Fiorenzo Magni, Lion of Flanders
In the seasonal calendar, the Tour of Flanders, at the beginning of April, is the first of the Northern Classics, even though it started in 1913, a little bit later than the other “monumental races”. Thanks to the passion of a journalist and the interest of his local newspaper, the Ronde van Vlaanderen came about, distinguishing itself by its narrow roads and stone walls. This is a special, atypical race, suitable for speed and fatigue, it was initially almost exclusively won by Belgian riders. Only in 1923, Swiss rider Henri Suter interrupted the local dominance and up until 1948, Dutch cyclist Bogaert (second in 1931 right after Gyssels) and French riders F. Pellissier (third in ’22) and Thietard (second in ’46 behind Van Steembergen) were the only foreigners to make the podium of the only race that was held every year, even during the Second World War.
And what dominance! This was a Flemish race designed especially for the Flemish way of cycling.
But in 1949, Fiorenzo Magni appeared on the scene; here in Italy he was number Three, squeezed out by the rivalry between Bartali and Coppi. He attempted Flanders in 1948 but it didn’t go well for him; his frame broke and took him out of the race. In ’49 "Wilier" wouldn’t support him: "If you want to go, you’ll have to go at your own expense". Magni took his faithful companion Tino Ausenda with him and they got a train from Milan to Gand. They happened upon a hotel that was owned by someone who had ridden Flanders and they were treated very well. "Impossible roads, with a very high risk of puncturing or falling. As well as that – Fiorenzo recalls – we didn’t have anyone to feed us or give us mechanical assistance. I showed up at the start line with my jersey full of sandwiches and water bottles. A friend of the hotelier promised that he would give me a bottle of hot, sweet tea 80 km from the finish line".
What about the race? "I got off to a great start but it wasn’t easy to stay in front with 225 riders on the road. Halfway through, I was in front with a small bunch; then I attacked on a stretch of cobblestones and was out on my own. The wooden rims and heavy tyres helped me a lot; 15 km from the finish, a group of about fifteen riders caught up with me but I didn’t lose heart as I studied the best way to win in the final sprint. The last stretch, in Watteren, was cobbled and slightly uphill: with 47x15, while the others started to abandon the race, I managed to come back. The prizes in Belgium were really fantastic – commented Magni – we came back to Italy, myself and Ausenda, with 600 thousand lire each in our pockets".
Magni was able to repeat his victory in 1950 and ’51, and, still today, he is the only one to have won three Flanders in a row.