Fausto Coppi

The Style Icon

Words Graham Hutson

The son of Piedmont farmers with an obsession for cycling that would make him a superstar, Fausto Coppi’s story is a rags to riches tale that captured the imagination of a nation. Along the way, his impeccable dress sense would become as big a part of his personality as his achievements on the bike.

Coppi was a man of great interest to the Italian public and, as a result of his fame, a vast library of images exists featuring Italy’s most treasured cyclist – and many of the photos clearly demonstrate why he was the epitome of Italian style. There are of course shots of him racing, but also of him off-duty, wearing suits accessorised with a simple polo shirt (buttoned to the neck). In one such photograph from 1959 he stands alongside Federico Bahamontes, a star of Coppi’s own team, as Bahamontes claims the yellow jersey after stage 19 from Aoste to Annecy. Sunglasses were almost a trademark of Coppi’s, even when racing. A pre-depart shot reveals Coppi in somber mood, spare tyre around his shoulders and his sunglasses masking his downward gaze as he avoids eye contact with his bitter rival, Gino Bartali.

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Coppi had a knack of carrying off a look without even knowing it, and nowhere else is this more evident than in pre and post-race shots. One such image captures Coppi striding with purpose following what looks to be a mountaintop finish of an unidentified post-war bike race, with a full-length trench coat thrown over his Bianchi team kit, unfastened and flowing behind him. His expression is one of determination, of a military general mid campaign, flanked by his lieutenants, including his elder brother Serse – and there’s not a bike in sight.

In contrast, Coppi’s own military background is one of conscription and incarceration. He was captured by the British within a month of being posted to Tunisia in 1943 and spent the war as a prisoner in Italy, where his reputation on the bike ensured he had a smoother incarceration than others.

Photographs such as these have created a legend at odds with perceptions of him at the time. The cyclist was considered ungainly off the bike, like a swan out of water, his powerful legs ill-proportioned to his upper body and small shoulders. He had a physique that could only be shaped by a life of riding, leading Bartali to say he looked like a skinned cat.

His cycling grace helped redress the balance. Frenchman André Leducq, winner of the 1930 and 1932 Tours de France, was a writer for Le Miroir des Sports after he retired. In 1952 he described Coppi as riding “like a great artist painting a watercolour.”

“He seems to caress rather than grip the handlebars, while his torso appears fixed to the saddle. His long legs extend to the pedals with the joints of a gazelle. At the end of each pedal stroke his ankle flexes gracefully. It’s as if all the moving parts turn in oil. His long face appears like the blade of a knife as he climbs without apparent effort.”

Coppi joined Bianchi in 1945 and rode for the team until 1958. During the forties the team was said to have been built around him – Coppi won the Tour de France for Bianchi in 1949 and 1952, and won the Giro d’Italia for the team in 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953. He was the first cyclist in history to win the Giro-Tour double.

Throughout his career, Coppi raced in Bianchi celeste and, of course, the pink of the Giro d’Italia leader’s jersey. Inspired by his team kit, Rapha’s recent Made in Italy collection brings a modern twist to the merino jerseys of Coppi’s era, while the Coppi Bib Shorts offer cutting edge padding and fabric technology in a style that transcends any era, finished off with the looping Coppi signature.

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Coppi was possessed of such stylistic insouciance that he could accessorise a pair of track trousers with a thick-knit wool sweater and silk scarf and still look every bit the superstar. He even appeared on TV in his tracksuit, tapered at the lower leg, accessorised by a smart pair of leather loafers. Photographs such as this proved the catalyst for the Coppi Merino Warm Up Trousers and tracksuit top.

The collection is Made In Italy, as was the man himself. It is imbued with the reserved style typical of Coppi, and designed to perform time and time again.