Compared to the primordial races, purely muscular exercises held in a single day, stage races introduced new and captivating narrative agents to cycling: tactics and cunning, versatility and long-distance. Without the commentators to educate and celebrate cycling at the same time, the big tours would never have come about. “The role of language is huge”, Roland Bathes wrote about the Tour de France. “Language gives the event, elusive since incessantly dissolved over a duration, the epic enhancement that helps solidify it”.
It is not surprising that, in some historical moments more than others, the powerful images of stage races reported to emotionally and intellectually move the followers of small and large newspapers perfectly met the narrative needs of the countries that were crossed. For example, the Italian need to rebuild and reunify in the post-war period was convincingly fuelled by the stories of Coppi and Bartali in the Giro d’Italia. The golden age of the Italian bicycle created a unique connection between cycling and the peninsular, between the sport invented by journalists before athletes and the country imagined by academics before sovereigns. “In Italy, the bicycle is truly a part of national artistic heritage, just like the Mona Lisa, St. Peter’s Basilica or the Divine Comedy”, wrote Curzio Malaparte. “It is surprising it was not invented by Botticelli, Michelangelo or Raffaello”.