Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book: Fallen Angel, the Passion of Fausto Coppi

I first learned of this book under the Italian title of "Un uomo solo". The author's name was decidely un-Italian, William Fotheringham. Further investigation revealed that this book was originally published in English in July, 2009, under the title of "Fallen Angel, the Passion of Fausto Coppi".

William Fotheringham is a sports writer specializing in cycling for The Guardian (UK). Fotheringham was a features editor for Cycling Weekly, and the the first editor of Cycle Sport and Procycling magazine; he is a current writer for Rouleur Magazine

A book review in THE INDEPENDENT said:

"Who is Italy's most popular sportsman of the 20th century? Not motor-racing maestro Enzo Ferrari (third) or skiing supremo Alberto Tomba (second) but the cyclist they call "il campionissimo", the champion of champions, Fausto Coppi, who died aged 40 in 1960.

He was certainly a tremendous athlete, as multiple wins in the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, plus countless other races, indicate. He was the first to achieve a Tour-Giro double, which he did twice. But his feats held a larger significance; the peasant who got on his bike offered a beacon of hope to a nation struggling in the post-war era.

Later, when he left his family for his mistress at a time when adultery was still a criminal offence in Italy, he divided the country. The ramifications still rumbled on when he died suddenly of malaria. But his early death only fed the legend, and race spectators still hold up signs proclaiming "Coppi il mito" – "Coppi the myth".

This sympathetic, perceptive biography sets him against a backdrop of tumultuous social upheaval. Times have changed, but the myth lives on."

And, from an interview from

"DP: Let's talk about your latest book, “fallen angel”, why do you choose Coppi?

WF: It followed naturally from Simpson, [Fotheringham's previous biography was an acclaimed account of the life of British rider Tom Simpson who died on the slopes of Mont Ventoux]. Coppi was the other great tragic hero. Like with Tom I felt the story hadn't been told in depth in English, but I also really wanted to look at Italian culture. Coppi is far more of a cultural phenomenon, much more part of Italy than Tom is part of Britain.

DP: Both died young and that fact has of course had an impact on how they're perceived. Is that something that particularly interests you?

WF: Not as such but they are just very deep human stories with an added edge because of the tragic ending. All romantics like the whole 'live fast die young' thing.

DP: Can you explain a little about the process you undertake, do you complete all interviews and research before starting to write?

WF: Usually most of the research is done before the writing. You have a hit list of interviewees and background books to start with. Sometimes you go back for a second visit or begin to discover angles which aren't obvious to start with as you write, but the bones are there beforehand.

DP: Was it easy to get access to family for interviews and to get them to open up, particularly in relation to his [Coppi's] affair?

WF: Everyone was amazingly helpful but I think so much has been said and written about the affair that it was hard to talk about. There's a lot left unsaid.

DP: You get that impression from the book. How long did it take to finish?

WF: From first interview to final proofs it was over four years. Not all that time writing but it was a long process, often interrupted.

DP: As you pull together all the information and build a picture of your subjects, do you feel a kind of bond to them, even though you can never meet them or talk with them?

WF: It wasn't as close with Coppi as it was with Simpson, because there I had access to personal letters which were in my first language. With Coppi there's a language barrier, but things like the letter from his aunt which I use as an opener [sent] shivers down the spine."

Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press (Italian Publisher: Edizione Piemme)
Pages: 304
ISBN: 978-0-224-07447-6
Pub Date: July 14, 2009

The Italian title comes from the famous words during a radio broadcast of the 1949 Giro d'Italia by Mario Ferretti when he said, "Un uomo solo è al comando; la sua maglia è bianco-celeste; il suo nome è Fausto Coppi".

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