Fiorenzo Magni

Guest Article: Anatomy of A Photo-Perseverance

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Give me something to pull with

Jeff in PetroMetro submitted this piece to us quite some time back, and we decided to hold off on publishing it until we got a little closer to the Giro, due to the story’s relation to the Giro. We knew it wouldn’t be the first time someone has written about it, but that’s never stopped us before so why should it now? As it turns out, however, we also weren’t the first to get the bright idea that this story deserves to be told near il Giro, as it appears Rouleur has done a feature on Magni as well.

But this tale has never been told as a prestigious Anatomy of a Photo piece. So we’ve got that going for us. In any case, a lovely tale, and one we believe should be told as many times as possible; this is what we mean when we say that cyclists are tough, but that perhaps the breed of hardmen produced in the past were just a bit tougher than they are today.

Yours in Cycling,


I am in awe of the man in this photo. He was Herculean–a true hardman. When I first saw this picture, Ineeded to know more. So I did my homework. Now, I share just a small bit of extraordinary cycling lore with the Velominati.

The man is Fiorenzo Magni, the Lion of Flanders. He earned his nickname by winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen three times-in-a-row (1949, 1950, and 1951). Besides being known as Il Leone dell Fiandre, he was also referred to as “The Third Italian” when discussed in relation to Bartali and Coppi.

He was a prolific winner in the golden age of Koblet, Kubler, Bobet, Geminiani, and the aforementioned Il Pio and Il Campionissimo. He won the Giro three times. He was the Italian National Champion. He wore the Maillot Jaune. His career was astonishing and his palmares lengthy, especially when one considers the talent he faced.

This image is from 1956–the 13th stage of the Giro d’Italia. At the time, Magni was 36 years old. He’d broken his collarbone on the previous stage. There was a rest day in between the crash and when this photo was taken.

Doctors told him to quit the Giro. He’d need a plaster cast. He asked them to wait and see. He didn’t want to quit. He and his tifosi knew this would be his last Giro. He’d already announced he would retire from professional cycling at the end of the season.

His chance of winning his fourth Giro was over, but he chose to continue in honor of his fans, his team, the race, his country, and his legacy.

The 13th stage was an individual time trial with a significant amount of climbing. While warming up, he discovered he could not pull up on his bars. Quickly, his mechanic, Faliero Masi (later of Masi bicycle fame) devised an ingenious way to give Il Leone some leverage. Masi cut an innertube and tied one end of it to Magni’s stem. He then asked Magni to hold the other end in his teeth and pull back when he would otherwise need to pull up on the bars. It worked, and Magni lived to fight another day.

What Magni did during the rest of the Giro was, quite simply, Homeric. On the 16th stage, he crashed heavily on the same shoulder as his broken collarbone. (He could not brake with his left hand and his back wheel slid out on a fast descent.) He fractured his humerus, but did not know it at the time.

He passed out from the pain. Because of the respect the peloton had for Il Leone, they waited. The ambulance came. He regained consciousness and was given water. He refused to be driven to the hospital. He remounted and ultimately finished the stage. Later, he would not see a doctor. He did not want to know the extent of his injuries.

On stage 20, it snowed heavily from start to finish. The conditions were horrible. Sixty riders abandoned, including the Pink Jersey. In Trento, near the finish, his team car came up to tell him that he was third for the stage, and would be second to Charly Gaul on GC.

During the final two stages, Magni repeatedly attacked Gaul in an attempt to win his fourth Giro, but the attacks were unsuccessful. Gaul was too strong, and Magni too depleted.

Although second overall on GC, Magni has stated that this was his proudest victory. In this Velominatus’ humble opinion, it might be the most powerful demonstration of the V I’ve come to know.


// Anatomy of a Photo

  1. @Cyclops
    You’re just a little too good at that.

  2. @Cyclops
    Gold, pure Gold!

  3. @Cyclops

  4. Jeff in PetroMetro:


    Ahhh, date night in Australia. Where the three S’s, shower shampoo shave are for the sheep, not the bloke.

  5. @Minion
    They do seem to make a happy couple.

  6. Pedale.Forchetta :
    @Jeff in PetroMetroOf course! I’m a founding member of the Museum!

    Did you attend the museum’s gala for Magni last December? They celebrated his 90th birthday. If so, was it amazing?

  7. minion:

    Marcus :

    Oli Brooke-White :

    Marcus:Nice work JiPM. You beat Rouleur’s version.

    Not quite, I’m afraid. I had my copy of Rouleur the week before last…Not that that means anything – this is one of those great legends that can stand re-telling many times, and Jeff told it well.

    I meant quality-wise OBW. Bet you kiwis get all excited when the stagecoach arrives with the mail from the ship…

    Not really, the ship comes from ‘Strayla and the bloody convicts have ususally stolen all the letters.

    I represent that remark!

