The third Castelli jersey, could only be dedicated to Fausto Coppi for celebrating the stages around Novi Ligure and Pinerolo. Two evocative stages of discovering the places of the Campionissimo life and career.
It’s a gloomy day in Novi Ligure. June arrived 10 days ago but it seems like fall has intruded, beating summer to the punch. It’s raining so hard that the sound of the drops pounding against the windows fills the houses: to listen to the radio you have to maintain a scrupulous silence. You search for the jerky signal of the broadcast from the 32nd Giro d’Italia. A clear voice emerges from the device, breaks through the clouds and bursts into the room: “One man alone in the lead. His jersey is sky blue and white. His name is Fausto Coppi.”
In Novi everyone knows that voice and that name because both have an intimate connection to that place. Mario Ferretti, a journalist who was born in Novi Ligure but became famous in Rome, articulates the syllables clearly to update the radio listeners on the exploits of Fausto Coppi, who was a native of Castellania but called Novi Ligure home, on the stage from Cuneo to Pinerolo. It is the Giro d’Italia of 1949. The commentator holds the Italians in suspense, telling of the adventures of the Campionissimo leading up to the finish: the five punctures, the increasingly unbridgeable gaps, a sky blue and white jersey that is becoming increasingly pink with every climb and descent.
Sounds and images from an older era of cycling, in black and white, where the colors needed to be described in detail, but, once they were perceived, they were impressed so strongly on the memory that it was difficult to forget them.
A leap forward in time to our day, where everything is seen and little is told. “We accept reality so readily — perhaps because we sense that nothing is real,” Borges once wrote. Today’s colors are clear, pronounced, well defined, distinguishable. Real. Almost too real.
It’s the 2019 Giro and there’s sun in Novi Ligure; the sky is blue and white like the solitary jersey praised by Ferretti 70 years ago. Summer is now more than theoretical, and the rain and cold endured by the riders during the first week of the 102nd Giro d’Italia seem like a memory. Three escapees cross the Po Valley alone, while the rest of the group pushes hard to reach them and sprint for the stage win. A cyclist named Fausto rides in the middle of the group. A name that has fallen into disuse. This Fausto’s last name is Masnada, and he will stop in Novi Ligure just long enough to cross the finish line and start again toward the next goal in this Giro that is putting him on the map. His jersey is red and white, but for now we don’t know if it will ever become pink.
Like Coppi at the finish line in Modena in 1940, Masnada also achieved his first success at the Giro d’Italia by going on the attack: in the sixth stage, with the finish at San Giovanni Rotondo. The similarities between the two Faustos end here. Masnada’s origins are far from Novi Ligure: he comes from the Brembana Valley. If Coppi was “the Heron,” Masnada is more humbly “the Eel,” for his serpentine and zigzagging climbing style.
Masnada’s parents were not intending to pay tribute to Coppi when they chose the name for their son; in fact, it was he himself who turned his family into cycling fans. But Masnada carries a name that strikes a chord with cycling enthusiasts, even if it’s due to pure chance. Because, whether by coincidence or fate, exactly 100 years after the birth of Coppi, another Fausto — the young and enterprising Masnada — found himself riding across the evocative finish line in Novi Ligure.
Words: Bidon – Ciclismo allo stato liquido
Images: Gruberimages, Gettyimages, Castelli Archive