Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi
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A remarkable biography of one of history's greatest cyclists—a man who lived a tumultous life, and was voted the most popular Italian sportsman of the 20th century Fausto Angelo Coppi was the campionissimo, or champion of champions, and this is the tragic story of his life and death, and how a man who became the symbol of a nation's rebirth after the disasters of war died reviled and heartbroken. The greatest cyclist of the immediate post-war years, he was the first man to win cycling's great double, the Tour de France and Tour of Italy, in the same year—and he did it twice. He achieved mythical status for his crushing solo victories, world titles and world records. But his significance extends far beyond his sport. Coppi's scandalous divorce and controversial early death convulsed a conservative, staunchly Roman Catholic Italy in the 1950s. At a time when adultery was still illegal, Coppi and his lover were dragged from their bed in the middle of the night, excommunicated, and forced to face a clamorous legal battle, the ramifications of which are still being felt today. Told with insight and intelligence, this is a unique portrait of Italy and Italian sport at a time of tumultuous change.
Whatever Fausto’s looks, Cavanna believed in him. The blind masseur wrote to Giovanni Rossignoli, the organiser of a race in Pavia: ‘Dear Giovanni, I’m sending you two of my colts. One is called Coppi and will take the first prize, the other will do what he can. Watch Coppi: he is like Binda.’ In 1939 the nineteen-year-old won seven races, including the Italian independents’ championship at Varzi in early May, in which he opened up a seven-minute lead over the next man. This was heady stuff for a
came to him and Cavanna while he was in the process of winning that year’s Italian national pursuit title. They had ample time for reflection; this was a uniquely drawn-out affair. Coppi had crashed heavily while warming up on the Vigorelli between winning the semi-final and contesting the final, where he was up against one Cino Cinelli, who later went on to fame as a handlebar maker. He broke his collarbone, and Cinelli should then, according to the rules, have been awarded the title in a
ride through to the final of the Italian pursuit championship in 1946. Unfortunately, Ortelli’s team didn’t bother telling him about the deal. And, of course, Cavanna was still a ubiquitous presence, still massaging Coppi, still haranguing him and the whole team over every subject under the sun. He had a massive influence on Bianchi’s recruitment through his amateur squad, which ended up acting as a feeder club for Coppi’s Bianchi. Sponsored by SIOF, a local chemical company, they used
weeks were packed with track appearances and circuit races. In early October, Coppi teamed up with the amateur world champion Filippi to take another stunning win, at record speed, in the Baracchi Trophy two-man team time trial. On his bike, Coppi seemed unstoppable but what was happening in his private life also had a momentum of its own. Giulia remained with her husband, and Coppi stayed with Bruna, but another daring step towards the inevitable was taken at the end of the year. Coppi took
fact that people are still trying to come to terms with this inexplicable, unlikely and avoidable tragedy. Blood tests on Coppi’s samples were completed only after his death and meant the cause of death was not established until several days later. Clearly, the great mistake was that the doctors assumed he was suffering from severe influenza and never thought of malaria. Perhaps they were convinced it was a thing of the past, although the last major outbreak in Italy had taken place just four