It seems like such a long time ago.
The start of a rough period in the history of Europe.
The beginning of World War II.
In those five years of war many road races got cancelled.
The Tour de France did not take place, neither did some of the classics.
Even if races were held, most riders only participated in their own country.
It was not safe enough to travel to races abroad because of the danger.
In 1940 though, Mussolini decided that it was safe to race the Giro d’Italia.
Only 91 riders decided to come to the start that year though,
and only two of all these riders were foreigners.
A Belgium team cancelled at the very last minute,
because they decided it was too dangerous to travel after all.
Walter Diggelmann from Switzerland and Christophe Didier from Luxembourg were the only ones from outside Italy that made it to the start in Milan.
A young Italian man, just grown out of his teenage years, took part in this
Giro d’Italia too. It was his first Giro and he belonged to the team Legnano.
The leader of that team and also the favorite for the win was Gino Bartali.
Who could have guessed that Bartali’s biggest opponent
turned out to be his own teammate at the end of the race?
A year before, Fausto Coppi had already made a big impression
on Gino Bartali in one of the stages of the Tour of Piedmont.
Pavesi, the team manager of Legnano, had signed Coppi that same evening.
Fausto Coppi was meant to become a gregario for Gino Bartali
and he actually did start as a gregario in the Giro of 1940.
It was the first big race that he had to ride in his own country.
He must have been nervous, ambitious and eager all at once.
There were twenty stages in this edition of the Giro.
In the second stage Bartali hit a dog in the descent of a mountain.
Some heroic stories still go around about this crash.
Some say his femur was broken, someone else that his elbow
was dislocated, while others insist that his knee was pretty damaged.
Nevertheless, Bartali got back on his bike and tried to chase the others.
Without any result though: Coppi ended on the second place
in this stage and so he had won more than five minutes on Bartali.
However, Coppi made the biggest difference later on, in the eleventh stage.
In this stage Coppi went from being Bartali’s teammate to his enemy.
This was because he won this mountain stage and took the pink jersey.
Although Bartali still tried to make a comeback by winning
stage 17 and 19, he wasn’t able to beat the young talented rider.
After the Giro he stated that in the next Giro he would repair the damage.
However, in the following year there was no Giro d’Italia.
Bartali had to wait five years to win that famous Maglia Rosa back.
Many battles would follow between Bartali and Coppi in the years after.
But the Giro d’Italia of 1940 still reminds us of the youngest winner ever.
Fausto Coppi was only twenty years old when he won his first Giro.
The record still stands and probably will for a very long time.