In the pre-race analyses and predictions, the Giro d’Italia in 1956 was the fight between the old and new generation. Fausto Coppi was no more the same he used to be. The scandal of his private life had a serious impact on his racing performances. He even crashed out on the 6th stage. Another old mogul in the peloton was the three-time Giro-winner Fiorenzo Magni. But he refused to leave the race. Even after he broke his collarbone.
The “Lion of Flanders” was always a hard man, was fighting during the WW,2 even after the Armistice in 1943 – on Mussolini’s side. After the war, he was charged with taking part in a massacre where a partisan leader was killed among others. Magni was acquitted, but this story still had an impact on his career in some ways. For example, his unpopularity among the tifosi made him race rather in Belgium, where he won the Ronde van Vlaanderen three times (three consecutive years).1
However, he was a three-time Giro-champion (1948, 1951 and 1955). Before the start of the race in 1956, he has announced, that this would be his last Giro. Probably he never thought this would be one of the most memorable races of his career.
Racing with a broken collarbone
On the stage between Grosetto and Livorno (usually called stage 12, but sometimes stage 10) Magni crashed on the descent out of Volterra and broke his left collarbone. However, he still managed to finish the stage. Later in the hospital, he was recommended to quit the race, but he refused it.
The next day was a rest day, Magni has only one thing to do: to do nothing at all. Although he got an elastic bandage from the doctors, his left arm was still short on power.
His chief-mechanic came with the idea to cut out a piece of an inner tube. Its one end could be attached to the handlebars, while Magni kept the other end with his teeth.
Never give up
On the stage from Lecco to Sodrino, Magni crashed again. He fell on his left arm, broke his humerus, but refused to go to the hospital. He left the ambulance car, pedalled back to the peloton, which was patiently waiting for him.
Although the protagonist of the epic stage up to Monte Bondone was Charly Gaul, also Magni had his part of this extraordinary story. Not to forget, his collarbone was still broken, his racing abilities quite reduced. He did nothing special, only never gave up the race, although it was so cold, that even the winner Gaul had to be literary cut out of his frozen jersey after the stage.
Pasquale Fornara led the GC before the stage, but even he gave up the race. Magni remembered it this way:
“They told me, that most of the peloton froze and had to quit. Then, before reaching Trent I saw the Pink Jersey quitting too! ‘What?? Am I seeing things?” I wondered. If I were the Pink jersey I would have continued, even if I had to walk, but I would never abandon.”3
Indeed, he never gave up and crossed the finish line as a third rider that day. Thanks to his persistent performance, he jumped up to the 2nd place in the General Classification. At this point, Charly Gaul was the leader of the race with an advantage of 3 minutes and 27 seconds.
Only 2 stages were left, and Magni even tried to defeat Gaul. But the end the Luxembourgian won the race and Magni finished just behind him with the same time gap as it was after the Bondone-stage.
1 Read more on Magni and the Ronde: Edward Pickering: The Ronde. Inside the World’s Toughest Bike Race. Simon & Schuster UK, 2018
2 Due to the custom of having half (a and b) stages during the races. Nowadays some of the statistics refer to them as different stages.
3Bill McGann and Carol McGann: The Story of the Giro d’Italia: A Year-by-Year History of the Tour of Italy, Volume 1: 1909-1970.McGann Publishing LLC, 2011.