Fausto Coppi only won the Tour twice (in 1949 and 1952) - but is still regarded by most Italians as the Champion of Champions. Why? Because he was the complete deal, he could climb, he could sprint, he could time trial, but most of all (at least according to Pierre Chany of L’Équipe) from 1946 to 1954 he was never once re-caught when he broke away from the bunch. During a Spring Classic, or an important stage of a Grand Tour, it was not unknown for Fausto Coppi to take 10 minutes out of his rivals. That’s the kind of dominance that other riders really fear.
And then there was his style. In an Italy that was still cloyingly traditional, he was an intensely modern innovator in matters of training, nutrition and, of course, drug use (which was kind-of-legal at the time). He was an intensely modern clotheshorse for the sharply fashionable suits and sunglasses that epitomise Italian men’s fashion to this day. And he was an intensely modern atheist who defied the Pope by, scandalously, leaving his wife for the deeply mysterious and fabulously beautiful ‘woman in white’, Guilia Occhini.
Of course the recipe for heroism is never complete without the pungent spice of tragedy. After winning the 1952 Tour with a crushing margin of 28 minutes, his decline was steep and relentless. By 1959 his performances were an embarrassment - carried only by his charm, charisma and a rich seam of ironic melancholy. In December 1959 the President of Burkina Faso invited Coppi to ride a pair of exhibition Criteriums (Criteria?) in Ouagadougou. By the 2nd of January 1960 Fausto Coppi was dead - probably of malaria. He was 40 years old.
On the 5th of February 1960, just 34 days after Fausto Coppi’s death, Federico Fellini released ‘La Dolce Vita’, a film that, for several decades, defined how the world saw Italy - as a man’s world of endless sunshine, beautiful women, sharp suits, cool sunglasses, new-found sexual freedom and a certain mournful nihilism. In the words of Yogi Berra, that’s too coincidental to be a coincidence.
This postcard shows an ecstatic Fausto Coppi at the finish of the 1952 Tour. It is the first of two postcards on this site, the other is here.
And what of derailleurs? In 1949 Lucien Juy reportedly paid Fausto Coppi a small fortune to use the (French! Imagine!) Simplex Tour de France. This is claimed to have driven Tullio Campagnolo to restore Italian pride by wresting back technological leadership (and therefore Fausto Coppi’s patronage) with the newly created Campagnolo Gran Sport which was then used to win the 1952 Tour.