Studied Nonchalance by Wiscot


Picture credit” “Coppi” by Herbie Sykes, Rouleur Books, 2012


The unveiling of a Grand Tour route is always an exciting event. We know what the general format will be: three weeks, two rest days, sprints, mountains, transition stages and (not enough) time trial kilometers. Past winners and contenders for the various classifications anxiously look at the parcours and assess their chances. Of course, it’s not unknown for a GT organizer to tweak the course to suit a particular rider . . .

One of the more curious things at such events is the sartorial choices of the invited riders. Young men as they are, they often sport a mix of the trendy and downright casual. I’m always somewhat amazed at the insouciance of some: no ties, jeans, t-shirts. Every time I see a route unveiling I think “really? it’s a big formal occasion and you thought that was appropriate?” (Mind you, I’m saying this as someone who still, voluntarily, wears ties to the office and gives as much due care and attention to what I wear off the bike as when I’m on the bike).

This whole issue has come to mind lately upon reading a biography of Fausto Coppi, one of the all-time greats of professional cycling and the first man to do the Giro-Tour double in the same year (1949 and again in 1952). Blessed with ridiculous cycling talent and silent movie star good looks, he was noted for the elegance of his riding style. On the bike his finest years were spent riding for Bianchi; black shoes, white socks, black shorts with maybe some lettering on the legs and that lovely celeste and white jersey. He was a pioneer in the wearing of sunglasses on – and off – the bike. He also dressed impeccably when not riding; truly a case of “gilding the lily.” Speaking of which, foreign languages often shame English with their ability to convey a lot of meaning in a single word. “Schadenfreude” is a German one that comes to mind. Another is “sprezzatura.” This single Italian word can translate as “studied nonchalance: graceful conduct or performance without apparent effort.” Sounds like it could have been coined with Coppi in mind.

Had there been big formal announcements of the Giro or Tour routes in Coppi’s day, you can rest assured he would have shown up “dressed to the nines.” The perfectly fitting suit, shirt, tie and shined shoes. The hair brilliantined to perfection. His appearance alone would have been worth a couple of minutes on GC.

This picture is, to me, the personification of “sprezzatura” – Coppi isn’t wearing a tie, but is casually perfect. The whole scene is enhanced by the expressions on the two policemen – mouth agape at the fact that a superstar has just walked by. They will get home from work to excitedly tell of “guess who I saw today?”  And those hearing the story will have instinctively known that they were in close proximity to “sprezzatura.” Ciao!

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