Voted the most popular Italian sportsman of the twentieth century, Fausto Coppi was the campionissimo - champion of cycling champions. The greatest cyclist of the immediate postwar years, Coppi’s scandalous divorce and controversial death convulsed Italy in the 1950s and were still making headlines half a century later. A new book by William Fotheringham, "Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi", provides the definitive English-language account of Coppi's life off and on the bike, including this excerpt for Cyclingnews about Coppi's tumultuous 1949 Tour de France.
"After Bartali had won the 1948 Tour and taken seven stage wins along the way, Coppi had told his gregario Ettore Milano that if he didn't win the 1949 Tour he would give up - he was sick, he said of hearing people talking about Bartali's win on the radio. In the event he came within an ace of ignominious failure. Just five days after the race began, he was standing by a roadside in the depths of Normandy, holding a broken bike, and asking plaintively if he could go home. It was the greatest crisis of his career, with his vulnerable side brutally exposed. The most dominant cyclist of that generation was also a fragile man who was easily destabilised.
Coppi had begun his Tour with a tour of his own, a trip around the sights of Paris on his bike. By stage five, which ran over 293 kilometres from Rouen to Saint Malo in blazing heat, the Italians were not showing well; both Coppi and Bartali were 18 minutes behind the race leader, the Frenchman Jacques Marinelli. But on that day, Binda ordered his Italians to go on the attack, and Coppi worked his way into what looked like the stage-winning escape. Best of all, he left Bartali well behind him, in a tactical fix: the older man could not set up a chase, because he could not ride against his own team mate.
As the race passed through the village of Mouen, with 100 miles remaining to the finish and the lead over the peloton already 10 minutes, disaster struck. Marinelli reached for a bottle that was being held out to him by a spectator, he wobbled and fell, taking Coppi with him and entangling both their bikes. The Italian's machine was a broken wreck: forks twisted, tyre forced off the back wheel, front wheel broken, the chain in the spokes."
Read more of "Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi"