Lombardy Retro: Complete confusion was on my face as Alessandro handed me an old newspaper and told me it was a gift. On closer inspection I realized I was holding the official 1952 Giro di Lombardia program – in excellent condition! Once I got over the shock that such a treasure still existed, I couldn’t wait to share it with PEZ fans…

The cover of the 1952 Giro di Lombardia program shows Fausto Coppi leading Luisano Bobbet over Madonna di Guisalo in the 1951 race.

The 1952 Giro d’Lombardy Race Program is an amazing 32-page snapshot of the racing scene from over half a century ago, packed with racing information from Italy’s famous daily sports newspaper – La Gazzetta dello Sport. Of course, it’s in Italian – and that makes it even cooler. The price was 0.50 lire – probably about 25 cents at the time.

One thing that struck me was the sheer number of man-hours it must have taken to produce such a document – in a time before computers and digital presses. Everything had to be typed by hand, ad illustrations were sketches or illustrations by hand, color inks were limited, expensive and difficult to use, so most of this publication is good old black and white.

The legendary Fausto Coppi was the man of the day, unbeaten everywhere – he had already won the 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 Luisana Bobet battling it out at the top of the Madonna del Gizalo climb. Coppi had been first on the decisive climb in all his previous victories, but in 1952 finished 3rd behind Bobbett and Minardi.


The main point – and defining obstacle – in the race is the climb from Belaggio to the church of Madonna di Giza. This 1923 photo shows a small gap that climbs up to Madonna del Gizalo on a dirt road. Now that climb is a bee, but then it was a snack.


The program’s limited use of color reminds us how far news printing has come. The center spread features several full-color photos, as well as this Corsa of the Year map. The race started and finished in Milan, and the final was held at the velodrome in the city. Remember – some artist illustrated it by hand.


Weather often plays an important role in the race, although moving the 2012 date to October slightly reduces the chance of rain. In 1928 (below) there was so much rain that it flooded parts of the Corsa, forcing riders to sit on makeshift pavements.



In the 1930s (circa) edition, before switches were invented, riders had to stop and turn the rear wheel to engage the climbing gear. The great Alfredo Bindo is here in the center, he won the Lombardy 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 44 starters. Obviously the established press had some competition from the upstart upstart, which was no doubt very cool.


You can’t have a race in Italy without some winners. Even in 1952, the Italians were the best dressed – (right): Bindo, Guerra, Girardenga and Belloni – scoring 11 victories between them. They all reportedly agreed that “Distrazione del Giorni,” published by Gazzetta dello Pez, was their favorite part of the day.


You also don’t want to miss the classic ads that grace the pages of this app. Nothing defines a period in modern history like advertising, and judging by the popular ad categories here, the typical racing fan liked their watches, clothes, power tools, motorcycles and a bit of Romazzoti to tide them over after a hard day at the office.


Based on the big 1/4 page ad, the Gaggia espresso guys were big fans of racing… back in the day.


How many professionals don a fine Italian leather coat after crossing the finish line? Fausto Coppi did so after winning the 1947 edition.

Lombardy 1952-times-920

And you can’t have a race without time records – the 5 fastest times to climb Madonna del Giza (to date) are shown above.

Certainly, the history of our sport gives it a dimension that most other sports can only dream of. Another page of that history will be written this Sunday, and you can bet that 50 years from now, a bunch of new cycling fans – most of them not even born – will look back on this year’s edition with the same awe that we remember 1952.

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