Friday, December 16, 2011

More Tommasini Love...

And here are some scans of the Tommasini 1992 lineup.

Meeting Tommasini

While studying abroad in Florence WAY back when, I had my dream bike with me. One long weekend in January of '92, I took the train to Grosseto to meet il Signore. That was the name given to Irio Tommasini in an article I stripped from its issue long ago. I had been a fan of Tommasini since I had started riding, the name sounding as sexy and utterly Italian as the wild-colored bikes he produced. Of course, the late 80's in rural Iowa was not the best place to learn about Italian cycling masterpieces.

with Irio...

Daughter Barbara met me at the train station and I proceeded to stumble through as much Italian as my submersion class could give me in just three weeks. The family was so welcoming. After touring the factory, I ended up having lunch with them before spending a good part of the afternoon with Irio in his office and then doing a bit of shopping before getting down to the business at hand... I wanted my Racing repainted in a pearl white with the tricolor as bands.

I managed to snap as many photos as I could of the Monte Amiatas, Velocistas, Diamantes and Super Prestiges before heading back to Florence with my empty bike box.

Just three weeks later, I was back in Grosseto to pick up and reassemble my trusty steed. It turned out great. Unfortunately, it's in need of another repaint again... I'm thinking the original red/white/yellow motif would suit me again!

Since then, I've run into Irio, Barbara and others from the factory, most recently at last year's l'Eroica. He's always remembered me as the Cannondale guy when we've bumped into each other at the trade shows, even though I was still a year from landing a job when we first met... way back in '92!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Galmozzi Cambio Corsa is Finished!

Ciöcc finished the work on this quite a while ago, but I just now finished it to the point that I was ready to take it to the studio for photos. I'm real happy with how it turned out. There have been a lot of Galmozzi's popping up lately, but still none this early.

Once again, here's the video of the restoration and a little bit at the end with Angelo Galmozzi.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Binda, Girardengo, the Torpedo Affair and the Five Hundred Lire

It's well known that Binda and Girardengo weren't the best of friends. Many racers were actually at odds with Binda actually, even if Gira dominated the scene earlier but stayed in the graces of those he beat. But what began the malumore of the two? Ventura explains in il Campione e il Bandito.

"The 1927 World Championships signaled the start of the hostility between me and Binda," Costante recounted. "Before the start, the four of us on the Italian team agreed that if one of us should win, we'd split the ten thousand lire prize into equal parts." Of course, Binda won, but talks of splitting the spoils didn't take place. In fact, attention was focused on another affair... both Binda (Legnano) and Gira (Wolsit, a sub brand of Legnano) had mounted Torpedo rear hubs with coaster brakes by Sachs to their bikes to the tune of a one hundred twenty thousand lire sponsorship! The pact was that any publicity would never appear in Italy, to not endanger their bike sponsorships. When one Italian magazine ran a full feature on the use of the Torpedo, it was Girardengo who would have to change 'houses'. After all, Binda was the World Champion and rising star. But in departing, Gira wouldn't forget the broken promise of Nurburgring.

The next year at the start of a rainy Milan-San Remo, Gira took the line even after telling his Maino bosses that in case of rain, he wouldn't race. With a delicate wrist from earlier accidents, Gira toed the line with a long pair of gloves that reached up his arms. "It was one of the hardest and most competitive San Remo's I had ever done."

Incredible racing indeed. Gira passed through his hometown of Novi in the lead, profiting from a Binda puncture. Binda rejoins. The rain turned the snow into mush and the roads into mud. Then an attack from Giacobbe and Papeschi, then Binda. Gira loses contact but rejoins by the Turchino. Incredibly strong on the climbs, Binda attacks but is brought back. A change of wheels after Capo Berta (Negrini states they rode from Milan in a 44 x 18 and at Capo Berta flipped the wheel to a 44 x 16) sees the pair stretched out along with Negrini until the entrance to San Remo. "Let's divide the winnings," promises Binda to Gira. The campionissimo agrees, lets Binda attack from too far out, and takes him at the line by two lengths.

