The highest mountain climb of the Giro d’Italia (this year, it was the Stelvio in stage 27, this past Tuesday) is known as the Cima Coppi (the Coppi Summit) , in honor of the greatest Italian cyclist—and some would say greatest cyclist period—Fausto Coppi, legendary climber and winner of five Giros. In the 1940s and early 1950s, Coppi dominated the cycling world, winning Giros, Tours, a World Championship, numerous classics, and countless track and pursuit races.
Coppi’s status is legendary, and not just because of his prowess on a bicycle. A romantic scandal in the early 1950s and then his shocking death from malaria (contracted while cycling in Africa) in 1960 elevated Coppi’s life story beyond the realm of sport into that of myth. Today his name is revered in Italy and throughout the cycling world.
So when I was looking for a book about Italian cycling to read while following this year’s Giro, Coppi seemed like a good place to start. British journalist William Fotheringham’s Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi (Yellow Jersey, 2009), the first biography of Fausto Coppi by an English writer (there are numerous Italian ones) has made for fascinating reading these past few weeks. It’s a fine account not just of Coppi’s remarkable and tragic story but also of the role of cycling in a tumultuous period of Italian history.