Again on sports and World War One: the Italian cyclist Carlo Oriani

Carlo Oriani (1888-1917)
Few weeks ago the organizers of the "Tour de France" officially announced that the cycling race next year will pay tribute to the outbreak of the World War One and to its victims, passing through the scene of some of the most ferocious fighting at the Western Front. Stage are planned among other in Ypres, Arras, Verdun and Douaumont. We wonder if a similar initiative will be adopted also by the organizers of the "Giro d'Italia", as some rumors seem to indicate. However we won’t talk about the Centenary and the cycling races today, we rather turn back to the Great War and its protagonists to tell you a story of a man which discloses another way to connect sport and WWI. 

Many of the cyclers who took part to the Tour de France or to the Giro d'Italia before WWI were later involved actively in the conflict. Among them, also Carlo Oriani. Born in a small village near Milan in 1888, he took part to the most important Italian cycling race from its first edition – where he had the fifth place, with the Stucchi team – then won the Giro d’Italia in 1913. When Italy entered the war in May 1915, bicycle sections were immediately formed within many of the army units in order to transport men and supplies to and across the front. Moreover, bikes allowed for quick and silent movement behind the lines and supported communications, becoming so crucial. Also Carlo Oriani was enlisted as bersagliere ciclista and served the army till the rout of Caporetto in 1917. The historical sources are lacking, so we can report only legends or oral accounts. It seems, however, that Oriani reached the river Piave during the chaotic retreat and – according to some reports, trying to help a comrade, according to others simply swimming across the river – he contracted pneumonia. The young man never recovered and died in an hospital of south Italy in December of the same year. You can see in the photo Carlo Oriani in uniform during the WWI.