NOTE – This story first ran here in 2006, but is well worth another look.
The 1952 Giro di Lombardia race program is an amazing 32 page snapshot back into the race scene more than a half century ago, jam packed with race info, presented by the famous Italian sports daily – La Gazzetta dello Sport. Of course it’s in Italian – and that makes it even cooler. The price was 0.50 Lira – likely about 25 cents worth at the time.
• The cover of the 1952 Giro di Lombardia program features Fausto Coppi leading Louison Bobet over the Madonna di Ghisallo in the 1951 race.
One thing that struck me was the huge number of man-hours it must have taken to produce such a document – at a time way before computers and digital presses. Everything had to be typeset by hand, artwork for the ads was sketched or illustrated by hand, colored inks were limited, expensive and tough to use, so most of this edition is good old black and white.
The legendary Fausto Coppi was the man of the times, unbeatable everywhere – he’d already won this race 4 times in 1946, 47, 48, and 49, and the cover of the program is a classic shot of Coppi and the 1951 winner Louison Bobet dueling over the top of the Madonna del Ghisallo climb. Coppi had been the first over the decisive climb in all his previous wins, but wound up 3rd in 1952, behind Bobet and Minardi.
• The pivitol point – and defining obstacle – in the race is the climb from Bellagio to the Madonna di Ghisallo church. This shot from 1923 shows a small breakaway climbing to the Madonna del Ghisallo on unpaved roadway. That climb is a bee-yotch now – but back then it was hors-beeyotch.
The limited use of color in the program reminds us how far news printing has advanced. The center spread featured a few full color photos, plus this map of the year’s corsa. The race began and finished in Milano, with the finale being played out on a velodrome in the city. Remember- some artist illustrated this by hand.
• Weather often plays a factor in the race, although in this age of global warming, the last few editions have been run under very clement skies. The rain was so bad in 1928 (below), it flooded parts of the corsa, forcing riders onto makeshift sidewalks.
• In the 1930’s edition (aprox.), before derailleurs were invented, riders had to stop and flip the rear wheel to engage a climbing gear. The great Alfredo Binda is in the center here, he won Lombardia 4 times: 1925, 1926, 1927, and 1931, and was the first to win the Giro d’Italia 5 times.
• In 1919, a group of eight broke away from the 44 starters. Apparently the established press had some competition from an upstart publication that was no doubt very cool.
• You can’t hold a race in Italy without some returning winners. Even in 1952 the Italians were the best dressed – (l-r): Binda, Guerra, Girardengo, and Belloni – scoring 11 wins between them. Reportedly they all agreed that the ‘Distrazione del Giorni’ published by the Gazzetta dello Pez were the favorite part of their day.
• You don’t want to miss the classic advertising that adorns the pages of this program either. Nothing defines a period in modern history like the ads, and judging by the popular ad categories here, typical race fans were into their watches, clothing, power tools, motorcycles, and a little “Ramazzotti” to take the edge off after a hard day at the office.
• Based on the big 1/4 page ad, Gaggia espresso makes were a big supporter of racing… back in the day.
• How many pros pull on a fine Italian leather coat after crossing the finish line? Fausto Coppi did after wining the 1947 edition.
• And you can’t have a race without some record times – the 5 fastest times up the Madonna del Ghisallo climb (to date) are shown above.
Without question the history of our sport gives it a dimension most other sports can only dream of. This Saturday another page of that history wil be written, and you can bet that 50 years from now, a bunch of new cycling fans – most of ‘em not even born yet – will be looking back to the 2006 edition with same awe that we remember 1952.