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By Fabio
Date: 1/5/2003

We are inside the house-museum at last, and move into the first room on the left, where we can find, among other things, some of Coppi’s most “legendary” photos hung on the wall. While the painting on the right side of the above pic represents l’Airone flying over the mountains, wearing a jersey white as snow, the image on left is probably the most famous one in the Campionissimo’s whole career, the photo that stirred infinite discussions among cycling fans in Italy and worldwide (including a few posts in the Daily Peloton’s Message Board not later than a few weeks ago).

June the 6th, 1952. Tour de France, Stage 11 (Bourg d’Oisans - Sestriere): our man, his “eternal” rival Gino Bartali, and in between something looking like a flask, although it was actually a bottle. Who was giving that bottle to whom ? Generations of cycling have passionately been discussing the issue for decades, but never come to a definite conclusion.

Most think it was the “Campionissimo”, future stage winner after a solo breakaway, giving the bottle to “Il Pio” in need in such a hot (and extremely difficult, as the route encompassed five though climbs: Col du Glandon, Croix de Fer, Télégraph, Galibier and Monginevro) day, but the latter always denied that version.

Some time ago Italian newsmagazine “L’Espresso” published an interesting article on the subject, also quoting a detailed research made by writer Stefano Fiori. According to the author, and his book “Gino Bartali, un uomo, una leggenda” (Gino Bartali, a Man, a Legend), while the peloton was climbing the Galibier a girl offered a bottle of water to Bartali, and he almost crashed when trying to grab it, consequently losing a bit of time. After he regained the peloton, Gino had a little quarrel with Coppi, whom he had seen at the front of the peloton riding tempo while he was dropped. But the “Campionissimo“ replied that he was at the front just in order keep an eye of his rivals and prevent them from making any moves, but had no intention to fasten the pace and put more time into the Tuscan. The quarrel immediataley ended, and to celebrate the “peace treaty” Bartali sprinkled a little water on his head and later gave the bottle to Fausto.

Of course this is a “pro-Bartali” version (shared also by Italy’s former coach Alfredo Martini, a personal friend and colleague of both riders, and Tarcisio Vergani, legendary soigneur of Coppi, Anquetil, Bobet, Simpson and many other champions of the past), whereas Campionissimo’s loyal domestique Ettore Milano gave his pro-Coppi version in an interview with Italian Tv RAI some time ago (unfortunately seems he made some mistakes, like setting the scene on the Izoard, an ascent not part of the stage route that day).

According to other sources, quoted by the same “L’Espresso” the picture wasn’t even “genuine”. Of course they do not mean it’s a fake, but just that it would be the result of an “agreement” among Coppi, Bartali and the photographer (reportedly there’s no consenus on the photographer’s name either, many says it was Valfrido Chiarini, but others told it was Carlo Martini), with the two riders almost “posing”, such that the consequent “historical” picture would have made fans chat and quarrel for decades. And seems they really hit the target, also thanks to the “secrecy” still sorrounding the photo. Although many (Bartali’s and Coppi’s domestiques in particular) probably know the truth, it has never been officially unveiled. And that’s definitely the best possible way for things to go. How could a legend be a legend without any mistery ?

One thing is certain: the picture turned into the symbol of the relationship between Italy’s most famous riders of all time, and also of the whole “Coppi & Bartali age”. And still remains one of the most significative images of italian sport.

Another historical photo: Fausto Coppi wearing the Green jersey of the King of the Mountain competition leader in one of the several Giros he took part in. The man won the Mountain Classification thrice, in 1948, 1949 and 1954 respectively, whereas archrival Bartali took it no less than seven times (the first being in 1935, the last in 1947).

Needless to say, the Heron could have added more “Maglie verdi” (and “Maglie Rosa” of course, and TdF’s “Yellow Jerseys”) to his impressive palmares hadn’t he been involved in World War II. Besides to halt cycling for some time (the Giro didn’t take place from 1941 to 1945, the Tour, somehow replaced by lesser races, from 1940 to 1946) the conflict also took away two years of the man’s life: Fausto was a corporal in the Italian Army (the Tortona-based 38th Infantry Regiment) and moved to the African front, where in 1943 was captured by British troops (led by Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery) in Cape Bon, Tunisia, and later transferred to Blida, Algeria, but was freed in 1945.

Quite curiously, Italy entered WWII, as Mussolini declared war on Britain and France, on June 10th, 1940, namely 24 hours after Coppi got his first important victory of his career by winning the Giro.

One more picture you can see in the room at the left on the ground floor of “Casa Coppi”, showing the man during a mountain stage raced in rainy weather. He was wearing the jersey of the “Bianchi” squad, the team he rode for during 15 years (1941-1955)

In a corner of the same room there’s a video screen showing old clips of Fausto and other riders of the time, both during the races and in other moments. In this case, you can see Coppi in a hotel room, taking a small rest after a demanding stage.

And how could they miss to show clips of Bartali too ? Here is Fausto’s Florentine rival in action, closely followed by the team car (not exactly the kind of cars currently produced in Detroit …) of Legnano, the squad “Gino il Pio”, also nicknamed “Ginettaccio” due to his (a bit gruff and brusque) character, was riding for at the time.

Click on the links below to get access to the other pages (both previous and successive) of the Fausto Coppi's Special report on the "Daily Peloton"

Fausto Coppi – The Legend: Part 1

* PAGE 1 (Introduction: Coppi’s life and legend)

* PAGE 2 (Castellanía and the Museum)

Fausto Coppi – The Legend: Part 2

* PAGE 3 (Outside the Museum)

Fausto Coppi – The Legend: Part 3

* PAGE 5 (Historical Bikes)

* PAGE 6 (More relics at first and second floor)

Fausto Coppi – The Legend: Part 4

* PAGE 7 (Coppi's Grave and the "Trophies Room")

* PAGE 8 (Fausto Coppi's detailed Palmares)

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