My post on Fausto Coppi last Thursday brought the following comment:
“Coppi was a legend but before making an idol out of him, we have to remember he himself admitted several times that "you don’t win a bike race on mineral water alone"
Interpretations are open but doping was quite rampant.
To read the rich cycling culture from the pages of history is great but it’s not possible to look up to these people anymore, at least for me.”
It was not my intention to bring up the dope issue; I didn’t mention it in any of the pieces I have written about cyclists from the 1940s and 1950s. I felt I covered the topic pretty well in my Historical Perspective on Dope. However, since it was brought up I will touch on the subject again.
European professional cyclists taking amphetamines was an open secret in the 1950s. I knew it as a teenage kid in England, and if I knew, the governing body of cycle racing (the UCI) knew and so did the cycling press. Everyone turned a blind eye, and did or said nothing.
Like your mother always said, “It’s only fun ’til someone gets hurt.” That’s how it was with the doping issue, nobody cared until Tom Simpson died. Then the cycling press who for years had kept quiet, were among the first to cry out for the UCI to do something.
What is, and what is not acceptable in our society changes constantly; smoking is a good example. Fifty or sixty years ago, drunk driving was not the serious issue it is today; people tended to look the other way if someone a little tipsy got behind the wheel. One can hardly go back and criticize a person who did that back then. It doesn’t make it right that society accepted it, but that was then, and this is now.
Think of recreational drug use in the 1960s and 1970s. It was illegal but accepted, not necessarily by all of society, but certainly accepted among pier groups of like-minded people. Dope taking by professional cyclists was much like that; accepted as the norm by the pros and fans of cycling alike.
Street drugs today have become nasty, dangerous stuff; crack cocaine, and methamphetamines; drugs used in the 1960s were mild by comparison. Dope in sport too has escalated. It used to be stimulants only, like amphetamines, now it’s blood doping, steroids, and other body altering chemistry.
A person wouldn’t necessarily denounce their parent or grandparent because they did drugs in the 1960s. It is wrong, in my opinion, to go back and condemn great riders like Fausto Coppi and the others from that era because they took amphetamines. It doesn’t make it right by today’s standards, but it was open and accepted at that time.
If Fausto Coppi on dope rode away from the rest and finished minutes ahead of the others, I can guarantee those chasing him were on the same dope. The playing field was level. Today doping is banned so to do so is cheating; in the 1940s and 1950s the taking of amphetamines was an open secret, so by not taking them a professional rider was cheating himself.
When Fausto Coppi made the statement, “You don’t win a bike race on mineral water alone.” He was being honest, but in doing so, he discredited himself and other riders of that era. They are now judged by today’s standards, and the present anti-doping mindset.
Amphetamines or not, these were tough, hard men. Take a look at the above picture and consider this: These cyclists rode as much as 170 miles a day, on dirt or gravel roads sometimes over three mountain passes. They did this on bikes weighing 25 or 26 lbs, carrying some of their own food, water, tools, and spare tires. I am not advocating the use of stimulants, but it could be argued such a feat was not possible on just mineral water.
I neither condone nor judge the riders of the 1940s and 1950s era, and I don’t pretend that doping didn’t take place. Having said that, they were the heroes of my youth, and they still have my admiration today. Maybe a person has to be of my generation to understand that.
My post on Fausto Coppi last Thursday brought the following comment:
Italian cyclist Fausto Coppi was one of the most successful and popular cyclists of all time.
Like Gino Bartali his career was interrupted by WWII; however, the big difference was, he was five years younger than Bartali; Coppi was 25 when war ended, Bartali was already past 30.
His pre-war successes came early, he won his first Giro d’Italia in 1940 at age 20; to this day the youngest ever to do so.
During the war in 1942 he set the world hour record (Unpaced.) at the Vigorelli Velodrome, in Milan.
He covered 45.798 kilometers (28.457 miles.) in one hour. (Picture left.) A record that would stand for 14 years until broken by Jacques Anquetil in 1956.
One year after setting this record Fausto Coppi was in the Italian army, captured by the British, and held as a prisoner of war in North Africa; where he remained until the war ended.
Coppi’s post war career in the late 1940s and early 1950s is the stuff of legends. When on form he was unbeatable, many times simply riding away from the opposition to finish solo often minutes ahead.
For example in the 1946 Milan-San Remo race; Coppi attacked with nine other riders just 3 miles (5 km) into the 181 mile (292 km) race. On the climb up the Turchino, Coppi dropped the nine riders and went on to win by 14 minutes over the second placed rider, and by 18:30 over the rest of the peloton.
