Part 20 - Little Pasotti is Much too Alone






San Remo, the night of Tuesday, 7th June, 1949. Dino Buzzati writes . . .

Today, the sea. . .

Flowers - a waterfall of carnations and roses rained down on the caravan from the garden-like balcony railings. . .

Railroad crossings - from Pegli all the way to Savona a pesky little local train regularly blocked the crossings, and since the racers could pass beneath the barrier, but the cars could not, the result was a series of frightening pursuits, thankfully protected from "on high" by the merciful God of the Giro. . .

Amaryllis, broom, and all those magnificent ornamental plants whose names we have never been able to learn. . .

Crowds of spectators as always, but of a different kind: that is to say, these people were mostly vacationers on holiday, accustomed to living peacefully, and who had certainly not woken before ten o'clock. . .

Young women, already well tanned, half-naked in their sundresses. . .

Lifeguards in brand new uniforms. . .

Convalescents in pajamas. . .

Kids from the holiday camps wearing large white cloth hats. . .

Here and there we spotted a few Scandinavian "poetesses" who seemed to regard us with disdain. . .

And at Cogoleto, Mr. Antonio Buelli's brass band was playing music. Each year that the Giro passes through Cogoleto, the band strikes up a little triumphal march.

The Cogoleto band is a monument to bicycle racing. Just look closely at the instruments: each one has a small copper badge bearing an inscription, such as "Giro d'Italia 1919" or "Giro di Lombardia 1921" or "Milano-San Remo 1922", etc. And if they could speak in addition to making music, each one would speak volumes, evening after evening.

Antonio Buelli now manages a restaurant, and he doesn't complain, but once upon a time (and we must go back to the deep abyss of the past, back to the 1920s, to the fabulous days of Costante Girardengo) Buelli, then a bicycle racer, had trouble making ends meet. Passion for cycling he had, perhaps even too much, but his legs were his weakness.

There is a rider in this year's race, Luigi Malabrocca of the Stucchi team, who's only real claim to fame is his position as last in the overall classification, the so-called "black jersey." That "honor" has been stolen from Malabrocca by the rider Sante Carollo of the Wilier Triestina team, who now holds last place by a wide margin (a negative margin, of course), almost too wide a margin to be bridged. And Carollo firmly intends to hold on to last place, for ownership of the black jersey (a jersey which does not really exist) confers on the holder a bit of sympathetic popularity, and a prize of ten thousand lire per day, offered by kind-hearted sponsors.

So imagine Buelli as a Malabrocca of thirty years ago, but without the roguish glory, for in those days last place did not equate with cash; no one was interested in it, and Buelli, who almost always found himself at the back, did not attain any glory from it.

The fact is that Buelli, realizing that winning races was not exactly his forte, fell back on his second and, until them secret, ambition: music. He continued to pedal, resigned to swallowing the dust left in the wake of the aces, but he no longer had any delusions. So the task of establish a brass band in his hometown of Cogoleto became Buelli's new purpose in life, and by pedaling, pedaling - every so often winning a few meager primes in small towns, the music lover was able to put away some cash on the side.

Through his work as a racer, struggling and sweating, he was able one fine day to lay the cornerstone of his great monument: he bought a drum, so when the next race came through his district, the racers (and he, too, was among them) were welcomed to Cogoleto by an enthusiastic drumroll, like those at the circus announcing that the trapeze artist was about to perform a death-defying triple leap. A man wearing a braid-trimmed cap, and trained by Buelli himself, stood in front of the line of people, beating his donkey-skinned drum with the rhythm of a virtuoso. Thus the great band ensemble was born.

And he still raced, the brave Buelli, always intent on achieving that second objective of his. From a prime at the Giro d'Italia came the first cornet, and from a series of track meets, the first trumpet. Meanwhile, the years went by, and the legs that had never been all that great were getting heavier.

Six, then seven band members now awaited the race caravan - an impressive group, especially for the volume of their sound compared to the original lone drum. But it was not yet the authentic, complete band that Buelli desired.

By sweating and making economies, the dream finally became a reality, and then one day Buelli himself was standing there to welcome the Giro's racers; wearing a richly braided cap, and holding a baton in his hand, he led a line of at least sixteen musicians with all the instruments required of a band worthy to be so called. The maestro lifted his right arm very high and, with a dictatorial gesture, gave the go-ahead for the trumpets' blare.

Was he happy? Yes, the great project had been achieved. Cogoleto possessed a real band ensemble, for which the envious neighboring towns would eat their hearts out, and it was all thanks to him.

He had not lived in vain after all.

But at the same time, he considered all the years he had used-up;

He saw his already-worn face reflected in the shining brass of the trombone;

He thought about his bicycle gathering dust in a closet, its tires flat and twisted;

He heard the voices of the champions greeting him as they passed.

The champions, spurred on by their youth, moved away at top speed along the big highway, while he instead had to remain there in Cogoleto, within these four walls, henceforth immobile, forever.

Buelli was in his usual place today, with his splendid band, faithfully keeping this sentimental rendezvous. In truth, very few of the racers today knew who he was. Hardly anyone shouted a greeting to him. Nevertheless, we had never heard music so strongly permeated, so to speak, with the spirit of cycling's epic deeds: it spoke of an entire golden era, of mad dashes on the track, of gasping ordeals climbing in the Alps, of Ganna's and Galetti's legendary breakaways, of velodromes thundering with applause, of memories and nostalgia, together with the promise of the most amazing victories.

It would have taken a lot more than mere music to move the hearts of the old-timers, by now skeptical and completely without illusions. However, those notes penetrated the hearts of the youngest, who pricked up their ears and suddenly wondered if fate was calling them.

Most of all, the music must have warmed the heart of little Alfredo Pasotti, of the Benotto team. Just yesterday, during a conversation at the Bracco mountain summit, we were talking about this elegant racer, who has great plans in mind, and who has shown himself to be among the strongest on the climbs. Did the music remind him of some of the memorable breakaways that have taken place on today's course? And on the short climbs and descents on the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo, and Capo Berta, did he think of emulating some of Coppi's remarkable achievements?

All alone he went on the attack, right after Alassio where the road started to rear up - but too soon! He gained some ground. . . he plummeted down toward Andorra like a little falcon, then flew up the wide, steep slopes of the Cervo, and was first over the Capo Berta as well. But after that there were twenty kilometers of flat roads, and his small lungs, no matter how good they are, were no match for the twenty pairs of lungs working in concert, climbing behind him and following on his heels.

When we left him he was still riding along solo; we hurried to the San Remo finishing line where everyone was waiting for him. However, it was a small group we saw storming into the finish. There were eight of them, and in the final sprint, Pasotti ended up fifth. They had caught him, cruelly, just as the vision of victory seemed to smile on him (and perhaps with the friendly sound of the old racer's trumpets still echoing in his mind).

Too bad - he battled hard.

He had earned it.

But men are wolves.

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