Italy remembers Fausto Coppi 50 years on
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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Italy remembers Fausto Coppi 50 years on

by Ben Atkins at 1:30 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 

On January 2nd 1960 Italian cycling legend Fausto Coppi, Il Campionissimo – the champion of champions – died of malaria at just 40-years-old. Coppi had recently returned from a hunting trip to the African country of Burkina Faso with some other professional riders – including five-time Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil and Raphael Geminiani – where he contracted the disease, but his condition was misdiagnosed on his return to Italy. Frenchman Geminiani also contracted the disease but was correctly diagnosed, treated, and made a full recovery.

Commemorations began this morning with a Mass in the town of Castellania, in Piemonte, the town of his birth, according to la Gazzetta dello Sport. Present at “Welcome Castellania” were Giro d’Italia chief Angelo Zomegnan, editor of BiciSport magazine Sergio Neri and RAI commentator, former professional rider Davide Cassani. Many former riders were honoured, including Coppi’s former gregari Sandrino Carrea and Franco Giacchero. Honorary Italian Cycling Federation President Alfredo Martini was also in attendance along with Andrea Bartali, the son of Coppi’s great rival Gino, along with a number of Italian cyclists of the past.

The ceremonies finished in front of the mausoleum of Fausto and his brother Serse – who died from head injuries after crashing in the final sprint of the 1951 Giro del Piemonte.

Coppi – also known as the heron because of his long legs and compact torso – won a great many races, including five Giros d’Italia, two Tours de France, five Giros di Lombardia, three Milano-Sanremos and the 1953 World Championships. The list of victories would likely have been far greater had his career not been interrupted by World War II. During the war he served in the Italian army in North Africa and was taken prisoner by the British; it was here that he might well have contracted malaria for the first time.

Coppi’s career was often defined by his great rivalry with the older Gino Bartali. Bartali – nicknamed “il Pio” (the pious one) – was a staunch Roman Catholic, whereas Coppi – had a very public affair with a married women known as the “Woman in White”. For many, the two riders represented the two sides of post-war Italian culture and their rivalry often divided society.

Coppi’s memory is marked each year by the Giro d’Italia, which awards the “Cima Coppi” prize at the top of the race’s highest climb.

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