Fausto Coppi

Italian icon. The epitome of cool. Possessor of a fine sense of the dramatic. Fausto Coppi, one of bike racing’s greatest champions, helped to define, one epic ride after another, cycling’s enduring aesthetic.

Portrait by Claudio Pesci

In the rarefied air of cycling’s professional peloton, style and substance has always been the holy grail: the perfect combination to appease the devoted legions that demand sacrifice, the offering of blood and sweat as a daily ritual, but then asks too if it can all be done with a heavy dose of panache and a keen appreciation of aesthetics.

Fausto Coppi didn’t need to be asked.

As a cyclist, as a man, he encapsulated an effortless, detached cool that will never look old. A look that transcends times and trends and fashions; a way of being on the bike and off that was refined, deeply elegant even but still, importantly, rooted in the truth. That he came from nothing. That he worked for everything.

Given that road racing is the most unforgiving of pursuits, never actually giving a flying fuck about style, most riders defer to offering the aforementioned blood and sweat, comforted by the fact the record books, the top of the mountain pass, the finish line have never proffered points for simply looking right. But we care. And this is why Coppi lives on. His palmares runs deep of course. Grand Tour victories. Classics wins. A demon against the clock. Only Eddy Merckx has a better claim on being the greatest of all time. The substance of Coppi is indisputable.

But it is the style in which he achieved the victories and in which he endured the losses – the defeats handed to him by his Italian rival Gino Bartali, the death of his brother Serse – that are the reason why his portrait still hangs in every bike shop in Italy over fifty years after his death. The reason why he is not just a champion but the champion. Il campionissimo.