This past weekend marked the beginning of the 96th edition of the Giro d'Italia, the first of the three great races that comprise the Grand Tours (the Vuelta a España and the more widely known Tour de France are the other two). For those not familiar with the Giro, much like its better known cousin, it is a three week affair contested over 21 days of racing with two rest days sprinkled in the middle. While many consider the Tour the most challenging sporting event in the world, the truth is that the Giro typically trumps it in its route, and is just as hard if not harder (especially in recent years) with far fewer "flat" stages happening as it winds its way around Italy, through the Alps and the Dolomite mountains, and ending in Milan. The Tour might have the publicity, but the Giro captures the passion.
Just as the Tour de France was created in order to boost circulation of a newspaper (with its signature yellow jersey drawing inspiration from the yellow ink used in the paper, L'Auto, ironically named after interest in auto racing), the Giro was dreamed up by the owners of La Gazzetta dello Sport, and its pink jersey, the Maglia Rosa, drew its inspiration from the pink ink of that paper. Also just like the Tour, the Giro has had its share of heroes, with its crowning star most certainly being Fausto Coppi.
Coppi, the cover
Coppi, also know as Il Campionissimo, or champion of champions, won five editions of the race, but could have added several more to his palmarès if World War II hadn't forced its cancellation between 1941 and 1945, five precious years when Coppi was coming into his own. While there have been innumerous books written about Coppi, just recently a new one was added that instead focuses on images of him: Coppi: Inside the Legend of the Campionissimo. In an era long before moto-bikes streaming live coverage directly to viewers' televisions and computers, the cameras of newspapers brought the story and pictures of the stars and the contest to fans worldwide. It is from the treasure trove of several Italian newspapers that many of the images in this book come from, images that have not been seen for some 50 plus years.
"On stage 11 Coppi did his big ride over Abetone to win the Giro. I was on his wheel when he went but there was no way I could stay with him. Neither could anybody else and I think that was the day everybody realised he was something special..."
While I'm certainly no expert photographer, I'd say that the beauty of the collection is in its breadth of settings. You'll find Coppi on the bike, competing against other Italian greats such as Fiorenzo Magni and Gino Bartali, as well as in other surroundings: his fans, his friends, his family. It is said that a picture says a thousand words, well then this repository presents us with 168,000 words of Coppi and his life.
To bring even greater value to this anthology, interspersed amongst its unearthed images are recollections from the few of Coppi's compatriots who have not passed on yet. Treasured, intimate and first-hand glimpses into the golden age of cycling and Coppi's role in it (Roncino's quote above and Nascimbene's below come from these interludes). While by no means is this tome an all encompassing look at Il Campionissimo's life, it does offer a visual peek into the life of a man whose legend still stirs memories and ignites passions today.
"I never thought he fully understood who he was or what he meant, and I still don't..."
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