Thursday, December 13, 2007
1961 World Championships
Bern-Bremgarten, Switzerland. September 3, 1961
Time: 7h 46m 35s
Average Speed: 35.861 km/hr
Conditions: Cloudy, September temps
71 riders started, 32 finished
1. Rik Van Looy (Belgium)
2. Nino Defilippis (Italy)
3. Raymond Poulidor (France)
There are very few items remaining from my father's youth. Over the years, most of his keepsakes were either tossed, lost, or left behind from his move to the U.S. from Argentina. Because very few cycling pieces remain, his cycling experiences are mostly confined to memory.
A few years ago while cleaning up, my father came across an envelope containing a few small things he had collected on a trip from Buenos Aries, Argentina to Bern, Switzerland to view the 1961 World Road Championships. The trip comprised of travel by ship, train, and car to meet up with his mentor and friend, Bruno Loatti. Bruno was an Italian track and road racer who had traveled to Argentina to participate in six-day races and road events. My father had served as Bruno's mechanic throughout his stay in South America.
In 1938, Bruno had won a silver medal in the Amateur World Championships in the Sprint event and had stayed involved for many years after, racing and eventually coaching.
Digging into this envelope was a special moment for me. As his son, it provided me with a glimpse into my father's life and, as a cyclist, it was a door into the past. My father and I sat and drank Stellas as we recalled his trip and the sights and sounds of the World's. As a guest of Bruno's, it meant that my father had an "all-access" pass that gave him access to the course, and because of Bruno's continued involvement and love for cycling, he was also treated to the hospitality of the PROs, the Italian, South American, and even the Belgian, riders. My dad recalls the enthusiasm in both the Italian and Belgian camps, excitement that one of their countrymen would finish the day in the rainbow stripes. He recalls Rik Van Looy's confidence and sitting with the Belgian team as they sipped tea at 11:00 p.m. at the local cafe, too jacked up on adrenalin to sleep. He smirked as he described the crowds laughing at the Japanese team's breakaway in the 20th KM of a 285 KM race.
My dad talked about the drive home from Bern to Milan where he and Bruno smoked tax-free cigarettes at elevation, making both of them lightheaded and dizzy. We chatted about how the Alfa station wagon labored to cross the Swiss passes, and even the Swiss World's team still on their machines passing the car on the descent as they rode back to the hotel.
It was obvious to me that my dad was enjoying telling the story as much as I was enjoying hearing it. Unfortunately, because most of my dad's cycling memorabilia has been lost, the people and places are just a memory. For this very reason, it makes the 1961 Worlds even more special for both of us.