FIRENZO MAGNI: I CONSIDER MY GREATEST WIN MY SECOND PLACE IN GC AT THE GIRO OF 1956, MY LAST YEAR AS A PRO.
VALERIA PAOLETTI: You were a very brave second in that incredible Giro. Tell us what happened.
FM: DURING STAGE 12, FROM GROSSETO TO LIVORNO, I CRASHED ON THE DESCENT OUT OF VOLTERRA AND BROKE MY LEFT COLLARBONE. AT THE HOSPITAL THEY SAID I SHOULD PUT ON A PLASTER CAST AND QUIT. BUT I DIDN’T WANT TO. SINCE THE NEXT DAY WAS A REST DAY, I TOLD THE DOCTOR TO DO NOTHING AND THAT WE SHOULD WAIT AND SEE. THE DAY AFTER I ASKED THE DOCTOR TO PUT ON AN ELASTIC BANDAGE INSTEAD OF A CAST BECAUSE I WANTED TO TRY TO RIDE THE FOLLOWING STAGE, LIVORNO TO LUCCA. IT WORKED! I WASN’T AMONG THE FIRST RIDERS BUT I FINISHED.
VP: There is the famous picture of your riding holding a piece of inner tube in your mouth during the 13th stage, the individual time trail of San Luca. Can you explain?
FM: JUST BEFORE THE STAGE STARTED I TRIED TO RIDE MY BIKE ON A CLIMB AND I NOTICED I COULDN’T USE THE MUSCLES OF MY LEFT ARM TO PULL ON THE HANDLE BAR VERY HARD. SO MY MECHANIC, FALIERO MASI, THE BEST MECHANIC OF ALL TIME, CUT A PIECE OF INNER TUBE AND SUGGESTED I PULL IT WITH MY MOUTH. THAT WAS A GREAT IDEA!
VP: Then, during Stage 16, from Bologna to Rapallo, through the Apennines, you crashed again and broke your humerus.
FM: YES, I DIDNT HAVE ENOUGH STRENGTH IN MY LEFT ARM AND I CRASHED AFTER HITTING A DITCH BY THE ROAD. I FELL ON MY ALREADY BROKEN BONE AND FAINTED FROM THE PAIN. THE AMBULANCE CAME TO BRING ME TO THE HOSPITAL. IN THE AMBULANCE THEY GAVE ME WATER AND I GOT BACK ON MY FEET. WHEN I REALIZED THAT I WAS BEING TAKEN TO THE HOSPITAL I SCREAMED AND TOLD THE DRIVER TO STOP. I DIDN’T WANT TO ABANDON THE GIRO!
I MOUNTED MY BIKE AGAIN AND RESTARTED PEDALING. THE PELOTON HAD WAITED FOR ME, SO I ARRIVED IN RAPALLO IN A RELATIVELY GOOD POSITION. I HAD NO IDEA OF HOW SERIOUS MY CONDITION WAS, I JUST KNEW THAT I WAS IN A LOT OF PAIN BUT I DIDN’T WANT TO HAVE X-RAYS THAT EVENING. DURING THE DAYS THAT FOLLOWED I COULD HOLD MY OWN.
VP: You were even able to ride the Stelvio Pass (Stage 19)!
FM: YES, THERE I DIDN’T HAVE PROBLEMS ON THE CLIMB, BUT THE DESCENT WAS HARD. ON THE CLIMB I COULD GO UP AT MY OWN SPEED. AT THAT POINT MY AIM WAS JUST TO FINISH THE GIRO, NOT TO WIN IT OF COURSE. I DIDN’T WANT TO ABANDON THE GIRO IN THE YEAR OF MY RETIREMENT.
VP: Why did you have problems on the descent?
FM: BECAUSE I COULD NOT BRAKE WITH MY LEFT HAND AND I SKIDDED. THAT WAS TOUGH!
VP: Then there was Stage 20 from Merano to Trento, over the Costalunga, Rolle, Brocon and Bondone climbs. Pasquale Fornara was the pink jersey. That day 60 people abandoned! What happened?
