Damiano Cunego wins 2004 Fausto Coppi-bici d'oro prize
By Tim Maloney, European Editor
On a bright, sunny winter Sunday afternoon, over a hundred people gathered at the grave of Fausto Coppi and his brother Serse in Castellania, Italy on the 45th anniversary of his death for a ceremony to pay homage to il Campionissimo. Among the people present were former teammates of Fausto Coppi such as Ettore Milano and 77 year old Valeriano Falsini of Figline Valdarno, who was the teammate of Coppi in 1951 and 1952. Falsini, who has ridden his team issue Bianchi bicycle from his home in Tuscany for each of the last 45 years, explained that, "It's my way to honour a friend who was also the greatest champion ever in Italian sport. Until I can't do it anymore, I'll be here with him every January second, to pedal with him again. (Coppi) is one man alone in the lead even in our memories."
Coppi still has the greatest palmares of any Italian racing cyclist ever. Coppi won the Tour de France twice (1949-52) and the Giro d'Italia five times (1940-47-49-52-53). Coppi took his first Giro win in 1940 at 21 while riding as a gregario for Gino Bartali, and went on to set a new World Hour Record on the Vigorelli Velodrome in Milano (45.871km) that stood for 14 years until broken by Jacques Anquetil. Coppi still co-holds the Giro d'Italia win record at five with Eddy Merckx and Alfredo Binda and his post-WW2 Giro and Tour De France duels with Bartali captured the imagination of a war-torn Italy.
Coppi was also controversial because he left his wife to live with Giulia Occhini, the infamous Dama Bianca ("the lady in white"). Among Coppi's other major wins were the World Championships in 1953, Giro di Lombardia (five times), Milano-San Remo (three times) and Paris-Roubaix (once). On a cycling and hunting trip to Africa in late 1959, the forty year old Coppi contracted malaria but it was not diagnosed in a timely manner and so il Campionissimo passed to the great peloton in the sky.
Today, after a memorial mass celebrated by parish priest Don Giuseppe Lorenzi, the tourism consortium of Terre di Fausto Coppi and the Gazzetta dello Sport awarded the Fausto Coppi-bici d'oro prize for 2004 to Damiano Cunego, winner of the Giro d'Italia at 22 years old this season, currently ranked #1 in the world and currently the Italian rider most likely to inherit the mantle of Fausto Coppi.