|Thursday, 20 August 2009 14:50|
Angelo Fausto Coppi
Born: 15 September 1919, Castellania, Italy,
Died: 2 January 1960, Tortona, Italy
Cause of death: Malaria complications.
Notable because: Dominant cyclist of his era - user of performance enhancing drugs before they were illegal. Voted by Italians as 2nd greatest Italian athlete of 20th Century.
Fausto Coppi was the dominant international cyclist of the years each side of the second world war. His successes earned him the title Il Campionissimo, or champion of champions. He was an all-around racing cyclist, he was the best in both climbing and time trialing, and was also a great sprinter. He won five times the Giro d'Italia (1940, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953), twice the Tour de France (1949 and 1952), the World Championship in 1953, the Giro di Lombardia in 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1954, the Milan-Sanremo in 1946, 1948 and 1949, the Paris-Roubaix and the La Flèche Wallonne in 1950 and set the hour record (45.798 km) in 1942.
Coppi was one of five children born to Domenico Coppi and his wife, Angiolina Boveri. They married on 29 July 1914. Fausto was the fourth child, born at 5pm on 15 September 1919. His mother wanted to call him Angelo, his father preferred Fausto. He was named Angelo Fausto but was known most of his life as Fausto.
Coppi had poor health as a child and showed little interest in school. In 1927 he was condemned to write "I ought to be at school, not riding my bicycle" after skipping lessons to spend the day riding a family bike he had found in a cellar, rusty and without brake blocks. He left school at 13 to work for Domenico Merlani, a butcher in Novi Ligure more widely known as Signor Ettore.
Cycling to and from the shop and meeting cyclists who came there interested him in racing. The money to buy a bike came from his uncle, also called Fausto Coppi, and his father. Coppi said:
He rode his first race at 15, among other boys not attached to cycling clubs, and won 20 lira and a salami sandwich for first prize. Coppi took a racing licence at the start of 1938 and won his first race, at Castelleto d'Orba, near the butcher's shop. He won alone, winning an alarm clock.
A regular caller at the butcher's shop in Novi Ligure was a former boxer who had become a masseur, a job he could do after losing his sight, in 1938. Giuseppe Cavanna was known to friends as Biagio. Coppi met him that year, recommended by another of Cavanna's riders. Cavanna suggested in 1939 that Coppi should become an independent, a class of semi-professionals who could ride against both amateurs and professionals. He sent him to the Tour of Tuscany that April with the advice: "Follow Gino Bartali!" He was forced to stop with a broken wheel. But at Varzi on 7 May 1939 he won one of the races counting to the season-long national independent championship. He finished seven minutes clear of the field and won his next race by six minutes.
Raphaël Géminiani said of Coppi's domination:
His first large success was in 1940, winning the Giro d'Italia at the age of 20. In 1942 he set a world hour record (45.798 km at the Velodromo Vigorelli in Milan) which stood for 14 years until it was broken by Jacques Anquetil in 1956. His career was then interrupted by the Second World War. In 1946 he resumed racing and achieved remarkable successes which would be exceeded only by Eddy Merckx. The veteran writer Pierre Chany said that from 1946 to 1954 Coppi was never once recaught once he had broken away from the rest.
Twice, 1949 and 1952, Coppi won the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in the same year, the first to do so. He won the Giro five times, a record shared with Alfredo Binda and Eddy Merckx. During 1949's Giro he left Gino Bartali by 11 minutes between Cuneo and Pinerolo. Coppi won the 1949 Tour de France by almost half an hour over everyone except Bartali. From the start of the mountains in the Pyrenees to their end in the Alps, Coppi took back the 55 minutes by which Jacques Marinelli led him.
He won the Giro di Lombardia a record five times (1946, 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1954). He won Milan-San Remo three times (1946, 1948 and 1949). In the 1946 Milan-San Remo he attacked with nine others, five kilometres into a race of 292 km. He dropped the rest on the Turchino climb and won by 14 minutes. He also won Paris-Roubaix and La Flèche Wallonne (1950). He was also 1953 world road champion.
In 1952 Coppi won on the Alpe d'Huez, which had been included for the first time that year. He attacked six kilometres from the summit to rid himself of the French rider, Jean Robic. Coppi said: "I knew he was no longer there when I couldn't hear his breathing any more or the sound of his tyres on the road behind me." He rode like "a Martian on a bicycle", said Raphaël Géminiani. "I saw a phenomenal rider that day." Coppi won the Tour by 28m 27s and the organiser, Jacques Goddet, had to double the prizes for lower placings to keep other riders interested. It was his last Tour, having ridden three and won two.
Bill McGann wrote:
Coppi broke the world hour record on the track in Milan on 7 November 1942. He rode a gear of 52 x 15 pedalling an average 103.3rpm. The bike is on display in the chapel of Madonna del Ghisallo near Como, Italy. His times were:
Coppi beat Maurice Archambaud's 45.767 km, set five years earlier on the same track. The record stood until it was beaten by Jacques Anquetil in 1956.
Coppi's racing days are generally referred to as the beginning of the golden years of cycle racing. A factor is the competition Coppi had with Gino Bartali. Italian fans (tifosi) divided into coppiani and bartaliani. Bartali's rivalry with Coppi divided Italy. Bartali, conservative, religious, was venerated in the rural, agrarian south, while Coppi, more worldly, secular, innovative in diet and training, was hero of the industrial north. The writer Curzio Malaparte said:
Their lives came together on 7 January 1940 when Eberardo Pavesi, head of the Legano team, took on Coppi to ride for Bartali. Their rivalry started when Coppi, the helding hand, won the Giro and Bartali, the star, marshalled the team to chase By the 1949 world championship at Valkenburg (South Holland), The Netherlands, both climbed off rather than help the other. The Italian cycling association said: "They have forgotten to honour the Italian prestige they represent. Thinking only of their personal rivalry, they abandoned the race, to the approbation of all sportsmen." They were suspended for three months.
The thaw partly broke when the pair shared a bottle on the Col d'Izoard in the 1952 Tour but the two fell out over who had offered it. "I did," Bartali insisted. "He never gave me anything." Their rivalry was the subject of intense coverage and resulted in epic races.
Coppi joined the army as soldier 7375 of the 38th Infantry when Italy entered the second world war. Officers favoured him at first to keep him riding his bike but in March 1943 they sent him to North Africa. There he was taken prisoner by the British between Mateur and Medjez-el-Bab on 13 April. He was kept in a prisoner of war camp, where he shared plates with the father of Claudio Chiappucci, who rode the Tour in the 1990s. He was given odd jobs to do. The British cyclist Len Levesley said he was astonished to find Coppi giving him a haircut. Levesley, who was on a stretcher with polio, said:
The British moved Coppi to an RAF base at Caserta in Italy in 1945. There he worked for an officer who had never heard of him. Coppi was allowed liberal terms, the war being as good as over. On release he cycled and hitched lifts home. On Sunday 8 July 1945 he won the Circuit of the Aces in Milan after four years without racing. The following season he won Milan-San Remo.
Coppi was often said to have introduced "modern" methods to cycling, particularly his diet. Gino Bartali established that some of those methods included taking drugs, which were not then against the rules.
Bartali and Coppi appeared on television revues and sang together, Bartali singing about "The drugs you used to take" as he looked at Coppi. Coppi spoke of the subject in a television interview:
Coppi "set the pace" in drug-taking, said his contemporary, the Dutchman, Wim van Est. Rik van Steenbergen said Coppi was "the first I knew who took drugs." That didn't stop Coppi's protesting against others using it. He told René de Latour:
Coppi named four riders among the best in the world as amateurs but who failed as professionals despite predictions made for them. "If they sue me for defamation," he said, "all the better. The facts will be brought to light and this may mean a change in our methods."
Coppi broke bones throughout his career.
The Woman in White was Giulia Occhini, described by the French broadcaster Jean-Paul Ollivier as "strikingly beautiful with thick chestnut hair divided into enormous plaits." She was married to an army captain, Enrico Locatelli. Coppi was married to Bruna Ciampolini. Locatelli was a cycling fan. His wife wasn't but she joined him on 8 August 1948 to see the Tre Valli Varesine race. Their car was caught beside Coppi's in a traffic jam. That evening Occhini went to Coppi's hotel and asked for a photograph. He wrote "With friendship to...", asked her name and then added it. From then on the two spent more and more time together.
