Anatomy of a Photo: Fausto Coppi

The killer's look

A lot has been made lately of the fact that riders today are lacking a little bit of the V. It’s not so much a criticism of how they conduct themselves during a race (although that has also been called into question lately), but in their general demeanor towards their life as a cyclist.

It doesn’t surprise me much; historically, riders chose a life on the bike as an escape from their other occupational choice which typically involved hard manual labor in a dark pit or on a cold field whereas today’s riders generally come from more privileged backgrounds and find their way into this world from a life of relative luxury.

A life of hardship went beyond their working-class roots, it applied to their life on the bike as well.  They scaled the same passes we do today, except they did it over dirt roads aboard heavy, flexy bikes with relaxed geometries, wearing what amounted to little more than leather loafers. Hardness wasn’t something to aspire to; it was simply the way it was.

This is one of my favorite photos of a cyclist, and the bicycle is nowhere to be seen. From the look on his face, Coppi just ate himself a Schlecklette and, based on the gesture he’s making, is preparing to drop trou and shit ‘im right back out.

To put Cipollini’s sentiments above into Coppi’s words:

Age and treachery will overcome youth and skill.

To todays generation of riders, I offer this advice: take no prisoners, fucktards.

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109 Replies to “Anatomy of a Photo: Fausto Coppi”

  1. I have no problem with a “hero or goat” attempt at winning. I have a big problem with deciding it’s okay to be second or third or gift a win to another rider without at least looking like one is trying. Van Summeren’s move to go solo was a classic hero or goat. There were times when he was only 10 seconds ahead of his chasers. IT WAS AWESOME. I like it when riders keep pounding away until they either get away or die trying.

  2. With all the due respect to Fausto and the other people in the photo it recollected me a line of City Slickers:
    “DId you see how leathery he was? It was like a saddlebag with eyes!”

  3. Excellent photo! And great piece, Frank. Damn! The scowl. The tallness, The fucking pins. This is man who had to deal with the fucking Black Shirts, was a POW, whose brother smashed his head and died during a field sprint AND broke more than five bones during his career. And so true, even though the pain wagon is nowhere in sight, still an incredible picture.

  4. No doubt he just finished a 320km Pyrenean stage riding a 42 x 18 or something equally mean. Quality photo Frank. It does speak volumes about who was tough and how the definition of toughness has drifted a bit in recent years.

  5. This is a great photo and could easily fit into Frank’s previous posts on looking Deliberately Casual. Full marks should also be given to the two gents to Coppi’s right. The tweed Norfolk jacket with upturned collar, contrasting white shirt, dress sandals and carefully coiffed hair, make him superbly dressed whether he’s officiating or stepping out. His companion’s harder to read but he’s wearing a marvelous pair of what I’ve always called “brothel creepers” with their thick crepe soles. Perhaps Coppi is wearing his overcoat? Speaking of soles, those on Coppi’s shoes sure don’t look very stiff by today’s standards. Full flex on the rear foot. Also, no facial hair on Coppi – clearly shaving did not diminish his ability to dish out the V. It would be nice if Schleck/Contador rivalry could emulate the Coppi/Bartali rivalry, but I doubt it.

  6. I knew there was a reason I prefer my socks lower than ‘regulation’. I have been unconsciously emulating Fausto. Now it can be conscious. Thanks, Frank.

  7. Fuck this is an amazing photo. I have always been a huge fan of those old black and whites of people laboring away, be it on a bike or in a mine. It come’s from my days of working in a packing house skinning cattle. It might be a sightly romantic view of salt of the earth folks, cause I know first hand there is nothing romantic about it but its the type of photography I like best.

    I learned about Coppi from the owner of the bike shop I got my bike at in Palermo, Italy. The owner had some minor success as a amateur racer, gave up driving a taxi and opened up a small shop(no small feat in Italy). I would take my bike in and we would talk, him in his thick Palermo dialect and me in Spanish/Italian.

  8. I’m sorry i need to mention the coat, if i ever win a race i want a coat like that for the podium. I want to stand with my hands in the back pockets and look malevolently down as those over whom i am ‘Vainquer’. None of those ‘team tracksuits’, 50’s cool is where it’s at

  9. frank :
    @G’phantIt’s hard to keep your socks up when they keep recoiling in fear of your calves. That’s Coppi’s escuse, what’s yours? Kanklefat?

    My socks fall down laughing when they see my calves.

  10. My socks fall down laughing when they see my calves.

    HA! Nice.

    There seems to be an intelligence bred from necessity in these men as well. You wouldn’t sit down with this man at the chess board for instance and expect anything other than a hiding: he’d have you beat before you even began.

  11. Whilst I can not be 100% sure, but based on the length of his knicks (actually, the lack thereof) I believe that Il Campionissimo was not riding his bike that day. Think he had been playing Australian Rules Football?

  12. I had the great fortune to stumble upon an exhibit dedicated to Coppi at ‘Il Vittoriano‘ whilst travelling through Rome last year. All manner of amazing stuff was on display. Tons of old footage, photographs, magazines, postcards from fans, etc. Some of the highlights were a couple of his and Serse’s bikes, his first maglia rosa and his world championship jersey.

