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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars

on 30 August 2009
Bill Fotherigham writes very well on cycling and I always look forward to his latest offering. For me this his best effort to date by some distance and also the best cycling biog I've read.

The reason for this is that, in this book, he avoids the usual formula of the racing and results and a potted history of the person. Insofar as the results are concerned, cycling is hamstrung by the palmares of Eddy Merckx, which is like like comparing the batting averages of Don Bradman against everyone else. There is no comparison: the gulf is too large. What he has done instead is weave a multi faceted story: the rags to riches story of the poor boy made good; the complex rivalry between himself and Gino Bartali; and of course his 'interesting' domestic life that polarised Italy. All this is interspersed against the historical, social and political upheaval of the war and after, and the social mores of Italy moving from the control of the church to a secular society. Ultimately, the story of the man is more interesting than the career.

Coppi and Bartali were two of Italy's greatest ever sports stars and the various photos that turn up in this book and elsewhere are iconic. They attained film star status with the media attention they attracted. And it makes me wonder what results they would have achieved but for the intervention of the War. Fotheringham also did a good thing in managing to get Raphael Geminiani onside as it's apparent he's good for a quote and very opinionated; and, quick to take umbrage like he did with Paul Howard's book on Jacques Anquetil.

I would recommend this book to any sports fan, not just to those interested in cycling because the sporting angle becomes subsumed in the life story, which makes it all the more worthy.
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on 16 July 2017
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VINE VOICEon 14 June 2010
Not being a cyclist aficianado I had never heard of Fausto Coppi until I picked up this book. It is excellent, concentrating on the subject of the biography rather than the statistical and newspaper reports that often make up the facile ghost written stories about sportsmen. Coppi was from peasant stock, like another Tour of France winner, Miguel Indurain, combining strength and determination in a long standing rivalry with Gino Bartali. He started racing before - and continued during - the war when he broke the world hour record which lasted for almost a decade and a half.

In March 1943 Coppi joined the Italian army and was captured in North Africa by the British the following month. He was repatriated to Italy in 1945 and in July that year won the Circuit of the Aces in Milan. Cycling was the centre of huge media interest with Coppi and Bartali its main stars. From the late nineteenth century drug use was widespread in many sports and none more so than cycling. The situation was so widespread that in 1930 the Tour de France rule book reminded competitors that the organisers would not provide them with drugs. Coppi was open about the use of amphetamines, although none were ever found on him.

The rivalry with Bartali started at the beginning of Coppi's career. He joined Bartali's team in 1940 winning the Giro d'Italia by a massive margin over his team leader. Barteli was not amused. Bartali was a southerner, a traditionalist, a conservative with a leaning towards Church inspired Christian Democracy. It was said that Bartali relied on praying while cycling Coppi relied only on his body. Unlike Coppi he did not serve in the army but was reputed to have ridden his bike carrying messages on behalf of the Italian Resistance knowing he would not be stopped because of his national fame. Coppi was the hero of the industrial north and more secular in outlook at a time when Italian society was undergoing substantial cultural change which created sharp and violent political divisions.

In the early 1950's Coppi's reputation was hit when he became involved with a married woman Giulia Locatelli. Coppi's wife was not interested in cycling and, as his interests grew, they grew apart. Locatelli was interested in the sport and, according to her husband, was a social climber. In the public recriminations which followed the public seem to have endorsed the lady in white as a scarlet woman. Coppi separated from his wife and Locatelli from her husband, reverting to her maiden name of Occhini. Their relationship was a national scandal - even the Pope expressed his disapproval by refusing to bless the peloton at the start of the 1955 Giro d'Italia because it included a "public sinner". The public trial created an hostile atmosphere which led to Occhini travelling to Argentina for the birth of her son where he could be registered as legitimate. They eventually married in Mexico although the marriage was never recognised in Italy. By contrast Coppi's birthplace is now a museum to his achievements.

It's been argued that Coppi's decline was accelerated by the death of his younger brother, Serse, who crashed in a race in 1951 and suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. By the mid 1950's it was evident his strength had gone and by the time of his death race organisers were supposedly shortening races by 10k to make sure Coppi could finish them. On a trip to Upper Volta in Africa (now known as Burkina Faso) he caught malaria and died. Occhini blamed incompetent medics who thought he had a bronchil complaint and treated him for influenza. Later suggestions that he died from an overdose of cocaine appear to be without foundation although years of taking amphetamines cannot have helped Coppi. If Tommy Simpson rode himself to death Fausto Coppi was death still riding. For both it was all about the bike.

