“Thirty seconds at the Turchino!” In sports cafés and balancing on windowsills to bring the news to those in the street below, radio sets blared out Coppi’s lead over the Frenchman Teisseire in the Milano-Sanremo. Thirty seconds had stretched into five minutes at the Voltri crossing.
It was a hot March day in 1946. Italy longed for excitement and beauty to banish the lingering bitter aftertaste of war. The roar from the crowd that went up on either side of the ancient Via Aurelia seemed to add greater speed to his incredible sprint. In Varazze his lead had grown to eight minutes from the rest of the pack. All the streets and squares on the Riviera were packed. Gassosa poured like water from the quaint bottle valves. And the radio commentary hammered away. At Caffè Piccardo in Piazza Dante, one of the few wirelesses in Imperia-Oneglia was listened to in hushed silence. “He’s here! Coppi’s here!”, shouted someone at the door. “Ten minutes ahead of the rest!” said the radio commentator in triumph. Coppi slowed down, almost stopping his Bianchi, and someone took a cup of coffee from the bar and rushed out with it. He smiled, drank, and off he went again. Some say he actually stopped and got off his bicycle, went in, enjoyed his coffee at the bar, and then went flying off to victory. He won that Milano-Sanremo with a lead of a full fourteen minutes, and indeed the radio announced: “The winner is Coppi Fausto: as we wait to see who’ll come second, here’s some ballroom-dancing music.”
This is the legend as it is told at the historic café in Oneglia. But they also tell the story about the slap across the face of a young, rather ardent elementary-school teacher. It was dealt by the beautiful proprietor in 1908 after he had made a compliment that was possibly a bit too bold. The face was that of Benito Mussolini. (by Claudio Guagnini
In the photos: the Caffè in 1905, shortly before it was opened, when it was still known as “Ideal Bar”, and in 1915 when it was known as “Splendid Bar”; the founder, Giacomo Piccardo, with his wife Teresa.