Where are the Fascists?
As I zip past the finish line, I look to one side, and then the other.
Where are the Fascists? There is always some Fascist official at the finish line.
I turn around to see the other racers. They have started coming in behind me.
Yes! at least two minutes ahead of the next fastest guy. Thank god Coppi is not an amateur any longer.
Francesci rides up to where I’m dismounting my bike. He looks disoriented as well. His Fascist insignia resting next to his number on his racing jersey, just as mine sits next to my number like a cancerous mole on an otherwise unblemished face..
The crowd cheers for us as we head up to the winners' circle, where a podium is set up.
“Where are the Fascists to greet us?” Francesci asks.
“I was thinking the same thing. They are always here!” I reply.
Third place, Mestini, comes in; a bewildered look on his face reveals the same confusion Francesci and I expressed.
“Where have all the Fascists gone?” He asks as he climbs to join us on the podium.
The crowd is cheering, “Urra, Urra, Urra, we’re free, Urra!”
Distracted, I don’t answer Mestini’s question. Francesci replies, “I don't recall seeing any Fascists since around 22.”
That seems about right, since I was already a kilometer ahead around that time.
As more racers approach the finish line, the towns people gather around them, tugging at their jerseys, pulling off the Fascists insignias.
“Take off the Fasci!” a distinguished civilian in a smart suit with well-groomed hair near the podium says to me before turning to say the same to Francesci and Mestini.
Why? Isn't it required to wear this for a national competition?
Francesci calls back, “What? What is going on?”
Men, women, children are all in the square, mad with joy. Smiles on their faces and cheers from their mouths overwhelm my fatigued mind.
“Take off the Fasci! Take off the Fasci! Mussolini is gone!” they yell toward the increasing collection of tired racers finishing the course.
“He’s gone? Where did he go?” I demand of the fellow near the podium.
The fellow approaches me, pulling at the Fascist insignia. “He and the rest of the Fascists have been kicked out. We have a new government after all these years! You no longer have to wear these ridiculous things to race.”
Everyone cheers, “Urra, Urra, Urra!”
Mussolini is gone. Who will lead us now?
The man keeps tugging at my shirt. “Take this off, you want to take this off now!”
Of course! No more Fascists. No more Fascist insignias!
I start removing my shirt just as Mestini asks, “Who will officiate the race?”
“We saw who won, don’t worry.” The man replies above the cheering crowd.
“Urra, we’re free of Mussolini!”
He’s been Il Duce my whole life. What will happen now? What happens is, we’re now free!
“Urra!” I scream out in unison with the crowd.
I always feel great after a race, but this is far better. Maybe the war is over. Maybe we can have food again. Maybe our army can come home.
“Urra, Urra, Urra!” the growing mass of humanity yells in unison.
All the fascist insignias are thrown to the ground. A pale spot now appears on each and every jersey where the insignias once were. Fascist flags are pulled down as well, all thrown to the street.
It’s a new day for Italy! A new day for us all!
Francesci shouts out above the din of the crowd “Can we write down the rankings of the race, just to make sure we capture the order?”
“Of course, of course! It’s a new day, but cycling does go on!” the man calls back.
News about the overthrow of Mussolini did not reach all Italians at the same time. Some were participating in the national cycling championship for amateurs, which wound its way through the Italian countryside on July 25, 1943 when the news began spreading throughout the country. After a full-day of riding, the cyclists began arriving at the finish line, only to find no officials there to greet them. At all previous races Fascist officials, who controlled all sports in Italy, would meet the winning cyclists, announce the prize takers for the event, and give some speech about how sport makes society warlike (which in their view was a good thing.) On this day, Ubaldo Pugnaloni, won the race while wearing the requisite Fascist insignia on his jersey. When Pugnaloni went to the winner’s podium to receive his prize, he was surprised to find not a single Fascist official left to present him his award. After realizing what had transpired during the race, he quickly ripped off the Fascist insignia and joined the festivities.