Coppi was born in the village of Castellania, near Tortona and Novi
Ligure on September 15 1919. The son of a poor farmer, he left home at
the age of 14 to work as a bicycle delivery boy for a delicatessen in
nearby Novi Ligure. As well as riding a bike all day, Coppi also had to
ride home. The road from Novi Ligure to Castellania winds its way up to
385 metres above sea level. Coppi would time himself, so it is easy to
see how he developed a great ability as a climber and in time trials.
Coppi was coached by the blind masseur Biagio Cavanna (pictured right) and won his first race at the age of 19. At 20 he became semi-professional. The following year he won the Giro.
Between 1940 and 1959, except during 1943 and 1944, when Coppi was a prisoner of war in Tunisia, he won 151 races on the road, pursuit matches and other events. He was the first rider to win both the Giro and the Tour in the same year (1949). At that time nobody thought this possible.
Coppi was known in Italy as the Airone or the heron for the way he seemed to open his wings and fly up climbs. During his career he suffered numerous crashes and often broke bones.
His affair with the 'White Lady' in 1952, the trial for adultery and the birth of their son Faustino caused a huge scandal in Catholic Italy. Coppi continued racing however and signed a contract with the San Pellegrino team.
On a racing and hunting trip with the French rider Raphael Geminiani in Africa, Coppi became ill. Geminiani was diagnosed with having malaria and was treated with quinine. Despite having the same symptoms Coppi was treated for bronchial pneumonia. After a terrible night in Tortona hospital Coppi died at 8.45am on January 2 1960. He was only 40 years old.
"In France you can cure Geminiani as you like, in Italy we know how to cure Fausto Coppi."
The words that were to lead to the tragic death of Fausto Coppi.
|Coppi on the Capo Mele during the 1948 Milan-San Remo|
|Coppi winning the 1946 Milan-San Remo by 14 minutes from Lucien Teissiere after being alone for 147km.|