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Fausto Coppi was a sporting hero unlike any others. He raced bicycles at a time when excelling at your sport was only part of your life. Unlike today’s lab-rat cosseted sports stars he lived up to the legend.
Born in 1919 in Northern Italy, Coppi’s early life was unremarkable. He began his cycling career in his teens as something to do at the weekends and scaled the heights quickly winning a salami sandwich and an alarm clock.
Realising this was his ticket to success he went on to win most of cycling’s biggest prizes including: 4 times Italian champion, One win at Paris – Roubaix, 5 times winner of the Giro Lombardia, World Champion, twice winner of Tour de France and five victories in the Giro d”Italia. In 1949 Coppi won the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, a feat which had been thought impossible. It was remarked “Bartali (his main rival) has blood in his veins, Coppi has petrol”.
How many athletes could have been so physically unique? He could not have done anything other than cycle. Coppi’s rib cage was visibly huge, containing a massive heart, and sitting above powerful legs. Beneath this musculature lay a weak and brittle skeleton, a fact that was attirbuted to childhood malnutrition. He also had a sensitive stomach and picked up numerous illnesses during his career.
That’s all very exciting to a cycling fan, but it was what he got up to off the bike that is most interesting.
Coppi’s career was put on ice between 1942 and 1946 when he fought with the Italian Army in North Africa. He was taken prisoner by the British but was back to his winning ways months after release.
Coppi was an unrepentant drug user – why repent? Performance enhancers were not banned. In fact, his great rival Bartali, used to enter Coppi’s hotel room to find evidence of which enhancers he was using and, armed with this information, predict where the racing attacks would come the following day.
In response to questions on his amphetamine use he answered: “(I take them) whenever it is neccessary… almost all the time.”
Coppi gained his greatest fan when a cycling enthusiast army captain brought his wife to a race. She got his signature that night in his hotel. Soon she was photographed at races with him. The press found out who she was – she and Coppi left their spouses and moved in together.
Italy was in uproar – the lady in question, Giulia Locatelli (known as the lady in white) was temporarily imprisoned as was Coppi himself, their landlord kicked them out in disgust, the Police raided their house to see if they shared a bed, the Pope asked Coppi to return to his wife and refused to bless the Giro d’Italia if he was in it, so he settled upon ex-communication.
Paradoxically, Coppi refused, at first, to divorce his wife as this was seen to be shameful.
Coppi wore himself out physically through the amphetamines and emotionally after his brother Serse died in a race. He died after partaking in a race celebrating the independence of Burkina Faso. Coppi died from malaria.
As with all great heros there has to an element of intrigue, preferably, of the fatal kind. Two figures – a man known only as Giovanni, and a Benedictine monk called Adrien – maintain he was poisoned in retaliation for the death of an African rider in Europe.
This article was posted by Ronan McDonnell on
Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008 at
It is archived in Bicycles, Biography, History and tagged Bicycles, Biography, cycling, Doping, Drugs, Giro d'Italia, History, Italy, Sport, Tour de France.
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