According to Fotheringham, "The Coppi myth has a momentum of its own". He has not tried to debunk the myth but places it in context. I cannot praise him too highly for the way he has tackled the subject. As a biography it is superior to most and evocative of the times. The curse of drugs has still not been eliminated from cycling, or other sports, which is a sad reflection on sports people. Cycling too still seems to be dominated by politics. There's enough statistics in the book to satisfy the general reader and make the point that Coppi was a great cyclist if an imperfect personality. If I can't identify with the former I do understand the latter. Five stars.
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on 13 September 2010
William Fotheringham is the author of a number of cycling books including "Put me back on my bike" which is a biography of Tom Simpson and "Roule Britania A History of Britons in the Tour de France" and "Fallen Angel" maintains the high standard that he has set himself. Fausto Coppi, was known as the Campionissimo - the champion of champions - a title richly deserved given his achievements including multiple wins in the Tour de France and the Giro. However, we should also remember that a significant proportion of his career was lost to the war years. Indeed, Eddy Merckx, the man who dominated cycling in the late 1960s and early 1970s, once commented that he didn't like to hear himself lauded as the greatest cyclist ever when he compared himself to Coppi. The book covers Coppi's rise to the top of his profession, his rivalry with the devoutly religious Gino Bartali, and the many race victories that make his Palmeres one of the best ever. However, it is the chapters covering his reaction to the death of his brother Serse and his relationship with the beautiful Giulia Occhini, the "White Lady", that make for the most fascinating reading. Its a biography of a sporting great and also the story of an amazing life. I recommend it highly.
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on 30 September 2010
Great insight into a great sportsman who I guess, unless you are Italian and a cycling fanatic, you would know little about. A great natural talent whose untimely death could have so easily been avoided. Interesting to realise the profound differences between road racing today and just after WWII, support vehicle, what support vehicle; although stimulants were just a prevalent, so it's not just a modern day concern. Good read and recommended.
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on 7 September 2010
I came to this book as a cycling fan but with very little knowledge of Coppi. It is a great story if you have an interest in cycling but I think there should be enough here for non-cycling fans also, as it is brilliantly researched and written as I would expect. ( I have read this author's Tom Simpson book and it is excellent also).
The social history in this book , the rural poverty of Italy , the war years and its impact on Italy and Europe are intriguing backdrops to this story but it is the rise and "fall" of a hero at the hands of the church and media and social morals of the time that really make this a great read.
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on 29 September 2013
i could not put this book down! i love reading about the older days of cycling, and the story of faustino coppi is remarkable to say the least. i absolutely loved this book and fell in love with coppi and the story of the other cyclists of the time [bartali, geminiani] and love reading about their passion' of cycling, their troubles that is life itself and also their humour and banter whilst out on the rough roads of europe; there's some great little quotes that made me laugh out loud. i found it very easy to read, it was so well written which meant i could fly through it, but at the same time take everything in. i would also recommend "put me back on my bike" by william, i read that prior to getting stuck into this one. ive just ordered "merckx: half man..." and i bet that will be a crackin' read too... love merckx! i will now be on the look out for more coppi books to delve a little deeper into the legend of the campionissimo!
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on 27 September 2010
This is a MUST for one who wants to get in the sport... I absolutely recommend this!!!!!
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on 10 September 2012
Fallen Angel is a well-written, heavily researched and interesting book. Fotheringham does well to keep a neutral stance on events by presenting both sides of the argument equally. I knew that Fausto Coppi was one of the greatest cyclists that has ever lived before I read this book but I did not know why. This book reveals all. Apart from Coppi's tremendous results on the bike, his privacy, shyness and early death meant that he retained an aura of mystique that continues to this day. Coppi is humanized in this book and I suppose that this is the point of biographies. My point is that it leaves me slightly disappointed as I feel I will never be able to idolize him in the same way as the Italians do. Perhaps the story of Coppi should be written as a piece of fiction so that he can take his place once again amongst the cycling Gods.
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on 16 May 2015
An insight into the complicated life of Coppi and his rise from poverty to celebrity with a scandal included. The book does not pull back from the fact that he frequently used artificial means of improving his performances although he appears to have been head and shoulders above is opponents in his heyday. His death appears to have been the result of medical mismanagement with his doctors failing to diagnose and treat malaria caught on a hunting/cycling trip to Africa even when he had previously caught the disease during his time in the army. A good read giving an insight into how much effort cyclists like Coppi had to make to succeed in the sport. Well worth a read.
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