    I don’t have any of my photos to hand but I have found these which show some of the items on display. Great stuff.

  13. Holy fuck, Frank! That was pure awesomeness! Short & concise, but powerful. Great write-up.

    Nothing worse than some softie who plays sports for “fun”; I was a public school kid growing up and always took pleasure in kicking the shit out of private/prep school kids who had all the best gear, all the best coaching, and couldn’t have located The V with a Coppi-brand GPS finder. Man, nothing worse than someone who gives up because it is too cold, too hot, too hard.

    That photo is awesome! In the future I will show up at all races in a trench coat. I’m a bad motherfucker, but I still have some class & style, lads.

  14. someone help me out here, as i can’t remember who said, but it sure is apropos, the following:

    “i’d rather attack over and over, blow-up and come in last, than stay in the bunch, and come in 23rd.”

    that’s the V at its essence.

    think philgil during the final week of last year’s vuelta, or the world championship; that’s how he rolled, and it backfired. but, he’s no wheel-sucker, as “the god of thunder” has become.

  15. @Ron
    I was a private school kid growing up. I looked forward to the games against the public schools. They were the easy ones for schoolboys’ ability to dislike is not fully developed. The hard games were the ones we played in the men’s league (which were most of them). Our older opponents’ dislike for us was much more firmly entrenched and keenly felt. They taught us much more about the V. Which, I think, is really the point: the V is really all about a state of mind. Which is probably what Frank, BRR and others have been saying all along about LBL and Frandy. I should pay more attention.

  16. @heath

    Jacky Durand, winner of RVV/Tour de Flanders in ’92 on a 217km breakaway.

    ‘I’D RATHER FINISH SHATTERED AND LAST HAVING ATTACKED A HUNDRED TIMES THAN FINISH 25TH WITHOUT HAVING TRIED.’

    ‘I’M NOT A REVOLUTIONARY OF ANY SORT, BUT ON THE BIKE, I’VE ALWAYS REFUSED TO COME OUT OF A MOULD. IT ASTONISHES ME THAT MOST RIDERS ARE FOLLOWERS, EVEN SHEEP. A LOT OF THEM, THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO KNOW THEY’RE IN THE TOUR ARE THEIR DIRECTEURS SPORTIFS. I COULDN’T DO THE JOB LIKE THAT. THEY FINISH THE TOUR WITHOUT HAVING ATTACKED ONCE, MAYBE THE WHOLE OF THE SEASON, EVEN THE WHOLE OF THEIR CAREER. I’D RATHER FINISH SHATTERED AND LAST HAVING ATTACKED A HUNDRED TIMES THAN FINISH 25TH WITHOUT HAVING TRIED.’

  17. Sounds like this kid understands the V too:

    John Degenkolb, neo pro and first time entrant, came 19th.

    Will do well this kid.

  18. As long as we are talking about il campionissimo, I feel compelled to note that the Giro starts in 10 days. W il Giro!

  19. I’d suggest a new term is appropriate following Sunday’s wimper of a finish: “Schlecking.” A precise definition would take some collective thought, but a starting point for discussion might be that Schlecking is “being such a big pussy that you don’t even try to attack a rival you have outnumbered 2 to 1 in the final 10k of a one day Classic, the cycling equivalent to a canine rolling over and peeing on itself in submission upon mere sight of another canine.”

    I’m glad to see the quote regarding attacking and attacking until you blow up and finish last as opposed to sitting in and finishing 23rd. Now THAT dude was a real cyclist. I just cannot fathom having a chance to win in the last 10k of a one day Classics race, with numbers (your brother nonetheless), and not burying yourself with attacks to go for the win. The guy who attacks himself into blowing up would be remembered more for his effort than whoever it is that got 2nd place. Unless, that is, you are notoriously remembered for Schlecking yourself to 2nd or 3rd.

  20. Schlecking. I like it.

    As for this idea of fighting for a win and being happier with 23rd than 3rd, this is exactly how I feel about a sport I grew playing up, lacrosse. The entire sport used to be about speed & scoring. Games were 21-20, 18-16, tons of goals, tons of speed. In the past few years teams have started using zone defenses and all these set offenses. Pure craziness and something we didn’t do at all. Now many college games are 8-6 or 7-5 encounters. It saddens me. I hardly recognize a sport I grew up loving.

    I’d rather play an up tempo game and lose 21-20 than strangle the life out of a game playing a zone and win 6-5.

    Schlecking it is disappointing no matter what sport you are considering.

  21. Ron :
    Schlecking. I like it. [stuff deleted] Schlecking it is disappointing no matter what sport you are considering.

    Certainly good use of the term, however we use the term in my neck of the woods to indicate when one “schelecks” their chain on a ride.

  22. @Mikeweb
    That’s kind of what I was thinking. All those BITD badasses seemed like they were always just coming out of or going into a World War or some such nonsense.