Some days later, Gira gets his winnings. Binda comes for his part, two thousand lire. "'No way' I tell him," recounts Gira. "It's you who owes me five hundred. Twenty five hundred from the World Championships, less two thousand from San Remo."
They didn't speak again for two years.

The True Story of 'The Champion and the Bandit'

So in the interest of expanding the knowledge base and preserving cycling history through translation... time for another book report!

I just finished Marco Ventura's il Campione e il Bandito, a well-researched account of the relationship between Costante Girardengo (Italy's first campionissimo) and Sante Pollastri (Italy's most wanted man in the late 20's, also written by him as Pollastro). My first long read in Italian, the book was a bit of a challenge at times, but proved well worth the effort.

Ventura's work was the inspiration for RAI's fiction of a similar name, a two-part foray into how far one can stretch the truth for dramatic effect. I won't go too far into criticizing it, but the main issues for me were the non-period correct bikes, class-breaking language, non-location correct settings and three main diversions from the truth: that Pollastro and Girardengo were close childhood friends; that Biagio Cavanna was some sort of upper class talent scout; and the final showdown and end of Pollastro. Aldo and Paolo, both from the Novi Ligure area, give further in-depth reviews of this on their blogs for the Italian-speakers who are interested. In addition, you can watch the entire thing on youtube in pieces, starting with the first part, below.

So back to the book and 'true' story and a quick translation that sets the stage of the early lives of the protagonists.

Their adventure begins in an Italy of misery. They were both sons of extremely poor farmers. One doesn't know for certain if they were friends, certainly they would have known of each other, because they were linked by a common passion for the bicycle: a vehicle of freedom for both of them. If in fact Girardengo would become a myth of cycling's greats, Pollastri would become the most famous bandit of the twenties. - Corriere della Sera's Costantini Emilia.

Sante was not only a fan of cycling, but tried his hand at a racing career as well. Gira's teammate Negrini is quoted as saying he even raced against Sante. But he evidently didn't have 'the stuff'. The bicycle would change from a ticket out of misery into a getaway car. A great deal of time is spent on theories and events leading up to why Sante turned to a life of crime, interspersed with the racing developments and growth of Gira, who was ten years into the most successful cycling career to date by the time Sante graduated from home robberies to his first cold-blooded murder. On July 14th of 1922, while robbing a transfer of money of the Bank of Tortona, the cashier Casalegno was murdered by a member of Sante's gang. The law was led to Sante by a switch-up in getaway vehicles. Sante's Maino was left behind by a member of the band as they hurried to get away after their unexpected killing. This began Sante's life as a bandit and a long run from the law that wouldn't finish until 1927.

This also leads me to two details for the vintage collecting set. Aside from the great detail of Gira's racing and private life which have been referenced by other authors as being some of the best-researched accounts of 1920's racing, Ventura brings us information about the Novi area's famous bicycle brands.

The first of these revolves around another "good bandit" or Robin Hood type. One hundred years earlier in the same area around Alessandria, Giuseppe Mayno della Spinetta (Monte Spineto being a mountain where he hid from the law), in protest of French inscription, began a similar career of banditry. While Mayno was an anti French guerrilla, Pollastri fell more into the thinking of anti fascist anarchists. Somewhere hidden in these pages is the explanation of how Cicli Maino is actually a descendant of this Robin Hood, the spelling changed to further distance it from its seedy roots!

The other is of course the start and growth of Cicli Girardengo, started in the forties with sons Ettore and Luciano. In 1964 assembly was transferred to the prison in Alessandria and was supplier to Maino (without the 'y'). After the death of Costante, the firm changed hands and eventually closed in the eighties, 'the second death of Girardengo' wrote Le Monde.

The book goes into great detail about a meeting on September 25, 1925, between Pollastri and Girardengo, who was racing at the Vélodrome d'Hiver against the Pélissier brothers, Bottecchia and Binda. By all accounts, Sante whistled a cifulò, which only Novi locals would recognize, to his old friend and Gira's masseur, Cavanna. The three met. Sante finally met his cycling idol and gave Gira his account of the circumstances around one of his cop-killings. Sante's condition to this was that Gira only tell the authorities should he be killed. The resulting rumors were enough to call Gira into court at the first of Sante's trials!

