Francesco and Giuseppe, Franz and Beppe, Moser and Saronni. Two different things, opposites, contraries, antithetical, antagonistic, complementary. Two rivals, adversaries, nemeses, a pair that you couldn’t find if you were looking for them, a duo that you couldn’t even make up.
Francesco Moser: In 1980 I won Paris-Roubaix for the third consecutive time, which was special.
Giuseppe Saronni: The journalists asked me what I thought. I replied that Paris-Roubaix was a cyclo-cross race that should be abolished.
Moser: Such a thing had never been said. It was pandemonium.
Saronni: But two days after, I won the Flèche Wallonne.
Moser: Here it is, the dualism.
Saronni: The peak probably came at the 1981 Tirreno-Adriatico. Hinault attacked, we caught him and left him behind, then faced one another in the final sprint. It was no use: I was first, Moser second.
Moser: The day after, he declared that he was aiming for Milan-Sanremo. So I attacked and at the last moment, Saronni sprang from nowhere, won again and said: ‘Moser? I can beat him in slippers.’
Saronni: I said tennis shoes, not slippers.
Moser: By that stage, it was war. At the Italian Championships in Compiano, Saronni cut across the road. I said: ‘Go easy, you’ll make me crash.’
Saronni: I replied: ‘If you don’t know how to handle a bike…’
Moser: That sentence wound me up like a spring.
Saronni: I paid dearly for that remark. Moser won.
Moser: Sometimes I wondered if it was worth insulting each other like that. I used to think that the next day, when I had to return to the bunch and race.
Saronni: In those years, I remember the crowd on the streets. We pedalled and felt what the other one was saying.
Moser: The other riders complained: ‘The newspapers only write about you two. Something about us would be nice.’
Saronni: The season began with cyclo-cross and the Six-Day of Milan, then continued from Laigueglia to Lombardy. Ten months against one another. Armed. With pedals and words.
Moser: Rivalry only exists if the two opponents are up to it, in short, if in addition to the words, they’re both even stronger pedalling.
Rouleur: And the journalists?
Saronni: Sometimes journalists actually wrote less than they could have, but still, they’ve written so much. Beppe Conti would come to me: ‘Do you know what he said about you?’ And I’d take the bait and answer in kind.
Moser: They were always writing about us, however and wherever. At one Tirreno-Adriatico, the stage began with a ten-minute delay because of a protest from the peloton – the press were writing about us even when someone else won.
Saronni: Beppe Conti was for Moser, Angelo Zomegnan was for me.
Moser: Even the photographers were divided.
Saronni: There were those for me and those for Moser. Those for me refused to photograph Moser, and those for him wouldn’t photograph me. They’d rather take pictures of the sky or pretend that they missed the click.
As for the fans?
Saronni: The fans were lined up. Here or there.
Moser: Either for Moser or Saronni. There were a few who cheered for Gianbattista Baronchelli or Pierino Gavazzi, but they were in the minority.
Saronni: They sang outside the hotel.
Moser: Signs, banners, graffiti on the walls.
Saronni: There was abuse too.
Moser: Abroad, they said that our rivalry was provincial.
Saronni: But at that time the greatest cycling was Italian.
Moser: Ours was a true rivalry, sincere, authentic, not studied, not created, not artificial. We were too different in origin, character, style. And people took sides. We were not able to become friends, even when we retired.
Thanks to Colin O’Brien for translation. This is an edited extract from Moser v Saronni, which appeared in issue 54 of Rouleur, published in April 2015.