Anyone who has raced knows how difficult it is for a solo rider to stay ahead of a group of riders working together. To take 14 minutes out of such a group is phenomenal.
Fausto Coppi won the Giro d’Italia five times; a record he shares with Alfredo Binda, and Eddy Merckx. He won the Tour de France twice in 1949 and in 1952, both times, dominating the competition and winning both the mountains jersey and the overall race.
Coppi was 1.87 meters (6’ 1 ½”) tall, and weighed 76 kg. (167 lbs.) obviously a great athlete with a huge rib cage that no doubt housed a large heart and lungs. However, he was fragile physically with brittle bones, brought on by malnutrition as a child.
He suffered no fewer than twenty major bone fractures from falls while either racing or training. At different times, he broke his collarbone, pelvis, and femur, as well as displacing a vertebra.
He also had a sensitive immune system and suffered several serious illnesses over the years. As a result, there were sometimes large gaps in his career when he was either injured or sick.
Fausto Coppi also suffered a personal tragedy in 1951 when his brother Serse Coppi died from a head injury after he fell in the finishing sprint of a race. This happened just five days before Fausto was to ride the Tour de France. Deep in mourning with his mind not on racing, he finished in tenth place.
There is speculation even to this day that had it not been for the war, the injuries and the other setbacks over the years, Fausto Coppi’s career may have equaled or even surpassed that of Eddy Merckx.
He was around at a time when there were so many other great riders. Bartali, Kubler, Koblet, Bobet, Robic, Geminiami, to name but a few. On his day Fausto Coppi was head and shoulders above all of them.
Above: Fausto Coppi with Ferdi Kubler leading by a nose.
With Hugo Koblet.
With the diminutive Frenchman Jean Robic on his wheel.
Sometimes rivals, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi share a drink.
Made out to be arch rivals, Bartali and Coppi in real life were probably friendly rivals. Bartali was certainly instrumental in helping the young Fausto early in his career. Taking him on as a domestique in his team, and when Bartali crashed in the 1940 Giro and lost hope of winning, he assisted the young Coppi to his victory.
One has to understand the mood of the Italian people at that time. Coming out of a terrible war and a long dictatorship, the nation was crushed both physically and morally. They looked for redemption, and found it in their cycling heroes. Bartali and Coppi were unofficial ambassadors for their country.
There were two factions that the Italian press played on; Fausto and Gino became symbols of divisions within the country. Two opposite, and sometimes irreconcilable points of view.
The push for modernization and new thinking on the one hand, and the importance of traditions, mainly linked to the Catholic religion on the other. So it became “Gino the pious” verses “Fausto the sinner,” at least in public opinion. Italy’s sports divisions in the 1950s reflected the country's social ones.
Further strengthening pubic opinion were some facts of Coppi’s private life. Right after he won the World Road Championship in 1953, Fausto, a married man, was seen with another woman. Giulia Occhini, known in the press as La Dama Bianca. (The Lady in White.)
In late 1959, Coppi went on a hunting trip in North Western Africa, where he contracted malaria. He became ill on returning to Italy; the disease was treatable even at that time, but was miss-diagnosed by doctors. Fausto Coppi died on January 2nd, 1960; he was 40 years old.
So came a tragic end to the life of a great cyclist, one of the best there has ever been. Today in Italy Fausto Coppi is mostly remembered as Il Campionissimo or “The Champion of Champions.”
Pictures from: .Progetto Ciclismo
To view more great pictures (Including some shown here.) go to www.FaustoCoppi.it Click on "Cartoline," chose number of pics per page (9, 15, 30, 60.) Click on "Guarda" to enlarge.
Gino Bartali born in Florence, Italy, in 1914 had a cycling career that spanned both sides of WWII.
He was 24 years old when he won the Tour de France in 1938; then the war robbed him of his peak athletic years, from his mid twenties to his early thirties.
He came back ten years later in 1948 to win the Tour a second time. He also won the Giro d’Italia three times, in 1936, 1937, and again after the war in 1946.
Bartali was a great climber and won the Giro Mountains Jersey a record seven times. He was also the first to win both the Mountains Jersey and take overall victory in the Tour de France in 1938, then repeated the feat in his 1948 win.
Gino Bartali is probably best known for his epic rivalry with Fausto Coppi, another great Italian cyclist. (Picture below left, Coppi nearest camera.) Bartali from Florence in the Tuscany region, was a devout Catholic and deeply religious; this earned him the nickname of “Gino the Pious.” Coppi, on the other hand, was from the industrial north, was not religious at all.
The rivalry between these two in some ways divided a nation, but both riders gave Italy much to celebrate, and this was a country that needed cause for jubilation at that time. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Italy was still recovering their defeat in WWII, and the rest of Europe was still slow to forgive.
