Hearing the Lion's lament...

I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion’s roar. 
                                                                                             ~ Winston Churchill


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Sad weekend cafesupporters.   

Fiorenzo Magni is overleden.   The Monza colossus, the lion of Flanders, roars no more.  

Friday, a day when pro cycling continued its free-fall turmoil, a day when the sport's most loyal corporate sponsor pulled the plug in despair... a day when it seemed like the body-blows will just keep coming and coming... to make matters worse, cycling loses forever a great senior Senator.   

Magni was a last living connection to the golden '40's and '50's.  The 'third man' rival of the great post-war campionissimi, Coppi and Bartali.   The passing of 'il terzo uomo'  leaves us with only a rapidly fraying thread as a last connection to those sepia toned times.  And when the precious living few silver haired champions of that generation -  Ferdi Kubler, Raphael Geminiani and Alfredo Martini - go to join him in that great Giro in the sky, our ability to solicit counsel from the wise old men of cycling's greatest generation will be gone.  For good.

Something to reflect on.   Perhaps more than 1,000 pages of testimony and affidavits.


A few years ago I wrote a post on why Magni matters, so I won't rehash his career and its importance.  If you're reading this you probably know a lot about him anyway (and if you don't, learn more about him here and here and here).

Magni on the Muur, 1950. 
Today perhaps it's better to consider his works, his legacy...and think about what his parting advice  for the future of the sport would have been.   For with all the turmoil cycling is in, it should be crystal clear that now, more than ever, Magni matters. 

It's inarguable that professional cycling is now a rudderless ship... one with serious structural defects.  An old ship, built with traditional manner and methods but now finding itself adrift on the high seas of modernity, blindly fumbling through rapids dotted with shoals and icebergs.

It's a vessel whose captains should have listened to Magni's navigational counsel.  I wonder what Magni thought about all of this... wonder what he would have advised those who lead our sport today?  

I wonder if he went to bed on his last night on earth aware of the USADA report?  Aware of the unprecedented turmoil his beloved professional sport is in?

Wonder if maybe his heart wasn't just a little bit broken by it all?  

In his final decades, when most his age would have just collected their pension, Magni invested hard work and passion into keeping the heritage of grande ciclismo alive, leading the organization that built the fantastic cycling museum at the Madonna di Ghisallo.   It's an inspiring place, filled with old historic bikes, jerseys, newspaper articles.  You'd hear Magni speaking of it in TV interviews, and just know it was first and foremost, all about passion with him.  Passion for the sport, its champions, its legacy.   And he had an enormous passion for work.    He liked to say he was '80 but could work like a man of 40'.   

I wonder if this man...a man who'd pack his cardboard suitcase, and with wooden rimmed Ganna bike and third class ticket in hand, hop on a train from Monza to Ghent... and without a team, soigneur or budget...and win the Ronde van Vlaanderen, virtually alone.  Up against all the flahutes.... I wonder what he'd think of all this.   

I wonder what this man who first brought corporate sponsorship to cycling really thought of the multi-million dollar budgets the sport now requires, the mega-buses, the huge support staff, the millions of euros that now flow through it?   Wonder it he thought it had become an end it itself, if it's all become overkill?  Good for the sport, or bad?  Wonder if he thought today's pro cycling is really better than in his day?     

I wonder if this hardman who refused to drop out of the Giro with a cracked shoulder, biting on an inner tube Falierio Masi tied to his stem to leverage him up and through the San Luca cronoscalata...I wonder what he'd think of today's degree of 'specialization', what he'd say about guys dropping out of a Tour to prepare for another 'target'?

I wonder what that man who a week later more than survived that famous blizzard stage to Monte Bondone, clinching 2nd overall in his final grand Tour...what would he think of cancelling races in bad weather?   Wonder if he thought today's kind of racing could engender the same Tifosi worship he experienced in his era?    I wonder if he didn't understand that cycling's greatest and most memorable exploits were improvised in difficult moments, rather than scientifically prepared for.   I wonder if perhaps he didn't understand the causality between an act of heroism's degree of severity...and its ability to endow lasting hero status?     

Photo ©: Colnago archives
I wonder what this man...a man who 'discovered' Ernesto Colnago when the eagle-eyed young shop mechanic hand-filed his cotter pin, straightening misaligned cranks and curing nagging knee pain....this man who later made Colnago his the team mechanic when he retired and became director of the Chlorodont squadra...I wonder what the he thought of his mechanic now marketing carbon bicycles costing $10k, $15k and more?  Wonder if he'd remember that stop at the small workshop, the file and the cotter pin, and think the sport has maybe lost the plot a little bit, becoming a little more about technology than sweat and effort.   

I wonder what this man....a man who'd simply get up early every morning, go out his back door, hop on his bike, and ride all day in a 49x21 with his friend Alfredo Martini.... I wonder what he'd think of the preparatori, the medical programs, and secret training camps in Terenife?         

