The Man and His Machine
The Tour de France press room is nothing if not a daily hive of activity. Journalists from around the world race to assimilate the latest information and finish their stories in the heat of pressing deadlines. But amidst this flurry of activity, Italian Gianni Mura sits calmly behind his aging typewriter and reflects on the day. Mura’s weapon of choice is his beloved Olivetti Lettera 32, a small Italian typewriter from the 1960’s.
“You know when I started, the typewriter was the best way to write,” recounts 70-year-old Mura during a cigarette break. “I actually felt very avant-garde. I remember writers like Antoine Blondin were still writing by hand. Then one day computers arrived. But I never felt comfortable with computers. Still to this day, I can write about 30% faster with my typewriter.”
Words & images: James Startt
From: Rodez, France
Mura and his trusty Lettera 32 first started covering the sport of bicycle racing in 1965, when he worked for the Italian sports daily, Gazzetta dello Sport. As a result, when Mura speaks of, “back in the day,” he is speaking of the sport between 1965 to 1975, what he considers the golden age. “Back in the day I would talk with the riders in the hotel rooms. I would even interview great riders like Raymond Poulidor while he was taking his bath. He always put salt and vinegar in his bath because he believed it would help eliminate the toxins that built up. Fausto Coppi also did that. The difference was that Coppi and Poulor was that Coppi only used white vinegar, while Poulidor would use red vinegar.”
Thrilled with his first chance to cover the Tour in 1967, Mura finished heartbroken when his friend, British rider Tom Simpson, died on the upper slopes of the Mont Ventoux. “I was just devastated. Simpson was really funny, really extroverted. He loved to chat. I was just shocked. I’ll never forget. Felix Levitan (i.e. former director of the Tour de France) stood on a chair in a church, because he was short, and announced to us, ‘At 16h40 Tom Simpson died.’ Something changed that day. Before, drugs were mostly amphetamines and it was something people joked about. I remember some teammates of Eddy Merckx throwing some capsules into a fish tank just to watch how the fish reacted. We didn’t talk about it seriously. They didn’t understand the gravity. Drugs were not the only thing that caused Simpson’s death. There was also the heat and the accumulated fatigue. But something changed that day.”
Yet despite his heartbreak, Mura found the sport endlessly fascinating. “I understood that day that la comedie or la tragedie is always right around the corner in cycling. Mario Cipollini was a great comedian in his day and today Peter Sagan has that little grain of folly. That’s so important.”
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Mura left sports in the mid 1970’s to work for Epoca, an Italian weekly, but returned in the 1990’s as a reporter for the Italian daily, La Republicca. He calls his stories “a cocktail” of sport, culture and personal thoughts.
“There is a density in his writing,” says Philippe Brunel, the Italian cycling specialist at the French sports daily L’Equipe. “His writing is not always analytical, because he relies on his own sentiment. He comes from an old school of Italian journalism after WWII that really loved cycling and they were very sentimental. Today the Italian journalists don’t have that. They are much more analytical. He comes from the school where a journalist still left his imprint in each story.”
Today Mura regrets the lack of contact with the riders. “Without the shorts and jerseys, many cyclists today are more like bankers. It’s a shame because what always separated cyclists from football players was that they were so human. But that has changed.”
But even without the quotes, Mura can rely on his own memories as he mixes his daily “cocktail” of a story. “You know, I still love the Tour. It is my summer vacation. I take the month of July off each year for the Tour de France. For me it is like going on vacation. It’s work, sure, but even though I am 70, it is not tiring.”
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