  8. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Unfortunately not, I did not attend,
    it should has been a sort of Walhalla of Cycling, past and present…

  9. Great post. If ever there was an image of Rule #5, I would say this is it. He always looked more like a boxer than a cyclist to me, and this story shows he probably could have been one. I can’t imagine getting out of bed with the injuries you describe above… let alone racing for days. That generation truly was a different breed.

  10. This pic should be submitted under Rule #5. Brings a whole new meaning to grin and bear it!

  11. Strictly abuot the photo, I’d like to underline how much I like the a bit longer sleeves of Magni jersey.

  12. Unbelievable story…
    The photo reminded me of another one, also Italian. I have been trying to find it again with no luck as I only saw in my childhood and stuck in my mind.It was the Italian 100km team time trial team. It must have been the 92 Barcelona Olympics or a world championship a couple of years before. They used what looked like a “metal rope” to tight them from the jersey to the frame, almost to the start of the handlebar and keep them down, in an aerodynamic position. I didn’t think that they might also have been to pull a bit from it like Magni.

  13. Man, what a story. Nice write up. Heroics like that make daily riding issues – being sore, a little tired, whatever – look like total excuses…

  14. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Nice work, JiPM; you really take your research seriously… seen this photo before, knew the name Magni and a few very undetailed descriptions of what was going on in the photo, but nothing like this.

    Definitely not to take away from Magni, but nobody here needs to be told how rich both the past and present of cycling are of equally unbelieveable stories/riders…

    mcsqueak :
    I’m not trying to bag on athletes in other sports, as all athletes in semi-pro/pro level competition are in amazing shape and work damn hard at what they do…

    Well said and worth saying. Which is more than what a lot of people seem to be able to do (see nattering below). But…

    mcsqueak :
    …but most of my friends aren’t into cycling and see it as a “pussy” sport, especially when it comes to lycra, shaving, and all that. They have simply not witnessed the brutality of it. Not to mention these guys are racing for a solid 8 months… it’s not like they come out in July to do the TdF and then it’s over for the season.

    Sheeeeyuuut! Forget the 8 months. Tell your friends (I do):
    “Pussy sport. Hmmm. OK then, get on a damned bike and ride 200 klicks (of course I have to say it in ‘miles’ or I get a blank stare). The next day, get on your damned bike and ride 175 K. The third day, get on your damned bike and ride 200 K with three 10 k climbs. The fourth day… oh. You can’t ride 200K? You can’t ride 10 miles? Then shut the fuck up. If you were in the TdF you have to do that — except fast — TWENTY(ish) DAYS IN A ROW. Oh, pardon. You get two rest days.”

    (I adjust appropriately if using Spring Classics as examples, etc.)

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    What even the lowliest but regularly working european domestique does is STILL amazing to me. What American pros do is still amazing to me. It seems incredible that other people can’t see it.

    Years ago I remember watching something like ABC Wide World (what a joke!) of Sports. They had a clip or two of one of the Spring Classics, I don’t remember which… but it was the equivalent of a shot of riders going up the Mur de Huy. And the friggin’ announcer – on network TV – says something describing briefly what/where, then adds (can’t remember complete exact words, but this is close) “bike racing, what’s the deal. I can ride a bike. In baseball…”

    Ouch! That was my chin hitting the floor. Still happens, thinking about that, even now.

    My sig other at the time (who’d seen it with me) and I, though horrified, were gleefully overusing the phrase “I can ride a bike” (e.g. for describing puffed up idiots) for months.

    @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Redux – great story! Thanks for sharing.

  15. This is a truly inspiring tale told in an inspired way. Hardcore. Thanks, JiPM!

  16. The Rouleur piece also describes how Magni revolutionized cycling by landing the first non-bike company sponsor, Nivea.

  17. @Cinghiale
    I haven’t read the Rouleur piece as my subscription started late enough to miss the most recent edition. However, during my research (Merckx bless the interwebs), I learned about when he brought in Nivea. In fact, he’s wearing a Nivea jersey in the above photo. Pretty cool.

  18. Superhuman. Rule V to the Vth power. Awesome story, and greatly told.

  19. I think we’ve missed what’s truly hardman in this photo. Both bottle cages are EMPTY.

  20. Fiorenzos bike from Museo del ciclismo

  21. I am sure that somewhere over the last couple of years I have seen an article on the Pain Face. Scrolling back I cannot find it and if I am wrong then someone needs to get on an write one pretty damn quick because Jensy pulled out an absolute blinder at the Tour of California this year….or rather the photographer did! Here it is to start you off.

  22. @Deakusthere is nothing… NOTHING!… that is not absolutely fantastic about that photo.

  23. @DeakusIronic that the visor reflects the “STOP” on the road. Last I checked, Jens doesn’t stop.

  24. Very Judge Dredd, “I am the Law”.

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