The second half of the book recounts Sante's time in prison and his heroics when he led the resistance to an inmate revolt and armed other inmates while protecting their jailers! His good behavior would set him free in 1959 after 32 years in prison. He spent his freedom selling various items around Novi (via bicycle) and staying within the law.

Woven throughout the book is the lyrics to a popular song about the legend of the bandit and the champion by Francesco De Gregori (written by his brother Luigi Grechi). Video below.

I found my interest change from the racing insight and biography of Girardengo to the incredible story of the bandit Pollastri. By the end of the book, I had almost forgotten the link to cycling's pioneering years; however, Ventura's level of detail and research is something that goes way beyond the typical content of most Italian cycling books... birth of the Giro - Girardengo - Binda - Guerra - Bartali/Coppi - end of the golden age.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

100 Years Ago Today... Giuseppe Olmo

It was one hundred years ago today, in a small village west of Genoa, that Giuseppe Olmo was born. Olmo took 39 wins in his short career, most in the magical 1935 (8) and 1936 (13) seasons when he finished third and second in the Giro d'Italia. In total, he won twenty stages in the Giro, two Milan-San Remo's, three national championships and seven days in the maglia rosa. Olmo, known also by the nickname of Gepìn, set the hour record in 1935, covering 45.090 kilometers at the Vigorelli.

Biciclette Olmo was born in Celle Ligure (said small village) in 1938 following his second San Remo victory. At just twenty-eight years old, Olmo's life was to turn towards bicycle production, eventually growing the business into what has been referred to as the 'Italian Schwinn' for their impressive output and sales. Olmo ventured further out in his industrial enterprise with tires, plastics and small motors. Married and a father of three, Olmo eventually moved to industrial Milan and passed on March 5, 1992 due to an incurable disease.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

2011 l'Eroica!

I guess now that it's over a month old now, I should get around to reporting on my l'Eroica this past October. When we left off, we had settled down for an early night's sleep, due to the 3:45 wakeup call! The van was packed and ready for a quick drive from Montevarchi to Gaiole. I finally had the joy of waking Daisy up earlier than she preferred, instead of our usual routine (small dogs have equally small bladders that need relief at PRECISELY 5:00 am... every day). We were up quickly, moving frantically to get as many calories into my belly as quickly as possible! A twisty drive into the darkness took us to Gaiole again, but this time we went up and over the center and parked at the gas station on the outskirts.

I made my final preparations... light, leather helmet, goggles, arm warmers, gloves and one more brioche. With that, the Mrs. loaded my custom POI's to take her to each stop and feed station, in order. Then, it was off to the start line!

The hushed atmosphere at the sign-in is somewhat spooky. The anticipation of the enjoyment and suffering to come looms in the darkness. There was RAI's Alessandra De Stefano doing interviews. I had bumped into her the previous day and, without my Liquigas garb, she didn't immediately recognize me, especially with my blue and yellow Masini kit and repro goggles on!

The start was way different for me this year, knowing how to better judge the course that was to come. I was looking forward to the arrival to the Brolio castle again, where Janelle and Daisy would be waiting. The climb up the twisty gravel road is traditionally lit with candles on the sides, which give a great effect in the still-dark morning, just 10km in, 209km to go!

This year, the descent from Brolio was a bit tougher due to the Masini's really stiff brake levers. This would continue to be a problem throughout the day. The next 35km into Radi are a little blurry due to the lack of light, but the course is fairly easy at this point, with the climbs either short or of gradual pitch. At one point near Siena, I found myself alone on the part of the course which is not so well marked. I caught a couple of stragglers and we cautiously kept going, fearing the backtracking we'd have to do once we found out we missed the turn... but we eventually found the next sign, assuring us we were on course.

At the first Radi ristoro, my support crew was waiting for my arrival, still a little tired themselves at this point. I filled up a bit on the various offerings, and was met by a couple of 'heroes.' Max, who I met last year and was riding his cambio corsa Galetti again, and the guy I want to emulate in a future l'Eroica... fully kitted in 1920's gear and riding a flip-flop! Bravi, tutti! I was seven minutes ahead of 2010 at Radi... that would soon change!

The lead-in to the Montalcino climb (the toughest of the day by far) is itself misleading on the course profile. The long gradual slope and energy-sapping gravel sections between Radi and the climb leave you tired by the time you start climbing at just 71km in! The climb starts not-so gradually, slowly twisting your way up. After Radi, the Masini was starting to give me a problem that would dictate the rest of my day... under power, my granny (itself not too easy at just 40 x 21) would catch on the chain and give a jolting 'ping' before dropping to the 19, which would eventually do the same and drop down once more! The cause? I had custom-made the five-speed cluster from various Regina freewheels. The largest two cogs had slotted and squared-off teeth, perfect for catching on a fixed-tension system like the Paris-Roubaix. It didn't display this tendency in my training, mainly due to the fact that the climbs I had tried at home didn't require this much effort evidently! End result? I checked into Montalcino sixteen minutes later than 2010, and far more sapped of energy.

After this, I bombed the paved descent and the next few sections of white roads, picking up seven minutes on the 2010 Legnano time! On one section of road, a fancy moto pulled up alongside me. I smiled, and the moto stayed there longer than normal. I gave another look and finally recognized Michele and Francesca, our dear friends from Leonardi Racing in Sansepolcro. We had stopped there on our way down to get Itlaian SIM cards and catch up. They mentioned making the trip over, which in my tired state, I had basically forgotten. It was a relief to see them. They gave some much-needed encouragement and followed me for about 10km, snapping some great photos, a couple of which now adorn their homepage rotation.

At Pieve a Salti, I was 24 minutes down and by Asciano I was getting worried. My support crew wasn't there, probably lost or thought I had passed. An eventual phone call later, I found out it was the latter. They were already at Castelnuovo, which I was told was going to close at 4:00! The short stop and the ensuing chase was brutal. Brutal. By this time, the heat was unbearable. My water bottle cage had broken, leaving my bottle dangling from the handlebars. In addition, the section between, these two stops feature in my opinion the toughest part of the course. The steep pitches force walking up most of these sections, if you are on a bike sufficiently 'limited.' I'm starting to use this term to describe the technical difficulties of riding a very old bike this far.

After my frantic chase, I finally arrived to Castelnuovo at 4:38... technically past their closing time, but still 'ok' in the spirit of l'Eroica. They stamped my card with no comments, other than on my apparent ghost-like complexion. The support crew let me rest and contemplate packing it in... really. We all knew I wouldn't stop, but it felt good to consider it! I basically passed out for twenty minutes in a chair. I was told I snored! A Coke, some water, ribollita, and anything else I could stuff in, got me going and in a much better mood.

At Vagliagli, I passed an older gent with an unfortunate flat. I lost about a half hour trying to help him, but the tire just wouldn't stay on the rim and we managed to use up both of my spare tubes and CO2 cartridges. We called his friends to come get him, he thanked me and I was off again into the dusk.

At the end of the long stretch of gravel before Radda, I was met again by a motorcycle light. It was Michele and Francesca again! They gave me some water and encouragement and then proceeded to lead me into the darkness with their moto's light - mine was useless, the batteries dead for the past ten kilometers!

After Radda, we met two other stragglers who shared the light for a few km. Using my handling skills, I bombed down the final gravel stretch into Gaiole and into the finish line area... at 8:20 pm. Fifteen hours, twenty minutes! Just over an hour slower than 2010. Just as happy to have finished another of the greatest bike rides ever.

Post-race judges again impressed by the feat on an old bike! Maybe next year I'll get a lower number than 9!

My moto escorts!

The support crew!

Broken bottle cage, dust!

The navigator

1924 Stucchi Catalog!

More from Paolo... this 1924 Stucchi catalog, available for viewing on Picasa! These old catalogs are incredibly difficult to find for certain brands, especially of this era. And when you do, you'll be amazed by the prices being asked!

