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Stage 1 of the Giro d’Italia: Torino – Torino, the loveliest podium girl

05/05/2021

Giro d'Italia Torino

Stage 1: Torino – Torino, the loveliest podium girl

Torino has been a frequent host and feature of the Giro d’Italia, with three ‘big starts’ and countless stage starts or finishes. This is the story of the finish of the second to last stage of the 1949 edition at the long-neglected and soon-to-be restored velodrome in Corso Casale.

The velodrome is located in the district called Madonna del Pilone, at the foot of Superga, the hill on top of which Victor Amadeus II had built the majestic basilica as a token of gratitude for defeating the besieging French army in 1706. It was 11 June 1949, just over a month after the air disaster that claimed the lives of Valentino Mazzola, Gabetto, Bacigalupo, Grezar, Ossola, Loik and others – the day when the name of the hill became synonymous with the accident that killed the entire Grande Torino football club. None of them survived. Among the 31 dead, alongside the squad, their coaches and their managers, were three journalists and four crew members.

Coppi, Bartali and the velodrome

The stage finishing in the velodrome was an individual time trial. The day before, Fausto Coppi had sealed the greatest achievement of his career: a 192-km breakaway across five mountain passes, from Cuneo to Pinerolo. He had finished 11’52” ahead of the runner-up, Gino Bartali, taking the leader’s jersey and securing his overall Giro win. Bartali, second behind him on the GC, was over 23’ adrift. The 65-km ITT from Pinerolo to Turin would be a mere formality. Victory went to Toni Bevilacqua ahead of Corrieri and De Santi; Coppi only settled for sixth place, but it was enough to further increase his overall lead by a handful of seconds.

 

Coppi was a football enthusiast and a supporter of the ‘Toro’. In the first post-war period, the squad was invincible, even more than Coppi himself. There are many pictures portraying him with the players of the team: Danilo Martelli, Valerio Bacigalupo, Mario Rigamonti… In one of these, he is seen holding up a racing bicycle as Valentino Mazzola is checking out the spokes and the tires. In another one, he is standing with Serse Coppi, the defensive midfielder Eusebio Castigliano, and Valentino’s young children, Sandrino and Ferruccio, behind the counter in the sporting goods store that Mazzola had opened in Turin. Above all, Coppi was particularly attached to the midfielder of the Grande Torino, Ezio Loik, to whom he dedicated his victory in Pinerolo.

That day there was a very special podium girl

That day there was a very special podium girl at the awards ceremony for the Maglia Rosa at the velodrome. Mirella Loik, Ezio’s daughter, wasn’t even four years old. Dressed in a short, pale frock, and holding a bunch of blue hydrangeas in her tiny hands, she was picked up so that she could kiss Fausto. The girl pulled back a little, gently pushing her baby hand against his damp and dusty jersey. As Coppi pecked her lightly on the check, the little girl burst into tears, and the bike she got as a present was of no consolation.

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