Coppi's double


There are no more climbs at 14 or 18%, no more abrupt cols; no more calvary. All is easy. The journalists, the riders, must have exaggerated. The mountains? What a joke! [...] He climbs like artists paint water colours, without any extra apparent effort. How can this be? It is a mystery because, when all is said and done, Coppi has only two legs, two lungs, one heart, like you and I and all the other contestants of the Tour

- André Leducq

1948 had been a somehwat low-key year for Fausto Coppi; in 1949 he was determined to surpass himself. In that year's Giro d'Italia he won three stages and the mountains as well as the overall, relegating his great rival Gino Bartali to a distance of nearly twenty four minutes, and the rest of the field to fifteen more on top of that. Yet the frequent graffiti on Italian roads stung him: "Fausto, to be a true champion, you need the yellow jersey". 1949 was to be the year for the grand entrance.

Yet it has to be said the early days of the Tour did not go well for Coppi. A few days before the start of the Tour, team manager Alfredo Binda had convinced Coppi and Bartali to work together in the same team. On the stage to St Malo, Coppi decided to make his presence felt and started a break early in the stage. However, in the village of Mouen, a spectator, attempting to hand up a bottle, caused the Yellow Jersey Jacques Marinelli to crash, bringing down Coppi also. Marinelli was soon away, but Coppi's bike was damaged.

- "Where's Binda with my spare bike?" he raged.

The answer was with Bartali in the bunch. Somehow the fire went from Coppi, there and then. "He has eyes only for Bartali", Coppi claimed. Rightly or wrongly, Coppi gave up riding hard, eventually finishing the stage eighteen minutes behind the break, and thirteen behind a bunch containing such rivals as Bartali, Robic, Magni and Ockers. That night there was talk of retiring from the race; Jacques Goddet wrote an editorial in l'Equipe claiming Coppi was too used to winning in Italy, and didn't have the resistance to pain to be a true "touriste".

Somehow feelings were patched up. Coppi's gregari from his Bianchi trade team persuaded him not to quit; Binda built bridges persuading him that the race was still open to be won, with the Alpes and Pyrenees still to come. In the first long time trial, Coppi won by over a minute from Ferdi Kübler - a small gain by his standards, but psychologically important. Goddet was forced to change his tune in the l'Equipe editorial: "It is impossible to dislike the progress of Coppi as the kilometres slip beneath his wheels. His pedalling style is like the Divine Comedy, unique!" In the Pyrenees, Coppi sprung back to life, though an untimely puncture meant the victory went to Jean Robic. But the true day of reckoning was still to come: once more, Cannes - Briançon was on the menu.

So it was that the two Italian champions set to work to destroy the field. On the false flat to Arvieux, at the foot of the Izoard, the two jumped away so effectively that in twenty kilometres they took four minutes from the bunch. When Coppi punctured on the climb, Bartali waited for him. When Bartali punctured on the rough descent, Coppi similarly waited. On the last climb to the citadel in Briançon, Coppi allowed Bartali to win on what was his 35th birthday. Robic finished third, but over five minutes behind; long-time leader Marinelli was sixth, at nine and a half; yellow jersey Fiorenzo Magni of the Italian B team was left more than twelve minutes down. Kübler lost sixteen minutes between the foot of the Izoard, where he had been leading, and the finish. Bartali now led, but Coppi had climbed from nowhere into second place overall, just a minute behind.

On the road to Aosta, it was the same story: Bartali and Coppi away together, with the rest nowhere. This time, however, Bartali punctured with forty two kilometres of the stage remaining. Coppi waited whilst Bartali's wheel was changed, but then Bartali fell, twisting his ankle as he did so. Anxiously Coppi waited, until word came from Binda: "Let Coppi ride on his own account". Instantly he was away. By the finish, he had taken nearly five minutes from the injured Bartali, and an incredible ten from the chasers, once again led by Robic. The Colmar - Nancy time trial told the same story: Bartali (who still finished second on the stage) lost seven minutes; Marinelli (fourth) over eleven; Robic (seventh) over thirteen. The Tour was won, and with it the first ever Giro - Tour double.

Stage winners

 StageWinnerOverall Leader
Stage 1Paris - Reims, 182kmMarcel DussaultMarcel Dussault
Stage 2Reims - Brussels, 273kmRoger LambrechtRoger Lambrecht
Stage 3Brussels - Boulogne, 211kmNorbert CallensNorbert Callens
Stage 4Boulogne - Rouen, 185mLucien TeisseireJacques Marinelli
Stage 5Rouen - Saint Malo, 293kmFerdi KüblerMarinelli
Stage 6Saint Malo - Les Sables d'Olonne, 305kmAdolphe DeleddaMarinelli
Stage 7Les Sables d'Olonne - La Rochelle, 92km TTFausto CoppiMarinelli
Stage 8La Rochelle - Bordeaux, 262kmGuy LapébieMarinelli
Stage 9Bordeaux - San Sebastian, 228kmLouis CaputMarinelli
Stage 10San Sebastian - Pau, 192kmFiorenzo MagniFiorenzo Magni
Stage 11Pau - Luchon, 193kmJean RobicMagni
Stage 12Luchon - Toulouse, 134kmRik Van SteenbergenMagni
Stage 13Toulouse - Nîmes, 289kmEmile IdéeMagni
Stage 14Nîmes - Marseille, 199kmJean GoldschmitMagni
Stage 15Marseille - Cannes, 215kmDésiré KeteleerMagni
Stage 16Cannes - Briançon, 275kmGino BartaliGino Bartali
Stage 17Briançon - Aosta, 257kmCoppiFausto Coppi
Stage 18Aosta - Lausanne, 265kmVicenzo RoselloCoppi
Stage 19Lausanne - Colmar, 283kmRaphaël GeminianiCoppi
Stage 20Colmar - Nancy, 137km TTCoppiCoppi
Stage 21Nancy - Paris, 340kmVan SteenbergenCoppi

In a nutshell

Results

Overall

1st: Fausto Coppi, Italy, 4808km in 149h 40' 49" (32.122km/h)
2nd: Gino Bartali, Italy, @10' 55"
3rd: Jacques Marinelli, Ile de France, @25' 13"
4th: Jean Robic, Ouest - Nord, @34' 28"
5th: Marcel Dupont, Belgium B - "Aiglons", @38' 59"
6th: Fiorenzo Magni, Italy B - "Cadetti", @42' 10"
7th: Stan Ockers, Belgium, @44' 35"
8th: Jean Goldschmit, Luxembourg, @47' 24"
9th: Jean "Apo" Lazaridès, France, @52' 28"
10th: Pierre Cogan, Ouest - Nord, @1h 08' 55"

(55th: Guido de Santi, Italy, @6h 06' 51")

Mountains

1st: Fausto Coppi, Italy, 81
2nd: Gino Bartali, Italy 68
3rd: Jean Robic, Ouest - Nord, 62

Team

1st: Italy 450h 35' 23"
2nd: Ouest - Nord @2h 10' 21"
3rd: Luxembourg @2h 18' 16"