It has been said that Gino Bartali’s 1948 Tour de France win helped subdue political unrest in Italy, even possible civil war.
Bartali took the yellow jersey in the first stage with a win in the finishing sprint.
In the following stages the lead was taken by Lousion Bobet, a rising young French star riding his second Tour.
Bobet emerged from the Pyrenees with a nine minute overall lead, and Bartali was some twenty minutes down.
Meanwhile back in Italy, Palmiro Togliatti, Secretary of the Italian Communist Party had been seriously wounded in an assassination attempt, which resulted in large scale civil unrest, protests, and rioting in the streets throughout Italy.
Bartali received a phone call from a friend, Alcide de Gaspari, a Deputy in the Italian Christian Democratic Party. He told Gino of the unrest back home and told him he needed him to win a stage. Such a win would distract the population from the political turmoil.
Bartali told him, “I’ll do better than that; I will win the whole race.” The next day was Cannes to Briançon, and included three major climbs, the Allos, Vars and Izoard. It took Bartali just ten hours, nine minutes and twenty eight seconds to cover the 274 kilometers, (170 miles.) crossing the three mountain passes with a total climbing amount of over 5300 meters. (17,388 feet.)
It was more than six minutes when the second rider came in. When Bobet finished, in twelfth place, over eighteen minutes had passed, and Bartali was now second overall, just 1min. 6sec. behind his young French rival.
This was only the beginning of Bartali’s softening up process; he dominated the race the following day. Major climbs, over the Col du Galibier and the Col de la Croix de Fer before a final attack on the Col de Porte saw him finish in Aix-les-Bains once again six minutes ahead of his nearest rival. Bobet's tenure on the Yellow Jersey was over; Bartali now led by over eight minutes.
Stage 15 to Lausanne, and Bartali was again a solo victor; he was totally dominating the race. Gino Bartali had gone from twenty minutes behind in Cannes, to an overwhelming lead of 32 minutes. He lost time in later time-trail stages but still came away the clear winner by 26 minutes at the end of the Tour.
Winning a total of seven stages, Bartali won with one of the most dominant displays ever seen in the Tour de France.
The population of Italy watched enthralled and by time Bartali arrived victorious in Paris, the political heat in that country had noticeably cooled.
De Gaspari's instincts had been right, Bartali had won the Tour, and in doing so, provided a distraction from his country’s political unrest. Never can a race have mattered so much.
It wasn’t until after his death that his family discovered he had been a member of the Italian Resistance movement during WWII, and was instrumental in helping Italian Jews escape to safety from German occupied Italy.
He used his fame as a racing cyclist to act as a courier; the authorities knew who he was and let him come and go as he pleased.
On his training rides, he would smuggle forged documents, hidden on his bike, to and from various convents where the Jewish fugitives were hidden.
In later years, Gino Bartali only mentioned these episodes to his sons in passing. It wasn’t until after his death when researching his diaries for a biography was the full extent of his war-time resistance involvement revealed. A movie was later made about these exploits, but as far as I know, it has not been shown outside of Italy.
The latter years of Gino Bartali’s career were somewhat overshadowed by a younger Fausto Coppi. (Whom I will write about later.) However, I have touched on the earlier part of his career before Coppi came into his own, in the hopes of showing he was a great rider in his own right.
He was another of my cycling heroes from my youth; turned out to be a real life hero and a great deal more than just another cycling legend.
Additional picture source: Tiscali.it, and La Repubblica
Much of my life it seems is spent dealing with junk; junk urging me to buy more junk.
Surely before long we will all be buried and suffocate under junk.
Junk on television was easy to deal with; I just quit watching most of the time, and when I do watch I am selective in choosing programs. Mail addressed to “Resident” goes straight into the garbage can.
However, the time I save not watching television or reading offers that come to my mailbox, just free up more time to deal with all the junk on my PC.
I used to have a contact page on my website where people could give me their name, email address, and write a message. It was then an easy matter for me to copy and paste the whole page into an MS Word file.
Then I would type in my reply under each message, ready to be copied into a return email. I also had a permanent record of the person who contacted me, their message and my response.
It was so easy, it worked so well for the longest time, then spammers started loading up the page with HTML code. I think the theory was, by putting all this HTML code onto my successful website, it would somehow help them get picked up by the various search engine robots.
Like some life sucking parasite that will eventually kill the host plant, they eventually killed my contact page. Each day I had to scroll though pages and pages of this HTML junk to extract the genuine messages. It became so time consuming that in the end I had to reluctantly scrap my contact page.
