Monday, June 11, 2007

Mad Props Vol. 6

When I was a wide-eyed, cycling-hungry lad, I used to gaze at old black and white cycling photographs and marvel at how romantic the old days of cycling were. These were the toughest guys that ever lived, I thought. They seemed to always suffer, even at rest. Their skin looked like deeply tanned leather. Their jerseys, always oversized and scratchy looking. No rider quite captured my eyes more than the great, barrel chested Fausto Coppi. Here was a man that had panache and the pedigree of a champion. And, were it not for the five years lost to World War II, may have equaled or surpassed Eddy Merckx's incomparable palmares.

Few riders are remembered with as much adoration as Fausto Coppi. Not only was Coppi the most dominant champion of his time, he also almost single handedly transformed the public image of cycling. He also ushered in a revolution in both training, diet, and strict attention to cleanliness. Fausto also infused new strategies and tactics to the cycle racing world as well as aiding in the development of innovations.

Fausto's life read like a great, dramatic novel. He had tremendous highs and horrendous lows. He was prone to depression and dismal performances. Coppi divorced his wife for the damma bianca, or "lady in white" and had a son named Faustino. The divorce had a debilitating effect on them and lead Fausto to seek seclusion off the bike.

Fausto's brilliant life ended on 2 January, 1960. He had caught malaria on a hunting trip in Africa and, initially, had been misdiagnosed for his illness. It seems the cycling world has never quite recovered from his premature passing.

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