FM: IT SNOWED THE WHOLE DAY AND IT WAS VERY COLD, I HAD NOT NOTICED HOW MUCH. ALONG THE WAY I SAW MANY BIKES PARKED NEXT TO BARS AND I ASKED WHAT WAS GOING ON. THEY TOLD ME THAT MOST OF THE PELOTON FROZE AND HAD TO QUIT. THEN, BEFORE REACHING TRENTO I SAW THE PINK JERSEY QUITTING TOO! ‘WHAT?? AM I SEEING THINGS?’ I WONDERED.
IF I WERE THE PINK JERSEY I WOULD HAVE CONTINUED, EVEN IF I HAD TO WALK, BUT I WOULD NEVER ABANDON!
VP: What happened next?
FM: WHEN WE WERE IN TRENTO MY TEAM CAR CAME UP TO ME AND SAID I WAS THIRD. “THIRD?!”, I WONDERED AGAIN. I WAS THIRD THAT DAY AND BECAME SECOND IN THE GC.
VP: Gaul won that stage and went from 16 minutes behind to winning the 1956 Giro.
FM: ACTUALLY, I THOUGHT ABOUT ATTACKING CHARLY GAUL IN THE FOLLOWING STAGES AND TRYING TO WIN MY FOURTH GIRO. I TRIED ATTACKING HIM A COUPLE OF TIMES DURING THE LAST TWO STAGES, BUT HE WAS TOO STRONG.
THE DAY AFTER THE END OF THE GIRO I WENT TO AN INSTITUTE THAT SPECIALIZED IN BONE INJURIES. AND THEY GAVE ME A DRESSING-DOWN! THEY SAID I HAD TWO FRACTURES - I THOUGHT I HAD ONLY ONE - AND FORCED ME TO PUT A PLASTER CAST ON.
THE NEXT DAY I WENT TO MY MACHINE SHOP AND ASKED MY MECHANIC TO CUT THE PLASTER CAST AWAY WITH THE SPECIAL SCISSORS HE USED FOR SHEET METAL. THIS WAY I COULD START TRAINING AGAIN.
'WHEN YOU RIDE AN HOUR RECORD, THE LAST 20 MINUTES - HOPEFULLY ONLY THE LAST 20 MINUTES – YOU CAN HARDLY SEE WHERE YOU'RE GOING,’ GRAEME ONCE SAID TO ME. ‘YOU CAN BARELY SEE THE BLACK LINE FOR EXHAUSTION.’
'ON A DEEP SUBCONSCIOUS LEVEL YOU MUST BE WILLING TO GO THROUGH THE BARRIER NOT EVEN OF PAIN, OF EFFORT. YOU'RE JUST NOT GOING TO SLOW DOWN,’ HE CONTINUED. ‘IF I WAS AN ASTRONAUT I'D BE WILLING TO DIE WHEN I GET INTO A ROCKET, AND IT SHOULD BE THE SAME WITH THE HOUR RECORD. AS AN ASTRONAUT, THERE'S A PERCENTAGE CHANCE YOU WON'T COME BACK, AND YOU WILL DO THAT BECAUSE IT'S WHAT YOU LIVE FOR. OBVIOUSLY IN THE HOUR RECORD YOU WON'T DIE, BUT YOU'VE GOT TO OVERRIDE THE SIGNALS FROM YOUR BODY SAYING I'M GOING TO SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST, AND IGNORE IT, TO THE POINT OF WHERE YOU THINK YOU ACTUALLY MUST BE DOING YOURSELF SOME HARM, YOU COULD EXPLODE ANY MINUTE. IT'S LITERALLY THRESHOLD THE WHOLE WAY.’
IT’S TAKEN ME A WHILE TO DIG THIS OUT AND GET IT TOGETHER, BUT THE MAN IS A TRUE LEGEND. LAST SEEN BARRELLING ROUND THE SCOTTISH LANES BRAKELESS ON A FUCKING 137” GEAR.
“Then you have Andy, with his devil-may-care attitude. He’s like, ‘I don’t care if they look good or bad, I’m going to attack now.’ That makes him strong. He races with guts and feelings and instinct. He doesn’t calculate so much; Andy has never calculated once in his life. He says, ‘Hooray! The sun is shining, I’m Andy Schleck, I go now. I don’t care what the others do!”