The Italian Almanac

Fausto Coppi

Coppi and Bartali


Fausto Coppi (1919 - 1960)

Fausto Coppi was an Italian bicycle racer. Nicknamed Il Campionissimo ("champions of the champions"), he was one of the most successful and most popular cyclists of all time. He twice won the Tour de France (1949 and 1952), and five times the Giro d'Italia (1940, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953).

Fausto Coppi celebrated his first large success in 1940, winning the Giro d'Italia at the age of 21 years. In 1942 he set a new world hour record (45.871km) which held for fourteen years (broken by Jacques Anquetil in 1956). His promising career was then interrupted by the Second World War. In 1946 he resumed bicycle racing and in the following years achieved a series of remarkable successes which would be exceeded only by Eddy Merckx.

Twice, 1949 and 1952, Coppi achieved a "double" - wining the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in the same year. The "Campionissimo" totalled five victories in the Giro; together with Alfredo Binda and Eddy Merckx he holds the record. He took first place five times in the Tour of Lombardy, three times in Milan-San Remo, and once in Paris-Roubaix. In addition he was the 1953 World Road Champion.

Fausto Coppi's racing days are generally referred to as the beginning of the Golden Years of the Cycle Racing. An important factor for this is the competition Coppi had with the five years older Gino Bartali . When Bartali and Coppi, probably the greatest Italian cyclists of all time, met one another it was the most famous rivalry of cycle racing history and the enormous Italian fan base (tifosi) divided into camps of the "bar valleyists" and the "Coppists".

In addition, Coppi's career was shaped by strokes of fate: In 1951 his teammate and younger brother, Serse Coppi, fell in a sprint in the Tour de France. After returning to his hotel, Serse suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died. Fausto suffered countless bone fractures in the process of his career. In 1953 it became public that Coppi had left his wife, to live with Giulia Occhini, la Dama Bianca ("the lady in white"). In the Italy of the 1950s this was quite a scandal. Their love story was portrayed in the 1993 film "Il Grande Fausto". Coppi and his companion were condemned legally and morally. Coppi continued his career, however he could never match his old successes. Coppi may have also been the first cyclist to take drugs before a race. Taking amphetamines was not against cycling rules in Coppi's time, but as Morningside Recovery rehab counselors know cyclists could still suffer addiction and side effects.

At the end of 1959, while on a cycling and game hunting trip in the African Upper Volta (now known as Burkina Faso), Coppi caught malaria. When the illness broke out, after his return to Italy, it was not recognized in time for effective treatment. Coppi died at the age of 40 years.

Although the success list of Eddy Merckx is without a doubt longer than Coppi's, many experts call Fausto Coppi the greatest cyclist of all times. To this day, the Giro remembers Coppi as it goes through the mountain stages. A special mountain bonus, called the Cima Coppi, is awarded to the first rider who reaches the Giro's highest summit.