Bruno Giannelli was born in 1925. A tall, sporting man. In brilliant shape. My grandfather Gino Bartali’s only living team mate, with whom he ran from 1950 to ’53 wearing the jersey of Bartali’s team. I find him one day glancing through the telephone directory.
Bruno Giannelli, 92 years old, arrives on his bicycle, a GLORIA of the Sixties.
I shake his hand. I’m full of curiosity, like in waiting to unwrap an unexpected gift. We talk without skipping the “origins” that, for good or for bad, sign everybody’s destiny. His parents were local farmers and land owner in Bagno a Ripoli, where Bruno was born. His family grows itself and for reasons of space moves to Baldo Ruffoli street in Florence. “We were three families in the same house: brothers, uncles, grandparents…I remember a huge table at dinner!”. When he was six years old he already had his first bicycle, and some years later he ran on his bike around the city to deliver his mother’s work, she was a trousers seamstress. On Sundays they were used to making a bike tour with the whole family.
“Our bicycles were not for shopwindows, they were handed down. By the older brothers or by the cousins. And how many falls when I was a child and water and salt compresses!” An uncle fond of Cycling, starts to accompany Bruno to the see races and the Giro d’Italia. The passion for the bike grows, but in 1943 the Second World War stops every aspiration. Those who don’t present themselves spontaneously to the conscription office are punished. Bruno is 18 years old. Captured by the Nazis and transferred to Elba Island, he is obliged to do forced labour for a year and a half.
I started to run in the SS. Oltrarno, renound florentine society at the time.
My first race, in the category Under 23 , was in 1946. I retreated immediately. There was dust on those road, and it was not possible to see anything. My first serious races were in 1947. We left at night with our bikes to arrive at the departure, like that time of the race in Montevarchi. From Florence, with our net bag on shoulder, with shoes and jerseys inside, we arrived after 50 km in Montevarchi, where the race started. The same evening we refreshed ourselves at the town’s fountain, just a sandwich for dinner and then we came back home at midnight, by bicycle.” The narration is always more envolving. “How was the training at your time? – I ask him – what did a cyclist, an athlete, eat?” Pie with egg and spinach, stew, things cooked at home. I saw very few steaks.
During the training Gino used to bring a sandwich filled with spinach and omelette,
so did I too. At the Milano – Sanremo of 1950 me and Bartali had breakfat with tea, bread and butter, honey and biscuits. The others who ordered spaghetti and steak all stopped at half race. Because, as Gino said: “it is not today’s food that makes us run, but that of yesterday!”
At that Milano-Sanremo of 1950 it was cold. Leg warmers didn’t exist. The shoes, that Bartali’s team had made on measure by Colombini of Lucca, were so tight that the feet became cold immediately. Gino put on two wool jerseys at the departure, one on top of the other. We preferred to do so, instead of wearing a wind jacket. Then, warming up during the ride, Gino gave one of his jerseys to his team-mate Giannelli. Bruno keeps it under his own until the finishing line. The famous jersey was given by Giannelli to the Gino Bartali Cycling Museum.
As Bruno confirms, Bartali’s only living team-mate, my grandfather treated his team-mates with respect, differing himself from other famous cyclists. He did not have demands. He did not ask almost anything. If you brought him some water, of course he was thankful but he almost never drank. He threw it in his shoes or on his head. At that Milano – Sanremo of 1950, five team mates retired. In the final sprint together with the group, only Giannelli from Bartali’s team arrived, besides Gino. Bartali won the race but, as he used to do often, he left the prize for merit to the only team mate arrived at the finishing line. Giannelli, winning the big sum of 150 thousand Lire, finished to build his house.
“Bartali took me with him everywhere. Wherever we went it was a feast, everybody acclaimed us.”
At that time there was not great enthusiasm for soccer, but for cycling indeed! Journalists lived for cycling and nothing else. And to run with Bartali was a satisfaction. I write without stopping, Bruno continues the story:” We went out from the hotel with our own bicycles to arrive at the departure line, and the raving crowd shouted: Gino! Gino! And we suggested him to call the police because we couldn’t cross the streets. Someone touched his handlebar. Others the saddle. And Bartali let them acclaim him…he was confidential. Coppi was different, he often called the police.”
“Bartali has let me participate to many reunions on track, where we earned 25 thousand Lire at presence. During Giro d’Italia of 1952 Gino punctured in Saint Vincent. The arrival was in Aosta, at 30 km distance. Our concern was not to loose precious minutes in the ranking table. Today the assistance immediately provides for the replacement of the bicycle.
In Fifties you could lose the Giro for this trouble. Gino whispered in my ear: Giannelli, give me your bike! And so I gave it to him taking his bike, and changing the tubolar tyre spending three or four minutes.” With lucid memory Bruno goes over those years together with me. “I cannot forget Alfredo Martini’s words:
Giannelli bring Gino ahead, because if Coppi sees the yellow of his jersey he start to get nervous!
Pearls of wisdom, unpublished anecdotes that Bruno, genuine and self-confident man, shares with me. Even if many years have passed we cannot forget certain episods. Giannelli stops racing after 1953 and becomes a plumber, in favour of a more stable life economically. The major prizes were always in the hands of the same: Coppi, Magni…Bartali. We greet each other, and while he takes his bicycle, he confides to me the last secret:”My legs are not good anymore for walking, but at 92 years old I still go by bicycle, like when I was young, passing through the city.” No creams, diet and gymn. To remain young the winning remedy is the bicycle!