I wonder if this progressive, forward thinking man...the salesman who first brought extra-sportif sponsors into cycling - literally saving the professional sport - I wonder if thought he could 'sell' a major corporation on sponsoring a team in this day and age?   Wonder what he'd say to the Rabobank directors today?   

I wonder what he'd advise the UCI ?   Today's team directors?   What he'd say to Junior riders, and their parents?         

A lost opportunity.   The lion can't roar anymore.  

If the past cannot teach the present, and the father cannot teach the son, then history need not have bothered to go on, and the world has wasted a great deal of time. 
                                           ~Russell Hoban

But it's not too late though.  There's still an opporutnity for the sport's leadership.. those so quick to  mourn his passing.. to listen...really listen...to him.    To hear the lion's lasting roar.  

Thankfully, Fiorenzo Magni's views were often cited in articles in BiciSport over the past decade.   BS publisher Sergio Neri was always well aware how far the sport had gone off the rails morally, and was always a firebrand for a return to traditional values.  To the gran ciclismo that the people love.  He would often quote Magni's thoughts... his wise prescription for a better future for the sport.

One interesting idea he recommended was the return of the Giro d'Italia to national and regional teams. The man who created extra-sportif sponsored teams recognized the irony of him making recommendation, but was convinced of the need to return cycling to that popular formula.  "I don't want to spit in the plate I eat from, but because of the crisis, because it's more and more difficult to obtain sponsors, I think it's the right time to launch it.."  A formula he knew from personal experience it's ability to excite the fans -  citing soccer, olympics, basketball.  People love to cheer for their national team.

He also felt the cycling needed to return to its roots in individualism.   In the spirit of adventure of his day.  A vision of smaller, tighter squadri, where the riders took more responsibility for their careers, and their choices.   

Magni was interviewed a decade ago, on his 80th birthday, by BiciSport's Pier Borgonzi.    Here's some tea leaves left behind...

"I have too much love for my sport fail to understand that we must act now to fix it.   First of all, we need to confront the question of doping.  Radically.   I go often go to watch the young riders, and I realize that even in the youngest age group, there's the underworld.  We are going through one of the most difficult periods in the history of cycling, and if we want to get out, we must start from the lessons of tradition."



"I'd never be one to say 'back in my day' - that's just not me.  I always looked forward, I have always tried to adjust to the new, but some references are always valid.   I remember cycling when it was on page one of the newspapers - even a Giro della Campania would put soccer on the second page.   Now you have to make an effort to find articles about cycling.   Why?  There's been a serious failure of cycling's institutions.  I'd say we did a good job burying cycling.  And it was not so easy to reduce it.   But what makes me more angry is the sense of resignation, and the laziness in dealing with the problems, the slowness of reaction." 

"The responsibility is also that of the sponsors, the teams, their directors but also especially of some riders who've been dazzled by being given everything at once. For this reason we can thank the preparators-sorcerers, and the sports agents.   We must sweep away the perverse idea that they can achieve results by training less, through chemical shortcuts.  We should sweep away the idea that you can suddenly and easily earn a lot of money.  Agents are an enormous damage, bringing to cycling the worst of professional soccer"

"A rider has to believe first of all in himself.   A guy who can win races facing the mountains, the rain and the cold in open nature, also needs to be able to manage himself, alone.  He does not need an agent or a medical-sorcerer.   If anything, he should rely on the great witnesses like Adorni and Gimondi..."


"But it's not all dark, the base is still good though, and there is a hard core represented by the great interest of the people, and the strength of tradition.  I remain hopeful, and am convinced that at the end of the day there will always be be cycling.   Yes, because our sport retains a human energy that makes it popular and a healthy carrier of important values.  Think of our fans. They meet in the mountains, they yell, they make jokes, but you don't have the fistfights you see in the football stadiums."

"The cycling of my time, and also that of today, is sacrifice, and renunciation. I weighed the food I ate.  I measured the water I drank, and never lost a day of training.   I went out with Giorgio Albani to put in 150/200 kilometers in all weather, without ever shortening one meter our intended journey.  An athlete should eat well, train hard and rest even harder. Cycling is always tradition.  Cycling is climbing big mountains.  Cycling is climbing three times up the Ghisallo during training.  One shouldn't end up believing in all the shortcuts, and fall into the trap."

"A failure of the institutions."  Memo to UCI:   It's not about the money.  It's about Tradition.  Work.  Sacrifice.  Passion.  The spirit of adventure.  Competition.  

Stop eulogizing the lion.  Hear his roar.  

Comments

  1. Nice post! RIP Fiorenzo. We donated towards the creation of the museum as soon as we heard about it, having taken our clients there at the end of our Legendary Climbs tour since 2000, but sadly never met the Lion of Flanders in-person. He left a great memorial - the museum is spectacular!

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  2. Fantastic post. You perfectly captured my sentiments about the current state of our sport through your homage to one of my favorite cyclists of all time. Well done.

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