Stage 2: Stupinigi (Nichelino) – Novara. Picture-postcard days
In the introduction to his novel narrating the tragic life of Antonia, the witch of Zardino, Sebastiano Vassalli describes the flatlands around Novara as a fog-veiled ‘nothingness’. From time to time, however – say thirty times a year, generally in spring – this nothingness is transfigured into a crystalline landscape, and the sights of the paddy-fields and mountains are so beautiful that «it gladdens the heart just to look at them». He calls these ‘picture-postcard days’.
The Chimera after which the novel is titled is the imposing Monte Rosa, with its peaks and glaciers, so far away yet so close, watching over «a stage as huge as a whole region, upon which the deeds and the doings of the living in this part of the world have been acted out since time immemorial». According to the author, whatever happens in these flatlands disappears into the memory, just like Zardino has disappeared into the Sesia, erased from history. The village now only exists in the pages of the book, and the peloton can only take an imaginary pass through it. The legends of the Alpine valleys, instead, usually last for ages, just like the legends of cycling.
On the first road stage of the Giro that year, Eddy Merckx took – quite unexpectedly – his first Maglia Rosa at the Monte Rosa
It was 21 May 1968 in Novara, and this rider, whom I wouldn’t call ‘a nobody’, found himself at the top of the general classification of the Giro for the first time in his career. It must have been a picture-postcard day for him. On the first road stage of the Giro that year, Eddy Merckx took – quite unexpectedly – his first Maglia Rosa at the Monte Rosa. His surprise attack managed to disrupt a stage that seemed to be already settled. As the lead-out formed on the left of the final avenue, the Belgian ace kicked clear from the right – a sharp blow that crushed the sprinters’ dreams. 1968 marked a turning point in his career as a road-racing cyclist. Under the guidance of his legendary team and room mate Vittorio Adorni, Eddy learnt and grew stage after stage, and by the time the Giro reached the grand finale in Naples, ‘the Cannibal’ was crowned the winner. Quite a different ending than Antonia’s story.
An adventure that began with his incredible achievement in Novara, where the surrounding landscape suggests that «the world is a tangle of streets, and by following them you can find anything: life and death, misery and happiness, tears and comfort, adventure and love». In that tangle, on selected days, say twenty or so a year, you may even chance upon the Maglia Rosa.