Guest Article: Anatomy of A Photo-Perseverance

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,

Frank

I am in awe of the man in this photo.  He was Herculean–a true hardman.  When I first saw this picture, I needed 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.

A-Merckx.

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90 Replies to “Guest Article: Anatomy of A Photo-Perseverance”

  1. Fuck me. What else is there to say? Just need to think about this any time anything short of my legging fall off is bothering me. Awesome story.

  2. Hey, Rouleur – I’ll see your William Fotheringham and raise you a JIPM. A very worthy addition to the Anatomy series. ‘Hard’ doesn’t even begin to do justice to the man.

  3. @Xyverz
    That’s an excellent interview. Thanks.

    “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. Well, my shoulder is a little crooked now, but that’s that. Can you notice that??”

    Good grief.

  4. Great piece. I’ve seen this photo before and always wondered what the heck was in his mouth. Also, judging by this dude’s arms, he is definitely in compliance with Rule #33.

  5. I literally grew up with this story, but I’m never tired of it, thank you Jeff!
    Fiorenzo Magni was an outstanding cyclist and still is an outstanding man.
    At 91 he’s the vulcanic President of the Museo del Ciclismo at the Madonna del Ghisallo.

  6. Nice work JiPM. You beat Rouleur’s version.

    Makes Tyler seem like a pussy for dropping out of GC contention and only winning a Tour stage with a busted c/b.

  7. Wow, the V has taken on new meaning. Time trialing with an inner tube bit between your teeth? Refusing to see a doctor? Attacking with broken bones?

    Stunning.

    Nice article, Jeff!

    Can’t wait for Saturday!

  8. In case you didn’t see it, this was on cyclingnews today. Love the photo of Merckx with the tifosi. Look at those dudes! Classic.

  9. 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.

  10. Ron:
    In case you didn’t see it, this was on cyclingnews today. Love the photo of Merckx with the tifosi. Look at those dudes! Classic.

    I wonder why he has the tubular wrapped around his shoulders, old school style? He must have been joshing someone…

  11. Wow. 60 abandoned. Would love to see footage of those conditions.

    I’d like to draw attention to the immaculate spectating attire worn by the man far right. Something else for us all to aspire to.

  12. Simply Awe inspiring. Never (well maybe hardly ever) again will I drop out of a race unless I loose an apendidge or I’m required to do a millarcopter due to a schlecanical with no support car.
    (Hmmm are there any other V-words that I can use?)

    A-Merckx JiPM

  13. 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…

  14. Nice work JIPM, but Mercxk help me riding a bike meant something to you to come second in the Giro with broken bones. Forgive my ignorance but where’s the humerus? ISn’t that kind of important?
    Next time I hear a bratty 20something complaining that it was too hard and that he didn’t take this or that PED then sits out a 2 year suspension only to be welcomed back into the fold, I’m gonna think on this story and ask what they’d really put themselves through.

  15. 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.

  16. @Marcus
    There’s a monthly scramble to be first to the ship for the newspapers from Old Blighty. Many of us are injured falling off our wooden bikes when our grass skirts get snagged in the flax and whale tooth chains…

  17. @all: Thanks for the kind words.

    I’m reasonably well versed in cycling history from Merckx forward, so I was kind of amazed I hadn’t heard this story before. Then I read about how influencial Magni was at establishing corporate sponsorship from companies outside of the bicycle industry. THEN I found out he was the patron behind the Museo del Ciclismo which houses the overflowing collection of bicycle racing memorabilia from the chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo. (Pedale.Forchetta, I hope you’ve been there.)

    I can read Italian at the kindergarten level, so I was able to (barely) enjoy articles and tributes to Magni in various Italian newspaper and magazine websites.

    This guy is great. I’m so happy for Magni and his family that he’s getting lots of press in other parts of the world besides Italy. He turned 90 last December, so he may not be with us too much longer. He deserves all the recognition he’s getting this year.

  18. G’phant :
    @Marcus There’s a monthly scramble to be first to the ship for the newspapers from Old Blighty. Many of us are injured falling off our wooden bikes when our grass skirts get snagged in the flax and whale tooth chains…

    Guess that’s how Greg Henderson learnt how to sprint?

  19. Jeff in PetroMetro :
    @G’phant …and from tripping over sheep?

    JiPm – you clearly know very little about Kiwis. They don’t get injured tripping over sheep. They get injured tripping over each other to get to the sheep…

  20. Holy Sh*t!!! I just found the Velominati two weeks ago, but that is the most
    inspirational story I’ve heard in a long time! I’d like to shake his hand while
    he’s still with us. Thanks Jeff for bringing this story to light. Your right Frank,
    They were WAY tougher than us! It’ll be a while before I complain again!
    Wind, Cold, Rain, bring it on!!!

  21. 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…

    A ship? Luxury! In my day magazines were delivered a page at a time by carrier pigeon, and we had to glue the pages together using larks vomit and spit, blah blah blah…

  22. Cool story JiPM.

    It is both awe inspiring and daunting a tale. My first thought after looking at the photo was that he had just ripped the flesh of some puny opponent and was chowing down, beef jerky style!

  23. Marcus:

    Jeff in PetroMetro :
    @G’phant …and from tripping over sheep?

    JiPm – you clearly know very little about Kiwis. They don’t get injured tripping over sheep. They get injured tripping over each other to get to the sheep…

    And that’s where the injuries happen, and you have to hold rubber things in your mouth while riding…….

  24. @Oli Brooke-White
    Oli Brooke-White :

    A ship? Luxury! In my day magazines were delivered a page at a time by carrier pigeon, and we had to glue the pages together using larks vomit and spit, blah blah blah…

    Pages? Carrier Pigeon? I remember reading about the latest tech (the invention of the wheel) in the Stone Tablet Times, ahh those were the days……

  25. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Sheep – then you are riding in New Zealand
    Each Other – Then you are riding in bed (unless it is a relative you are riding in which case you are riding in Tasmania)
    Wooden Bikes – Then you are riding in the dark ages
    Take your pick.

  26. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Australians love externalising their foibles and tastes on us but really it’s all a con. New Zealanders are urbane, charming, polite and friendly people, with only passing interest in agricultural animals and their prettier, younger sisters.

  27. So. I obviously know nothing of New Zealand. With @minion’s map, I now know something about Australia. Then I googled Tasmania. I got this.

    Seems friendly enough.

  28. You know what a map of tasmania is a euphemism for don’t you?

    Look at it. I mean really look at it.

  29. Amanda Palmer from the Dresden Dolls?

    Ahhh. Few more seconds of teh Google and all is explained.

  30. And I’m still at work. I just walked into my own trap.
    Touche, good sir, touche.

  31. It’s these guest articles from the Community that keep us Keepers on our toes and the site looking good, especially when we (I) occasionally stuff up with our Anatomy tomes. Chapeau Sgt and JiPM, some great work in the last week.

  32. What interests me about most of these old photos, especially from that era, is that most of the riders look old enough to be my uncle or the older badass down the street. I’m older than they were at that point but they still look older, and probably always will. Maybe it was the grainy photos, the hard knock lives, or all the Rule #9 that seeped into their pours and weathered their faces.

    @Pedale.Forchetta
    Once again, your reach and involvement in our sport humbles me. Very cool.

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