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« What’s your sign? | Main | Understanding other cultures »
Sunday
Apr202008

1953 Giro d’Italia: Coppi and Koblet in an epic battle



Here is some silent black and white newsreel footage from the 1953 Giro d’Italia; featuring Italy's Fausto Coppi and Swiss rider Hugo Koblet.

When Coppi was on top form, he was unbeatable; however, Koblet was one of the few riders of that same era who could seriously challenge the Campionissimo. Filmed here is one of their many epic battles as they take on the Passo Sella in the 19th stage.

See if you can spot Hugo Koblet early on leading the peloton, as he flashes past the camera. His jersey appears white, although it is actually the “Magalia Rosa,” the race leader’s pink jersey. Fausto Coppi (5th in line.) is easier to spot in his distinctive Bianchi jersey. In addition, the camera lingers on Coppi.

There is an early solo break by Italy’s Pasquale Fornara, another great climber who took the King of the Mountains title in the 1953 Giro.

When the serious climbing starts, a three man chasing group forms. It includes Coppi and Koblet and another rider I am not able to recognize. On a brief respite from climbing, you will see the Swiss rider tighten his toe strap, a sure sign that he is about to attack.

In a classic move, as they catch Forana, Hugo Koblet immediately attacks. Again, spot him by his light jersey with no lettering; he is also not wearing a cap, whereas the other riders are. Notice Koblet’s speed, and how quickly he opens a considerable gap.

Tired from his long solo effort, Pasquale Fornara holds on briefly, but finds the pace too hot and is dropped. As they near the summit, Fausto Coppi has now left the remaining rider and is chasing alone.

There is a great shot of a motorcycle race marshal, kicking at the crowd to keep them back. You will also notice that Coppi is now wearing a “leather hairnet” helmet, in readiness for the descent. He reels in Koblet at the top of the climb.

Had he not closed the gap before the summit, he may never have caught the flying Swiss rider; Hugo Koblet was well known for his long solo break-aways. He earned the nick-name "Pédaleur de Charme" for his smooth pedaling style, and his ability to maintain a high rate of speed over a distance.

There is some great footage of the two working together as they dash towards the finish. Coppi easily out sprints Koblet to win the stage.

On later stages, Coppi would take the lead from Koblet to win the 1953 Giro d’Italia by 1 min. 29 sec. Pasquale Fornara was third, and King of the Mountains. Gino Bartali was forth that year.

Reader Comments (8)

Wonderful stuff. Thanks very much for your commentary.
April 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter mander
The footage was really great! Thanks for sharing. I don't know much about the bikes of the 50's. What were the popular makers? Was Campy the no. 1 component maker of the time? How much did the bikes weigh? I'd love to know more.

Thank you for blogging. I enjoy your insight.

Nathan Bennett
April 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
Nathan,

Koblet rode a French La Perle bike, Coppi a Bianchi. Italian Frejus was another popular make. Campagnolo only got into production in the late 1940s, and they started out with quick release hubs and derailleurs.

Koblet was the first to win the Tour de France on Campagnolo Gran Sport gears in 1951. It was the first parallelogram design gear, cast in bronze and chrome plated. Bikes usually had steel cottered cranks and steel handlebar stems, a typical race bike would weigh about 26 lbs.

At one point in the video, Coppi sits up ‘no hands’ to take a drink. Water bottles were spun aluminum and had a cork for a stopper. You needed two hands to take a drink, one to hold the bottle, one to remove and replace the cork. There were no plastic squirt bottles back then.

Go to my archives page (Top right.) and check those articles marked “History.”

Dave
April 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Dave Moulton
Excitement and fun in a cycling paradise. Even the cars then had cycling racks! I don't remeber seeing it on youtube in '53...you?
Jack
April 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
Thanks so much for the history lesson, Dave. I appreciate it greatly. I'd love to get my hands on an old steel beast.

Nathan
April 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
Fabulous. And I followed the links to some great stuff too. This blogs get's bookmarked right now !

Otherwise, My impression from finding period bikes as left when last used, my experience of riding frames today's theoretical perfect size for me confirms what I long suspected: they rode their saddles a lot lower in the "old days". They also used less leg extension. And they were more bunched up on their bikes, eg saddle nearer to stem or knees closer to hands. Am I wrong ?
April 22, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Nick
Nick, I think you might be wrong. Maybe, bear with me:

Not sure where you're coming up with "today's theoretical perfect size for me", but if you feel bunched up and that you need more leg extension, then I'd say you need a frame one size larger.
April 22, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter jimmythefly
that was fantastic ! thanks for the history lesson !
April 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Tyler
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