Italy was a straight-laced country in which adultery was thought of poorly. In 1954, Luigi Boccaccini of La Stampa saw her waiting for Coppi at the end of a race in St-Moritz. She and Coppi hugged and La Stampa printed a picture in which she was described as la dama in bianco di Fausto Coppi - the "woman in white".
It took only a while to find out who she was. She and Coppi moved in together but so great was the scandal that the landlord of their apartment in Tortona demanded they move out. Reporters pursued them to a hotel in Casteletto d'Orba and again they moved, buying the Villa Carla, a house near Novi Ligure. There police raided them at night to see if they were sharing a bed. Pope Pius XII asked Coppi to return to his wife. He refused to bless the Giro d'Italia when Coppi rode it. The Pope then went through the Italian cycling federation. Its president, Bartolo Paschetta, wrote on 8 July 1954:
Bruna Ciampolini refused a divorce. To end a marriage was shameful and still illegal in some parts of the country. Coppi was shunned and spectators spat at him. He and Giulia Occhini had a son, Faustino.
Coppi's career declined after the scandal. He had already been hit in 1951 by the death of his younger brother, Serse Coppi who crashed in a sprint in the Giro del Piemonte and died of a cerebral haemorrhage. Coppi could never match his old successes. Pierre Chany said he was first to be dropped each day in the Tour of Spain in 1959. Criterium organisers frequently cut their races to 45 km to be certain that Coppi could finish, he said. "Physically, he wouldn't have been able to ride even 10km further. He charged himself [took drugs] before every race." Coppi, said Chany, was "a magnificent and grotesque washout of a man, ironical towards himself; nothing except the warmth of simple friendship could penetrate his melancholia. But I'm talking of the end of his career. The last year! In 1959! I'm not talking about the great era. In 1959, he wasn't a racing cyclist any more. He was just clinging on [il tentait de sauver les meubles]"
Jacques Goddet wrote in an appreciation of Coppi's career in L'Équipe: We would like to have cried out to him ' Stop!' And as nobody dared to, destiny took care of it."
In December 1959, the president of Burkina Faso, Maurice Yaméogo, invited Coppi, Raphaël Géminiani, Jacques Anquetil, Louison Bobet, Roger Hassenforder and Henry Anglade to ride against local riders and then go hunting. Géminiani remembered:
Both caught malaria and fell ill when they got home. Géminiani said:
Geminiani was diagnosed as having plasmodium falciparum, the fatal form of malaria. Géminiani recovered but Coppi died, his doctors convinced he had a bronchial complaint. La Gazzetta dello Sport, the Italian daily sports paper, published a Coppi supplement. The editor wrote that he prayed that God would soon send another Coppi.
In January 2002 a man identified only as Giovanni, who lived in Burkina Faso until 1964, said Coppi died not of malaria but died of an overdose of cocaine. The newspaper Corriere dello Sport said Giovanni had his information from Angelo Bonazzi. Giovanni said: "It is Angelo who told me that Coppi had been killed. I was a supporter of Coppi, and you can imagine my state when he told me that Coppi had been poisoned in Fada Gourma, at the time of a reception organised by the head of the village. Angelo also told me that [Raphael] Géminiani was also present… Fausto's plate fell, they replaced it, and then…"
The story has also been attributed to a 75-year-old Benedictine monk called Brother Adrien. He told Mino Caudullo of the Italian National Olympic Committee: "Coppi was killed with a potion mixed with grass. Here in Burkina Faso this awful phenomenon happens. People are still being killed like that." Coppi's doctor, Ettore Allegri, dismissed the story as "absolute drivel."
A court in Tortona opened an investigation and asked toxicologists about exhuming Coppi's body to look for poison. A year later, without exhumation, the case was dismissed.
The Giro remembers Coppi as it goes through the mountain stages. A mountain bonus, called the Cima Coppi, is awarded to the first rider who reaches the Giro's highest summit. In 1999, Coppi placed second in balloting for greatest Italian athlete of the 20th century.
|Last Updated on Friday, 04 June 2010 09:15|