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Authors: William Fotheringham

Fallen Angel

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WILLIAM FOTHERINGHAM

FALLEN ANGEL
THE PASSION OF
FAUSTO COPPI

FALLEN ANGEL
CONTENTS

Cover

Title

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Also by William Fotheringham

List of illustrations

A note on currencies

Fallen Angel

1 The Letter and the Photograph

2 To Race a Bike, You Need to Be a Poor Man

3 The Blind Man and the Butcher’s Boy

4 ‘A very regrettable phenomenon’

5 Jousting in the Rubble

6 The Imposter

7 The Mystic and the Mechanic

8 Summer Lightning

9 Extinction of the Worthy Brute

10 Loss of the Lucky Charm

11 A Man Alone

12 The Outlaws

13 In the Dock

14 Decline and Falls

15 Give Me Air

16 The Icon and the Myth

17 Epilogue

Bibliography

Index

Plates

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

Version 1.0

Epub ISBN 9781409077459

www.randomhouse.co.uk

Published by Yellow Jersey Press 2009

2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

Copyright © William Fotheringham 2009

William Fotheringham has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

Every effort has been made to contact all copyright holders, and the publishers will be pleased to correct any omissions brought to their notice at the earliest convenience.

First published in Great Britain in 2009 by Yellow Jersey Press Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA

www.rbooks.co.uk

Addresses for companies within The Random House
Group Limited can be found at:
www.randomhouse.co.uk
/offices.htm

The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 9780224074476

The Random House Group Limited supports The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the leading international forest certification organisation. All our titles that are printed on Greenpeace approved FSC certified paper carry the FSC logo. Our paper procurement policy can be found at
www.rbooks.co.uk
/environment

Typeset by Palimpsest Book Production Limited Grangemouth, Stirlingshire

Printed and bound in Great Britain

by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc

To Caroline, who took me to Italy

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This book could not have been written without the assistance of the riders who gave up their time for interviews over the last few years, in some cases on several occasions. My most sincere thanks are therefore due to Alfredo Martini, Ubaldo Pugnaloni, Fiorenzo Magni, Sandrino Carrea, Raphael Geminiani, Jean Bobet, Ettore Milano, Nino Defilippis and Michele Gismondi.

Of the immediate Coppi family, Piero Coppi, Faustino Coppi and Marina Bellocchi
née
Coppi were unstintingly helpful. To Marina go particular thanks for showing me the letter quoted at length in the first chapter.

To my colleague Marco Pastonesi at
La Gazzetta dello Sport
I must add particular thanks for facilitating interviews with various former cyclists and members of the Coppi family, and opening the way to the archive at his newspaper.

At Yellow Jersey, I am indebted to Tristan Jones and Juliet Brooke for their patience and help. Thanks are also due to the sports editor at the
Guardian
, Ben Clissitt, and my agent John Pawsey, for their support.

As ever, though, it is to Caroline, Patrick and Miranda that I owe the most, for putting up with yet more absences and yet more hours chained to the desk.

Also by William Fotheringham
Put Me Back on My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson
Roule Britannia: A History of Britons in the Tour de France
ILLUSTRATIONS

1
Coppi on the front cover of
Miroir-Sprint
magazine.

2
Coppi and his four siblings in a family portrait (courtesy of Offside); Coppi and friends after a hunting trip (courtesy of
La Gazzetta dello Sport
); Casa Coppi in Castellania

3
Bianchi’s 1946 team line-up; early team postcard of the young Coppi

4
Coppi in La Rochelle during the 1949 Tour de France; Coppi with his French fans (both courtesy of Offside)

5
Coppi in the Alps on the 1949 Tour de France; Coppi celebrating at Nancy (both courtesy of Offside)

6
Biagio Cavanna massaging Coppi, with wife Bruna looking on (courtesy of Offside); Coppi and his mother, Angiolina (reproduced in
Miroir-Sprint
); Coppi bathing his feet (courtesy of Offside)

7
Serse Coppi kissing his brother; Coppi and Gino Bartali at a race start; Coppi and Bartali at the Giro d’Italia (all courtesy of Offside)

8
Coppi and Bartali in one of the legendary ‘bottle’ shots in 1949 (courtesy of Offside)

9
Coppi in the Alps in 1952 (courtesy of Offside); Coppi on the world championship podium with Giulia Locatelli in 1953 (courtesy of
La Gazzetta dello Sport
)

10
Coppi with his wife Bruna after the 1946 Giro di Lombardia (courtesy of
La Gazzetta dello Sport
); Coppi with Giulia Occhini (courtesy of Olycom)

11
Coppi’s children, Marina and Faustino (reproduced in
Miroir-Sprint
)

12–13
Coppi at the Tour of Spain in 1959 (courtesy of Offside)

14
Giulia Occhini with Coppi’s body (courtesy of
La Gazzetta dello Sport
); fans in mourning around Coppi’s coffin (courtesy of Offside)

15
Caricature of Coppi (reproduced in
The Treasures of the Tour de France
); idealised magazine cover
La Domenica del Corriere
; Coppi’s bike at the Bianchi bicycle factory

16
Crowds outside the cemetery in Castellania surround Coppi’s coffin (courtesy of Offside)

A NOTE ON CURRENCIES

I have used both Italian lire and French francs throughout as appropriate.

