In his introduction Herbie Sykes claims he didn’t want to ever write a book about Fausto Coppi. I believe him, but I’m glad he decided otherwise, for while I’ll suggest this NOT be the first book you read about the “champion of champions”, perhaps it should be the last.
Sykes’ work is far from just another biography of the famous Italian cyclist, but rather a look at the man himself through rare photographs along with the words of his gregari and rivals, who sometimes were both during their careers.
It’s difficult to say which part of the book is more illuminating or entertaining, the many never-before-seen (and trust me I have a LOT of books about Coppi!) photos or the evocative accounts of life and competition, both for and against the man many claim revolutionized the sport during what is arguably the “golden age of cycling”.
Much has been written about Coppi’s famous rivalry with Gino Bartali, but this book sheds what to me is a new light on this as well as the character of Coppi’s older team captain and later rival. In most of the accounts I’ve read about this rivalry, Bartali is painted as a gruff but warm and almost saintly figure, while Coppi is the cold, modern man. The stories in COPPI paint a far different picture.
The book’s format is short chapters based on interviews the author did with these old bike racers, inserted between pages of rarely seen photos from various archives. Herbie's mission was to record their memories while the racers were still around to recount them. Sykes, also author of Maglia Rosa, did a great job translating them into English, then putting them into writing.
These stories are perfectly complemented by the rare, archival photos, my only complaint being the captions are buried in the back with the photography credits instead of included on the relevant pages.
By all means, read the other, more biographical accounts of the life and career of Il Campionissimo, but as they say, save the best for last.
Disclaimer: This book was furnished by the publisher for review purposes.