The only way to contact me now is through email. The last thing I want to do is break contact altogether. Part of the joy and satisfaction of maintaining this blog and my website is the contact it brings with other like-minded people out there.
Old friends have found me, some from as far back as my teenage years, and I have made many new friends, many of which I have yet to meet face to face, and shake hands.
This blog does extremely well on the search engines. The parasites out there should note that the way to get picked up by search engines is to spend a great deal of time writing quality fresh content on your site.
I must get hundreds of emails a day, most of them junk; I am pretty well organized in dealing with them. I keep on top of my inbox and check it regularly several times each day. However, my system is not perfect and if anyone reading this has emailed me in the past and didn’t get a response, I sincerely apologize.
It is not my intention to ignore people; as I write this I have a backlog of emails I intend to respond to. I do not open every email, I don’t have time, but rather I scan down the incoming list, first reading the names and the subject line.
People who email me regularly, I know their names. If a message comes in with a name like Elmo Fuckstick I can pretty much guarantee it is junk. But many junk emails have a genuine sounding name, so then I have to rely in the subject line.
If the message is offering hot stocks, Rolex watches, or extra inches, it doesn’t get opened. If I am not sure I open it, just to check, I believe that I don’t miss too many genuine emails.
Emails I am going to respond to, I click and drag into a special folder, and then I hit the delete button to remove the rest in rapid time.
Last evening I received an email and the subject line read: “Question about geometry of FR1.” I almost missed it, the FR1 was hidden from me, but the word ‘geometry’ caught my eye. Had the sender put “Fuso geometry” in the subject line, I would have spotted it immediately.
The email was regarding a Fuso for sale on eBay. I always try to respond to these emails immediately and did so even though my wife was serving up dinner at the time. The ebay sale ends this coming weekend, so it would be of little use to answer it next week.
I do not want to get one of those spam removing software programs, I don’t trust a robot to spot another robot and I am afraid genuine messages would get blocked or delayed.
That is my mild rant about junk, especially junk emails. Please do not let this deter you from contacting me if you so wish.
Just remember, if I don’t know your name, the first word in the subject line needs to be “Bike,” “Bicycle” or “Fuso.” Something that will make it stand out, and shine like a little diamond amongst all the junk.
No offense meant to the makers of Spam; a food that was a staple throughout my childhood during WWII.
I heard a supposedly true story one time about a skilled wood carver, working on a huge pair of doors for some grandiose building.
The design he was working on was extremely intricate, with leaves and scrolls, and included all manner of symbolic creatures and characters.
Someone watching the old craftsman at work asked him, "How do you know when it is finished?"
He replied, "It is never finished, I just keep working on it until someone comes and takes it away from me."
This story came back to me thinking about my friend and fellow writer Red Evans; Red lost his fight with cancer and died last Sunday. Some of you may recall, I wrote about Red's illness here on January 2nd. My thoughts on hearing of Red's passing centered on the fact that his book "On Ice" was published only last September.
We were members of a local writers' group here in Charleston, South Carolina, and he had shared with us earlier last year that his book was to be published.
All writers, or for that matter, all artists of any kind start out as raw amateurs, and work on their craft initially for their own enjoyment. I remember Red reading to the group, and telling us, "I just love writing this stuff."
He obviously enjoyed sharing his writings with the group, and the group in turn shared his joy when his work was picked up by a publisher.
Now just a few short months and Red is gone; he got to see his book published but didn't get to see the next stage, the success of his book. He is no longer there to promote his book, and attend book signings, etc. Something else he was obviously enjoying.
It occurred to me that life is very much like those doors the old wood carver was working on, you just keep on working on it until they come and take it away.
When that time comes you had better be content with the way those doors look; you can’t say, “No wait, there is a little bit here that needs more work.”
Red had done many things in his life, including being a radio DJ, a Television News Director and Anchorman, and a lobbyist in Washington. Writing novels was just another little corner of his door he happened to be working on when they came to take it away.
I remember Red at the writers' meeting last November. He must have known the seriousness of his condition, but never gave us a clue, and was still full of the same wit and enthusiasm as he shared his latest writings with us.
There was no writers’ meeting at the end of December due to it being close to Christmas, and I wonder if he knew this was possibly his last meeting with the group and he made a special effort to be there. I feel privileged to have known Red Evans, albeit briefly near the end of his time here.
The way he lived his life to the fullest is an inspiration to me. Had he lived a little longer he no doubt would have achieved even more, but in the end, he seemed satisfied with what he had done.
I have learned recently that Red had three other novels finished, so more of his work may live on.
At a time when most in his position would have been reluctant to buy green bananas, (Red would have liked that one.) he kept on with his work until it was taken away.