The spring classics start this weekend with Milano-Sanremo on Saturday, March 17th. Your author has already tipped Daniele Bennati as a surprise winner from a bunch of possible Italian contenders. To which one might add Peter Sagan, not quite an Italian but riding for an Italian team. We shall see.
There have been numerous famous editions of the race. Perhaps the most well known from the history books is the 1946 edition, which came to symbolize not only Italy’s rebirth from war and fascism but also the founding of the Fausto Coppi myth. John Foot’s excellent book Pedalare! Pedalare!, a history of Italian cycling, covers much of the ground on Coppi already given extensive treatment by William Fotheringham in Fallen Angel. Foot is able to draw on a number of Italian sources, which add colour to his story.
For example, Coppi’s physical appearance was much remarked upon. Gino Bartali said that he looked like a ‘bald cat’. Others said he was like uno scorfano, the scorpionfish to which less comely people in Italy are apparently often compared to. “Off the bike, he seems a scorpionfish,” said one Italian cycling author. “On the bike, he is simply divine.”
In 1946, Coppi won Milano-Sanremo by 14 minutes, an impossible margin. He attacked early and rode most of the race alone. “We saw him go at Binasco,” Foot quotes one fellow rider as saying. “And then I next bumped into him at dinner.” You can read more about how Coppi did it on Pez Cycling News.