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Giro d’Italia 2021, Stage 17: Canazei – Sega di Ala. You cannot pass


Stage 17: Canazei – Sega di Ala. You cannot pass

Stage 17: Canazei – Sega di Ala. You cannot pass

Ernest Hemingway first came to Italy in 1918 during World War I. As he was serving as a volunteer, rescuing wounded soldiers on Monte Pasubio, he met Bartolomeo Aymo, a great 1920s cyclist, four-time podium finisher at the Giro. He was the archetypal anti-hero that Hemingway greatly valued – hampered by punctures, crashes and misfortune. Bartolomeo Aymo is also one of the ambulance drivers in “A Farewell to Arms”, Hemingway’s tribute to his hard-luck career. One of his greatest lines is «a bicycle is a splendid thing». A bicycle was indeed splendid thing that took Hemingway to the frontline. He was handing out letters, chocolate, cigars and jam to the soldiers on the battleground, when he was badly wounded by a bomb – a sound that he described as ‘a cough’ and that will scar him for life. 

Hemingway came back to Italy for the second time in 1948. Count Federico Kechler invited him trout fishing. The two of them were driving aboard a blue-coloured Lancia, heading for Canazei, and feasting their eyes on the world-unique view of the Sassolungo, the Passo Sella and the Marmolada, when a police officer stopped them. «You cannot pass, the Giro d’Italia is underway». The riders had been caught in a hailstorm as they flew down from the Passo Rolle. The forest, the clouds and the road had blackened. «Their brakes were screeching like kittens calling for their mother», wrote Dino Buzzati. When the sun came out, Bartali wiped the mud off his face and bit into a banana. Coppi pulled away, heading towards Canazei. Buzzati continued: «His face gradually thinned down, as his upper lip stiffed, making him look like a mouse caught in a trap». Some writers really have extraordinary capacities for lifelike descriptions.


Bartali had already bitten into a banana, and Coppi had already taken flight, cruising to victory, when Hemingway saw them zip by

It was only a matter of moments, just a few round pedal strokes, but he was taken aback. He had attended six-day bike races in Paris, but none of them was as thrilling as the sight of Coppi and Bartali battling on the Dolomites. He was so amazed that he immediately purchased two bicycles for him and Kechler, and off they went, riding through the mountains.


Hemingway was secretly fond of cycling. A deep passion that he would conceal, however, unable to create a narrative that could even remotely convey the overwhelming emotion that he felt when he saw the Giro in Canazei. He had successfully written about the war, about people dodging the horns of fighting bulls, about a fisherman’s battle with the largest marlin in the Atlantic Sea. He had started many stories about bicycle racing, but he finally had to admit that it was impossible to write «one that is as good as the races are».

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