Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi

The Giro d’Italia — more famously known as the Giro — is a long distance bicycle race in May or June. Inspired by the Tour de France, the race was started in 1909; to copy’s the Tour de France’s victorious yellow jersey, the winner of the Giro always gets a pink jersey (maglia rosa) – pink being the color of the event’s main sponsor, the newspaper La Gazella dello Sport.

The Giro is the sporting event for bikers, and the race has seen a fair share of intense rivalries. The most famous rivalry was perhaps between Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi, arguably the greatest feud in cycling history. Gino Bartali was the undisputed champion of Italian cycling until Fausto came along. The latter beat his older rival time and again, winning the race five times and le Tour de France twice. (Gino won the Giro thrice and Tour de France once). Italy took sides between the religious, rural Gino and the self-professed atheist from Italian north, Fausto. Even the Vatican took sides: Pope Pius XII naturally supported religious Gino Bartali and refused to bless one race because Coppi was riding in it.

Their personal rivalry was more acidic. In an era when performance-enhancing drugs were not yet forbidden, Coppi admitted to using them almost all the time. Doping infuriated his older rival, who would often keep spies, ransack Coppi’s room or picked up Coppi’s bottles to figure out what special drug Coppi was using. In 1949 at the world championships, both quit the race rather than help each other win. They apparently reconciled for 1952 Tour de France, but unfortunately the above picture was taken which would alienate two again.

On the surface, it seemed like a simple symbol of brotherhood and sportsmanship, and it is. In Italy, it became an iconic image. It showed Coppi (right) holding a water bottle and reaching back to Bartali during the climb of the Col de l’Iseran. Or did it? There followed an extensive debate over who was giving the bottle to whom. Coppi said he was giving it to Bartali. Bartali insisted, “I did. He never gave me anything.” They argued about it for years until Coppi’s premature death from malaria in 1959.

So this week, I went to my dad’s place and played squash with him. Midgame, he brought up the blog I was writing (i.e., this one) and how he had been checking it recently. It is always flattering to hear something like this from one’s own dad and also more surprising to know that one’s dad can use internet! (jk dad). Anyhow, he said he was quite sad that I don’t cover that many photos from sports — although a lot of iconic stuff happens there. So I came back, sat down and wrote this. This one is for you, dad.

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0 thoughts on “Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi

  1. The bottle was handed by a spectator to a rider on Bartali’s right side, he drank from it and handed it to Bartail on his left. Because they were on a right hand corner, the bottle had to be handed forwards, after Bartali drank from the bottle it was then handed forwards to Coppi. Your text says Col l’Izoard, maybe, but I always believed it to be the Galibier. I have shot at this spot and the barriers were there until recent years

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