It should be noted that, pre-war, the Italian lire was worth roughly 100 to the pound sterling, and roughly 20 to the dollar.

After the Allied invasion, the initial exchange rate was set at approximately 500 to the pound, or 120 to the US dollar; this rate was reset at 625 lire to the dollar in 1949.

The French franc was revalued in January 1960; in Coppi’s era the currency is what was known as the ‘old franc’. In 1949, when Coppi won the Tour de France for the first time, the exhange rate was roughly 1000 to the pound sterling (350 to the US dollar); by the end of the 1950s, it had declined to approximately 1400 to the pound (roughly 500 to the dollar).

CHAPTER 1
THE LETTER AND THE PHOTOGRAPH

At a quarter past four on 25 May 1949, Aunt Albina sits down next to her radio and begins to write on a single sheet of squared paper. Soon the afternoon’s coverage of the Giro d’Italia will begin, and the announcer, Mario Ferretti, will tell her how Faustino and Serse have fared on the road to Salerno in Italy’s national tour. This is the time of day the Coppi family shares with its two boys; in another house in the little village of Castellania, their mother, Albina’s sister Angiolina, is also sitting, waiting for Ferretti to pick up his microphone. Just outside, in the little field they call Campo del Mù, Albina’s husband Giuseppe is cutting the hay; for the three weeks of the race, each day’s work is planned so that he will be within reach of the house now, ready to run to the radio.

How to tell Faustino and Serse what they all feel? The boys are always on their minds. What could be more natural? The Coppi brothers have won such fame, Faustino with his Giro d’Italia wins and his Italian national titles, Serse with his unstinting work in support. Each time they come back from their great races – as far away as Naples or Rome, sometimes even France or Switzerland – they bring back fine things: Angiolina’s fridge, her radio. The family have such good clothes now and want for nothing; no one in the village has seen anything like Faustino’s new Fiat. But it is not so long ago that the brothers were at Albina’s school, inseparable even then. Faustino had always been mad about that bike of his;
one day, she had had to mark him ‘absent’ in the register when he went out cycling and forgot to come back. How she had told him off.

Giuseppe is certain Faustino will win on the climbs; Albina can say that in her letter. She must tell them of the prayers the family say each day for their boys’ safe return, the tears she and Angiolina shed each time Faustino wins, and she can remind them to wear their medallions with the image of the Pilgrim Madonna. She must be sure to have Angiolina sign the letter, and Giuseppe, so that the boys know they are all thinking of them. Above all, she must make a point of including Serse, so often in his elder brother’s shadow, but so loyal, and as lively still as when Faustino first brought him to school.

Aunt Albina writes with a script so close and neat it might have come off a printing press. A lady of precise mind, she times and dates the letter. Many years later, it will be passed on to Faustino’s daughter Marina. Sixty years on, the letter seems surprisingly formal. Perhaps it is because Albina is the village teacher and thus elected to write on the family’s behalf. She sends the ‘most fervent’ prayers of this ‘church family’ – Albina and Angiolina’s uncle is a priest. The Immaculate Madonna will bless them, will give Faustino the strength to be victorious, to pull on the pink jersey awarded to the race leader.

‘Obviously we discuss what is going on,’ she continues. ‘Your uncle talks about you with a fervour and affection that you cannot imagine. On the days you finished first I cried, and I’m still crying for joy. Well done, Faustino, well done, and go on. You will be carried along the way you have chosen by your intelligence, your good sense and your experience.’

To Serse, she writes: ‘With your good character, your willpower, your strength, you will be the finest and greatest help to your big brother. You will give him encouragement even if you go through difficult times.’ She sends hugs and
kisses, ‘with the greatest affection, your most affectionate uncle and aunt Giuseppe and Albina’. There is a scribble from Angiolina on the bottom of the letter: ‘love from Mamma, hope all goes well’. Uncle Giuseppe’s signature is heavier, thicker.

Aunt Albina’s close, regular handwriting evokes a lost world, a pastoral idyll of summer haymaking. The women sit in the parlour, listening for news, waiting for the return of the men who have left the land to seek their fortunes. Whether they quite understand the intricacies of the faraway world of bike racing is unlikely. That does not matter. Faustino and Serse may be a long way from home, but they will understand their importance to their family, feel the simple power of their relatives’ love, know the depth of their Catholic faith.

* * *

The photograph, on the other hand, is more troubling. Four years later, Fausto Coppi stands on the podium of the world road race championship in Lugano. He has just pulled on the winner’s rainbow-striped jersey. As he waves the victor’s bouquet, his face comes as close to a smile as he ever manages to muster. The lower lip curves; the upper remains straight; only the creases in his cheeks show that this is a moment of pure joy. He has just clinched the only major title that has so far eluded him. There can now be no debate: he is the greatest cyclist ever. His title,
campionissimo
– champion of champions – is not mere hyperbole.

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