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Francesco Moser’s Proust Questionnaire

Interview and images by James Startt

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They called him The Sheriff, and Italy’s Francesco Moser was nothing less than a giant in the sport. For years his Italian sponsors were little interested in sending their star rider to the Tour de France. But Moser forged an international reputation, nonetheless, winning 155 races on the road—seventh on the all-time win list—before retiring in 1988.

There were, of course, his three consecutive Paris–Roubaix victories in 1978, 1979 and 1980. And any cycling fan who has watched the legendary film by Jørgen Leth, “A Sunday in Hell,” will never forget the scene where Moser powers past Frenchman Raymond Poulidor on one of the crucial cobble sections—for all his brute force, Moser virtually floats over the cobbles with beguiling grace. And then there was his memorable world hour record in 1984, when he destroyed Eddy Merckx’s record of 49.431 kilometers—which many thought unbeatable—on what was considered at the time, a futuristic bicycle, with a sloping top tube and two disc wheels.

But really, it was in his native Giro d’Italia, where he built the foundation of his legend, winning 23 stages and wearing the pink leader’s jersey for a total of 50 days before finally winning the race in 1984. Today, Moser oversees his sprawling vineyard in the hills above Trento in northern Italy. And he is still a familiar face at the Giro every year as he serves as one of the race’s ambassadors, riding often with guests on parts of the daily stages. So, with this year’s Giro d’Italia on the horizon, Peloton thought it fitting to finally give Moser the Proust Questionnaire.

What is the virtue that you appreciate the most in someone? 

Sincerity.

What is your strongest characteristic? 

I would say instinct. Be it on the bike or off the bike, I have always done a lot of things out of instinct.

What do you appreciate the most in a friend? 

Good company first and foremost. To be able to travel with someone, ride bikes and enjoy a good restaurant together, those are the things I enjoy the most in my friendships. Every year, I go with friends on a trip for several weeks. We would leave in January and return in February. But when we returned last year we went pretty much straight into lockdown and we haven’t moved since.

What is your greatest fault? 

On a bike, it was the sprint against Gerrie Knetemann in the 1978 world championships. I launched the sprint from too far out. That was just a huge mistake. And then off the bike my biggest fault would be that I say everything I think. Too often in life I have said something that gets misinterpreted. This is something that happened a lot with the press, where something I said got taken out of context. Sometimes it would have just been better to hold it in, but I say what I think.

What is your favorite occupation? 

Well, the bike changed my life. But I was born a farmer and I am one again today with my vineyards. I built this all up from virtually nothing. What you see here today did not exist before. That said, if I could have done anything. If I wasn’t a cyclist, well, I would love to have been a downhill skier. I love skiing. I skied a lot, but never for competition.

james startt
james startt

“I WORE THE MAGLIA ROSA 50 DAYS. ONLY EDDY MERCKX AND ALFREDO BINDA WORE THE PINK JERSEY MORE.”What is your idea of happiness? 

Life is full of moments of joy and sadness, but what is important in life is the ability to always know how to find joy, to return to happiness.

What is your idea of misery? 

Well, I grew up in real poverty. I know what that is like. We were peasants. Our house had no heating and until I was 10 years old we had to go out to the fountain to get water. We lived in a little mountain village. We worked the fields with a horse and worked a lot with our hands. We worked and we ate and that was it. We had virtually nothing. I don’t know if that was real misery. We had enough to eat, but that was pretty much it.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? 

Oh, I would say Sicily. I just love it there. I have gone many times over the years. I raced there plenty, but I have returned on vacation many times. The climate is great, and we are always right between the sea and the mountains. It’s pretty hard to beat.

What person in history to you admire the most? 

Oh, that is hard to answer. There are just so many amazing people. On a bike, that would have been Bernard Hinault. He was just such an amazing rider. What a fierce rival he was! And in all of history, well, I have always been fascinated with Napoleon. I don’t know if it is because he passed by here in the valley, but I have a real fascination for him. For a long time when I covered the Giro I had a driver that just knew everything about Napoleon, and we could spend hours in the car talking about him. It was fascinating.

On what occasion do you lie? 

Oh, another hard question. I don’t know, but I can tell you that when you are racing bikes you have to be able to lie a little. If you show everybody that you are the strongest, it is easy to lose. You cannot give away the fact that you are strong. You have to be able to hide it a bit and pretend like you are maybe not so good. But you have to know when to do it. You have to pick and choose your moments. If you always pretend you are hurting when you are good, well, the others will pick up on it.

What is your greatest achievement? 

To have won the Giro d’Italia. I wore the maglia rosa 50 days. Only Eddy Merckx and Alfredo Binda wore the pink jersey more. I finished second three times. But winning was difficult since I always struggled a bit in the mountains. So, to have finally won it in 1984, that was really something.

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