Friday, May 24, 2013

They don't make them like they used to...

Hard to tell if it's a piece of rope or a section of inner tube... but does it really matter? He has a broken clavicle for cryin' out loud!
Enough of the bad news coming from Italy this morning. Let's take a trip back to the days when men were men and Fiorenzo Magni was arguably the manliest of them all. This is one of the famous photos taken at the 1956 Giro that cemented his place as one of cycling's greatest hardmen. 

On that years 12th stage Magni crashed and broke his clavicle. At the hospital that night he refused to have his shoulder casted as it would have ended his race, instead he had them wrap it in an elastic bandage and he was at the start line the next morning. Because he could not hold the handlebars effectively, he Macgyvered a fix in which he tied a piece of inner tube (or rope depending on which report you believe) to his handlebars which he then held with his teeth to allow him to maintain upward pressure on the bars without having to use the full strength of his shoulder. What the?

In addition to all of his Giro heroics, he was one of the greatest classics riders of his day. He was only the second non Belgian rider to win the Tour of Flanders, and to this day is the only rider (of any nationality) to have won it 3 times in a row. He was affectionately know as the "Tuscan Flandrien" thanks to these feats. 
Then, on stage 16 disaster struck again. Because of his broken collar bone he could not effectively operate his brakes or hold the bars and on a descent overshot a corner and landed in a ditch, further damaging his clavicle and also breaking his humerus. Legend has it that he passed out from the pain and was being loaded into an ambulance when he awoke, and upon realizing what was happening; demanded to be released, got back on his bike and rejoined the peloton which had waited for him. Later that evening he refused to have x-rays taken because he did not want to know how badly he was injured, for fear that he may not want to continue. 

The story continues 4 days later on stage 20. Widely considered one of the hardest single days of racing in Giro history, a winter snowstorm dumped snow, sleet and rain on the four categorized climbs on the route from Merano-Trento to Bondone, causing some 60 riders to abandon. Charly Gaul made his legendary break and went from 16 minutes in arrears to the lead and ultimately the overall win in the tour, but who do you suppose was second? That's right. Fiorenzo Magni finished only 3 minutes and 20 seconds behind Gaul, confirming his second place in both the days stage and the overall race; but also first place in the hearts and minds of many who believe he was the toughest man to ever race a bike.

I've read before that Magni was also a boxer, and the shape of his nose would seem to support that , but I wonder - was he a racer who boxed? Or a Boxer who raced? Seems like he could probably do serious damage either way. 

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