Cycling Families: The brothers Coppi

Serge and Fausto Coppi (l to r), (image courtesy of www.corvos.nl)

Serse and Fausto Coppi (image courtesy of http://www.corvos.nl)

Although they’re no longer with us, it’s worth heading back into the archives to remember the special relationship enjoyed by the Coppi brothers, Fausto and Serse. So special, that they each seemed one half of the whole and therefore incomplete without the other. As is so often with identical twins, they often completed one another’s sentences. Had he lived, Serse, the younger brother by four years, would have been 89 years young on Monday, 19th March.

The brothers  – the youngest of five children – were born into a Piedmontese farming family and even as youngsters, despite their age difference, the boys were close. They were described by family members as being like night and day. Fausto was well-behaved, reserved even, while Serse was never still, less obedient and much the merrier of the two.

After being separated during the war, the brothers rode together for the post-war Bianchi team, Serse acting as one of Fausto’s domestiques or gregari.  But any assistance he provided on the road was overshadowed by their relationship which was best summarised by Dino Buzzati in 1949:

Here’s the fascinating hypothesis – that Serse is Fausto’s lucky charm, his guardian spirit, a sort of living talisman, a little like the magic lamp without which Aladdin would have remained a beggar. Who knows – perhaps the secret of his champion brother lies with Serse? If Serse were to give up cycling, perhaps the magic would disappear, and Fausto would find himself suddenly without strength, like a limp rag. Partners then – they are so close that neither is capable of living without the other.

Serse Coppi (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

Serse Coppi (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

Serge lacked his brother’s application, though he possessed the same powerful legs, and even won the Paris-Roubaix Classic in 1949, albeit in controversial circumstances. History books show there are two winners that year: Andre Mahe who was leading, but was accidentally sent off course, and Serse, who crossed the line first.

Team mates fondly remember Serse as being charismatic and a larger than life character who played practical jokes and loved to party, particularly with the ladies with whom he enjoyed some notable success. He was allegedly well-hung [ahem – Ed] and, given that cycling attire leaves little to the imagination, we can assume the allegations were correct.

Sadly less than two years after Buzzati’s article Serse was dead. The crash occurred in the 1951 Tour of Piedmont, near the Turin Velodrome. One cyclist misjudged a bend, put his wheel in a tram-line and fell taking Serse Coppi, and others, down with him. Serse banged his head on the pavement but got up and rode to the finish before going to his hotel room, which he shared with his brother. He later complained of feeling unwell and, despite any obvious injuries, his condition quickly deteriorated and he was taken to hospital where he died, in his brother’s arms, before they could operate.

Fausto Coppi drawn by Claudio Pesci

Fausto Coppi drawn by Claudio Pesci

It’s said that Fausto never recovered from his brother’s death. He had persuaded Serse to race so that they could be together and had been riding in the Tour of Piedmont in preparation for the Tour de France where he’d have been riding in support of his more famous brother.

Fausto’s contemporaries and family are unequivocal that Serse’s death was a turning point in the life of Fausto – nothing was ever quite the same again. To quote William Fotheringham, from Fallen Angel – The Passion of Fausto Coppi:

The disintegration of Fausto’s marriage, his disastrous divorce, his long, painful decline, even his premature death, all seemed to stem from this initially banal crash on a tram-line in Turin.

On Fausto’s premature death in January 1960 from malaria, contracted while in Burkina Faso, the boys were reunited and now lie side by side in their home town of Castellania where there’s also a museum, as shown in the video below, and one or two other things, dedicated to the two of them.

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