, of bitterness because we went by like a whirlwind: no sooner were we sighted than we had vanished, like someone welcoming a brother unexpectedly returning from a long exile, who is about to kiss him, then realizes that he has barely had time to enter the house before he must leave again.
At about two o'clock today Trieste was stirringly splendid, with its delicate cobalt-blue sea, a white-hot sun, and flags waving as far as the eye could see: red, white and green fluttered everywhere. It's been a long time since we'd seen such a sight.
They shouted "Hurrah for Coppi!", but it was something else they wanted to say.
"Hurrah for Bartali!" but it was something else they were referring to, not Bartali.
"Hurrah for the Giro's little guys!"
"Hurrah for Cottur. Hurrah for Leoni!" they shouted, and it was always something else the people of Trieste referred to today - something that had far more grandeur, something that's felt more painfully, something that they had now become accustomed to keeping well-hidden within themselves. Today, they could at last roar it openly, and the racers with numbers on their backs understood they had all become equal, that they were only Italians, no longer champions, locomotives, human bullets. As one, they push forward amid all those powerful waves of affection, forgetting they were rivals.
By coincidence, just last evening a colleague and I were discussing the concepts of patriotism, nation, European unity, etc., and he told me that the idea of homeland is now out-of-date. He stated that he feels much more than simply Italian - he is a citizen of Europe, a Citizen of the World. So I asked him if, for example, he would be upset to see Italy wronged. He shook his head and asserted that, in all fairness, he was distressed whenever an injustice was done to any nation whatsoever, Italy or Sweden, England, or even Persia. He maintained that he had freed himself from old style patriotism, as if it were a petty annoyance, and in exchange he had acquired a new patriotism, much more noble, one which embraces all of humanity. A highly gifted man, then, one must admit. But today, as we were passing through jubilant Trieste, I observing him closely - his car was right behind ours, so I was able to keep an eye on him. Oh, this citizen of the world, this philosopher soaring so high above humanity's old and naïve fundamentals - his lips were pursed in an odd way I had never seen before. He put on large, dark sunglasses, which he usually did not wear. This citizen of the world, full of shame, did not want to be seen, for he was weeping, I swear that he was weeping!
The exclusive and ardent "love of homeland" that existed in the past is certainly out-of-date, but today in Trieste I have seen thousands and thousands of my fellow men waving pieces of cloth of every size, but all the same colors; waving them like flags, waving them with all their might so that we would be sure to notice them, until they were exhausted, for they too, like the racers, have their physical limit. Still they hold out, their faces calm, gritting their teeth - perish the thought that those little flags would stop waving until the whole caravan had vanished completely. To them it would have been like a betrayal.
I saw grown men wiping their eyes with the backs of their hands, seeing nothing through the veil of tears but muddled blotches flying past in the dazzling sunlight. I saw young men on motorcycles passing again and again, holding gigantic tricolors aloft in the wind. I saw the Cerini (the civilian policemen in English-style dark blue uniform and British red berets) looking around in astonishment, unable to believe their eyes. I saw an old lady on a balcony greeting us as if we were her children - she had put on her record player that ancient song that says "Oh, Italy, Italy, dear to my heart", and the strident voice spilled out onto the street, ringing out over the rumble of the cars, the lyrics wrenching at everyone's heart.
After that we climbed the hill leading to Villa Opicina, across the first humps of the Carso, a romantic and still green limestone massif, where we dipped down toward Gorizia; here, the enchantment ceased, and we resumed our daily routine. Doni - who is an adoptive citizen of Udine - broke away with Biagioni and Frosini, and joined forces with Leoni, Pasotti, Tonini, Pezzi and Castellucci. This group of eight riders flew away, while the two super-champions, sticking to a script which becomes stranger day by day, did not react. So the eight men arrived in Udine about three minutes ahead of the next group that included the aces.
But now, looking back, we can no longer envision the wild gallop along the marvelous road from Gorizia, and it is only two hours ago, nor can we picture the impressive array of people in Udine, nor the scenes of enthusiasm in the stadium, nor Leoni's second relentless sprint ahead of the dangerous little Pasotti, ahead of Pezzi, Tonini and the others. At this moment we are still unable to understand the new situation in the general classification that sees Leoni in the lead with an advantage of 4:43 over second-place Fazio, and about ten minutes over Coppi and eleven minutes over Bartali - won't such a gap begin to weigh against the two aces? Are they really so sure they can, in the twinkling of an eye, cut that to nothing on the alpine climbs?
All that the mind retains of today's events is the image of a jubilant city on the seashore, full of sun, flags, happiness, bitter anguish, tears and laughter, an entire city roaring "Hurrah for Bartali! Hurrah for Coppi!", shouted almost with despair; "Hurrah for the Giro! Hurrah for Cottur! Hurrah for Doni!"
But they wanted to say something quite different.