Fiorenzo Magni turns 90 today and the Italian is rightly celebrated as one of the greats of the post war era, when cycling was the biggest sport in Europe.
Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali were the brightest stars of the so-called golden era in Italy but Magni was known as the ‘third man', who still managed to win the Giro d'Italia in 1948, 1950 and 1951 and who took a hat trick of victories at the Tour of Flanders between 1949 and 1951.
Magni won with daring attacks on descents and fought to finish second in the 1956 Giro d'Italia despite riding with a broken collarbone. The photograph of him pulling on an inner tube attached to his handlebars perfectly represents his courage.
He also played a vital role in the development of the sport. He helped force through the introduction of non-cycling sponsors, creating the Nivea team in 1954. After a successful business career he is now the patron of the Ghisallo Cycling museum not far from his home in Monza and is as strong and sharp as when he was nick-named the Lion of Flanders.
"I'm proud to have reached 90 in good health but it does feel strange to go to an event and realise I'm the oldest," he said in an in interview with the Tuttobiciweb website. "It makes me think about how much time I've got left but I'm happy and satisfied with life, even if I hope to reach 100."
"I've faced some difficult moments in life but I've always tried to look on the bright side. Cycling taught me to face problems with optimism because that's what I did during my career."
Speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport, Magni said trying to compete against Coppi and Bartali taught him a vital lesson in life.
"Nobody ever gave me anything. If anything I was lucky to go up against those two because otherwise I'd never had learnt how to lose. It's important because like in life and in cycling, you lose a lot more than you win," he said.
Three is the perfect number
Magni was born in Prato, Tuscany in 1920 and rode as a professional from 1941 until 1956. As well as his Giro and Flanders victories, he also won three Italian national titles and a string of other races and stages. He could have won the 1950 Tour de France but was forced to quit the race while wearing the yellow jersey in protest to threats from French cycling fans.
"The highlights of my career were the series of three wins in my favourite races: The Giro, the Tour of Flanders, Piemonte and the Italian national championships. Three is a perfect number," he told Tuttobiciweb.
Magni still follows cycling closely and picks Vincenzo Nibali as his current favourite. Like Magni, Nibali is also an excellent time trialist and fearless descender.
"I really like Nibali and I think he's got a great future. How does he descend so fast and yet be so light? He's got a lot of courage."