Saturday, September 17, 2011

Headed to l'Eroica? See Guerra in Mantova

If you're headed to l'Eroica and have some time before or after to explore northern Italy, I highly suggest stopping in the beautiful city of Mantova and its little museum dedicated to local hero Learco Guerra, winner of the '34 Giro d'Italia and Giro di Lombardia, '33 Milano-San Remo and FIVE successive Italian national championships on the road. The museum consists of just a couple of rooms willed with his various mementos. There was just one bike on display, an old Maino, and lots of jerseys, trophies, photos and the like. I particularly enjoyed reading through the many old newspaper and magazine articles from back in the day. I may be posting up some translations of the more interesting pieces.

The 'Human Locomotive' started his racing career late, at twenty-six years of age, but rapidly became feared on flatter races. Propped up by the Fascist government, Guerra was pitted against Alfredo Binda, the favorite of the communists!

Learco didn't even have a proper racing bike until after 1924 when a local cinder track was built. Sensing something in the twenty something bricklayer's assistant, Silvio Negri told him, "Where do you think you're going with a bike like that? Don't worry, I'll make you a bike myself, and you'll become a champion!" Truer words were never spoken! Negri secretly built the bike, in fear of Learco's father finding out. Guerra soon founded the Aurora society, acting as president, director sportif for the track and the team, and was the society's only racer!

THE definitive photo of Learco Guerra.

Later, after getting a contract with Maino and twice helping his leader Antonio Negri rejoin the peloton after flatting, Guerra was called up to race the Giro. He then summed up his philosophy... "Maybe in life, winning isn't so important. It's more honorable to race with courage!" And in the pioneering days of pre-war cycling, it took courage just to head out on those horrible roads for those ridiculous distances.

As a DS, Guerra shined as well. With riders like Hugo Koblet, Carlo Clerici and Charly Gaul, he would take four Giros d'Italia. His last champion riders were Vittorio Adorni and Gianni Motta.

As with my other recent posts, this one again includes a book on the subject. This time, I wasn't able to find the comprehensive book on Guerra, but instead, just this little square, locally-produced piece. It's a nicely written summary of Guerra's life and career. Crazy thing is that I bought it at the Nuvolari museum, as the Casa Rigoletto didn't have anything for sale!

The museum is just off the main square in Rigoletto's house. His friend and famous race car driver Tiziano Nuvolari has a less-furnished museum just a block away.

I stole a shot of this photo. Guerra, dog lover! Gotta love him even more!

Guerra's Maino. His first pro team was legendary.

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