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Giro d’Italia 2021, Stage 4: Piacenza – Sestola. The meaning of “Meo”


Stage 4: Piacenza – Sestola. The meaning of “Meo”

This is the story of a popular word that was used frequently around Sestola, and in most of the Apennines between Emilia and Tuscany, “meo”. At least, it was used quite commonly at the time of coalmen, the people who would cut down trees, chop them into pieces, stack them up and then burn them on a slow fire for a very long time, until they became charcoal. The local men would engage in this traditional activity seasonally, sometimes even reaching other forest-rich areas such as Tuscany or Corsica, and spending months in the forests.

None of these companies would ever leave without taking a meo – a young boy who would become a coalman himself in the future – with them. That was the beginning of a backbreaking job, an exhausting apprenticeship as a hut warden, pantry keeper, and often even a scapegoat for the effort and the flaws of the other members. A shared ordeal that even became the subject of a popular song that was chanted in the makeshift shelters among the woods, when it was impossible to work: “Io d’arrivare in fondo non credéo/ Dio mi riguardi di rifarlo il meo”, which translates as “I didn’t think I would ever see this through. God please never let me be a ‘meo’ again”.


This is also the story of another popular “Meo”, with a capital “M” this time – Romeo Venturelli. He was a native of Sassostorno di Lama Mocogno, near Pavullo, just a few kilometres away from the top of Mt. Cimone, currently the house of one of the major ski areas of the Apennines, in the forests where the hikers have taken the place of the coalmen. Venturelli was one of those riders “subjecting reason to talent”; in his case, it was sheer, undeniable talent for cycling. Back in his amateur years, he once refused to cross the line in first place because that day he wanted to pull off a sprint win, and not win by a good margin.



Fausto Coppi, the champion

Having witnessed the scene, Fausto Coppi saw the potential of this moody boy and reached out to him in Pavullo, to ride with him and ask him to join the San Pellegrino squad. So Meo began his training, while his noble and taciturn master strived to control his temper, to prevent that hothead from burning out. But Coppi died too soon, leaving him without a mentor, and his raw talent burned too fast, to ashes. As he did in Sorrento, at the 1960 Giro. First, he beat Jacques Anquetil in the time trial, landing a stage win and taking the pink jersey. The following day, he broke down and caved in.

The coalhouse was somewhat drafty, but this ill-tempered chap never complained much. A life as an ascetic and disciplined rider didn’t really belong to him. He would rather break the rules – with food, with women, and in the race – preferring fun to victory. So he did. And probably, even if his results didn’t live up to his full potential, he might have been the only one to ask God to be a ‘meo’ again.

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