The Stucchi That Got Away

This Stucchi flip-flop from 1924 was posted on Paolo's Decadence blog recently. I immediately called him to see if his friend would consider selling, as it's my size, correct, and ready for a restoration. It's also EXACTLY the bike that would finish my collection! After a few days unfortunately, I got the word... no sale! I will make another appeal over an espresso with Paolo next weekend, but it looks like my perfect Stucchi got away!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Road to l'Eroica

As last year's l'Eroica was a solo affair due to Tucker's constant battles with sickness, this year I brought a support crew. Daisy even made the trip from the States to join the Mrs. and I. First to Zurich, then Basel and finally over the Alps to Italy.

After seeing Ciöcc, we headed towards the Ghisallo, where I gave the Cicli Masini one final test before l'Eroica. As we had dinner plans with friends in Como, I climbed up the easy side to the Chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo. Of course, tiny, trafficked roads make for slow travel and by the time I pulled into the parking lot, the sun was well below the surrounding mountains, making us late into Como. From there, it was another long drive south to Tuscany.

The statue at the Ghisallo Chapel

Staying in Montevarchi like last year, we had a half-hour drive to Gaiole each day. Friday was spent in the market checking out all that my friends had to offer. My collection of cycling history books grew significantly that day! All the usuals were there, including Enzo, Ermes and Roberto. I was most impressed by the Bici Vintage booth and their reproduction wool jerseys made to order. The nickeled purple Automoto was by far and away the best restoration on show, while the 1916 Stucchi was calling out for an offer to be made. More on that later!

Yes, please!

This nickel-plated Automoto restoration was great

Registration was easy and painless. For those of you considering doing l'Eroica, there are many sites discussing bike standards and it's really very simple: exposed brake cables, no clipless pedals and no brifters (downtube, bar end or rod shifters are acceptable, along with single speeds or flip-flop wheels and probably some wacky, unique but old system yet to be found).

Knowing that our actual anniversary on Saturday would be an early-to-bed affair, Friday night we celebrated with dinner at a special restaurant… the stables of the Badia a Coltibuono (Abbey of the Good Harvest). What's so special about this is that the estate is owned by descendants of the Stucchi family. Yes, THAT Stucchi. While there are no bicycles on display in the 11th century villa, the restaurant features an impressive photo of what I assume to be Guido Giuntini, the Florentine banker who bought the property in 1846 and great grandfather of Piero Stucchi-Prinetti.

Saturday morning I took advantage of our location and made one more quick trip to the Bartali museum in Ponte a Ema. There, I once again wondered at the magazines, newspapers, jerseys and of course the old bikes, including a Stucchi with cambia corsa and that Bartali track bike, touted to have been made by Galmozzi (even though I have information to the contrary).

Contrary to the sign nearby, most likely NOT a Galmozzi

Saturday was spent again at the market and walking slowly around the town admiring the passing bikes and their dapper owners. I managed to make a few connections again, notably with Ben Cramer who was riding the 135 route and writing a feature for Town and Country magazine. He interviewed me over a glass of wine on my passion for the old stuff and the importance of the bicycle throughout history, especially Italian.

Interview with Ben from Town and Country magazine, proving that Tuscans don't only do red

I also managed to run into a newish but somehow seemingly old friend, John Pergolizzi. John was holding court as usual in the town center. Unfortunately, my extended riding time meant we didn't hook up Sunday, post-ride, but I look forward to discussing rare parts with him in the future!

The Red Devil himself, Luciano Berruti!

The man with the old Stucchi was re-introduced to me by a couple of friends who were really jockeying me into place to make a trade for the bike. This is a bike that I would go nuts for and sell most of my collection to get my hands on. Since the owner still rides, we were discussing a large amount of cash plus a new Cannondale in trade for this gem. He wouldn't budge! At least not yet. "I found it in a barn under a thick layer of dirt. There were lots of pros on the Stucchi team in my area back in the day, so this could even be a pro bike. It's in great shape, all original. You just can't put a price on it." Even though I tried! He has my info, and even says that if I bring my own wheels, he'd let me ride l'Eroica on it some day!

How many ways can I say 'I want your Stucchi' in Italian?

With that, I was off to bed early Saturday night… the support crew didn't know what was coming!

The navigator!