I went to Coppi's the other night and stared at the walls for a while. The faces of Bartoli and Major Taylor, of unknowns, and, of ourse, of Coppi line the walls. The walls didn't mean much to me two years ago when Coppi sponsored The Bike Rack during our first year. I loved the food, of course, and the walls were worth a glance, but the gaunt men on velocipedes had little to do with this thing I had rediscovered, my last previous bike ride being a mountain bike I'd used during college.
This new thing, this thing I rode, what filled my weekends that had once been empty, what made me think of myself as an athlete rather than a guy who exercised--what did it have to do with an Italian butcher-shop boy who won five Giros and two Tours, was World Champion and a three-time winner of Milan San Remo and died of malaria? This old POW who gave British soldiers haircuts. Imagine that, by the way, being the club cyclist, now soldier, who receives a haircut from the Coppi, world's greatest cyclist, now POW.
Coppi had an affair with a woman, an affair which, so wrote an emissary from St. Peters, caused the Pope "some great pain." Such was his reputation that the Vicar of Christ suffered when he erred.
Watching the silent clip here of the 1953 Giro, a race Coppi won 13 years after his first Giro, it strikes me how many people are there in their overcoats and suits, looking perfecto in the way only Italians can. Cheering and running after him in a way that we here in America are only now aping. The Italians have been in love with this sport for over a century.
That was what struck me, that night at Coppi's--the depth of their passion and tradition for what, to them, is a ritual, but to me is still a revelation.
There's a difference there; I'm still figuring out what it is. How would I, so new to this after all, understand the faces on the wall?