  23. Sorry for the thread hijack but I had to share this since it is somewhat related
    .
    From: Dads are the Original Hipsters

    “Your dad donned cycling caps before you did and he has the bike sweat-filled brim to prove it. Back when Lance Armstrong was swinging two deep and Velocity was only a term used to reference speed, your dad was hyping bike brands on his head. He would flip the shit out of that brim so all the pedal homies could see his laser gaze. He was raw, unbridled, rolling seduction that left a contrail of masculinity with every crank turn.

    So hipsters, next time you’re dick up to a bike seat on a fixie, flashing velo gang colors on the brim of your “trying to hard to be original” hat, remember this…

    You’ll always be training wheels in comparison to your dad.”

  24. @Il buccaneero

    I’d suggest a new term is appropriate following Sunday’s wimper of a finish: “Schlecking.” A precise definition would take some collective thought, but a starting point for discussion might be that Schlecking is “being such a big pussy that you don’t even try to attack a rival you have outnumbered 2 to 1 in the final 10k of a one day Classic, the cycling equivalent to a canine rolling over and peeing on itself in submission upon mere sight of another canine.”

    Love the sentiment and the term and agree completely with the DuDu approach to racing. Can’t understand someone racing for second place, thinking that’s good enough. One person wins, everyone else is a loser, in the truest sense of the word in that they LOST.

    That said, as someone who didn’t watch the race live and has watched it already knowing the result and having read what has been said here, you don’t need a degree in psychology or be an expert in bike racing to watch that video and see that the Schlecks were completely cooked. I think the sad little accelerations by Frank were all there was in the tank, and Gilbert was just incredible. Personally, I think it was all they could do to stay on the wheel.

    Calling them pussies is all fun and games, but these lads were completely fried and I personally can’t fault them for managing to stay on an incredible Gilbert’s wheel. But if it gives us a great term like “Schlecking”, I’m all for it.

    But I’m a hopeless Frandy fan capable of any rationalization required to redeem them in my mind.

  25. @GottaRideToday

    Certainly good use of the term, however we use the term in my neck of the woods to indicate when one “schelecks” their chain on a ride.

    Right, I do that too. We’ll have to add that for sure. Although it’s in place already for Schleckanical. We’ll have to be careful not to mix terms too much.

  26. I’m loving “Schlecking”. Sod using to say you dropped your chain, much better to use it to describe a lame-ass wanker.

    The number of times that Schlecklette has now said he put in “x” accelerations (where “x” is quite a high number) but to no avail. I’m starting to think that he’s confusing accelerating with pedalling.

    @frank
    maybe they were cooked, but they couldn’t be that bad if they weren’t dropped by Phil. the big insult: they DIDN’T EVEN FUCKING TRY.

    That’s the third time it’s happened, that I can remember off the top of my head in three seasons: LBL ’11; Alp d’Huez ’10; Galibier ’09

    No idea what’s going to happen in the Tour this year, on paper very few can challenge Schlecklette in the mountains, but put a tactical decision in their way and they may well “schleck” again.

  27. @frank
    Schlecks were cooked — that’s my take.

    I think “Schlecking” is better used in reference to crashes resulting from a complete lack of descending skills. “Schleckanical” for chain drops. Or should it be “SRAMcanical,” to also encompass the unfortunate event in 2009 when Spartacus blew up his chain on the Koppenberg?

  28. Great discussion on this topic.

    Firstly, I love the photo up top. Vintage photos are great. My old man was a professional photographer and owned a photo lab for almost 30 years, so I’ve got a soft spot for sweet old photos.

    Secondly, regarding the whole Gilbert/Schleck thing: I’m relatively new to bicycle racing, so I’m still learning a lot each time I watch a race and when I read a lot of the comments on this site.

    Can someone give a little explanation about what may be going on “behind the scenes”, and what might motivate a racer to “just hang on to 2nd place”, rather than try a hard attack and risk falling further back?

    Are riders “punished” in some way for getting 34th instead of 2nd? Do they get paid less? Does the directeur sportif chew them a new one? I don’t understand the motivation to not fall back in position if there is no consequences other than pride.

  29. That DadIsTheOriginalHipser site is fucking genius. I love it.

    @Marko, I made one up for your wee lass, fastforward 15years:

    This is your dad. He was into Tele skiing way before you read that joke about randonne being “French for ‘can’t tele.'” He could laugh at Euros riding mono skis and wearing fartbags while trolling for rocks with one knee and bouncing your mother on the other.

  30. @mcsqueak
    Re what might motivate a rider to take second rather than 34th, I highly recommend Joe Parkin’s A Dog in a Hat. But I doubt that is what was going on last Sunday.

    Re “punishment,” I think the UCI gives riders points for places down to 20th, though I could be wrong. Higher place=more points. These can influence a rider’s ability to find another contract for next year. Points for minor placings are probably more important to lesser names than the Schlecks. But it can incentivize minor placings, over, say, spilling out your guts for your leader as a domestique. One would hope a professional DS would know the difference, but a sponsor might be more influenced by an “objective metric” like UCI points.

  31. @Jarvis

    maybe they were cooked, but they couldn’t be that bad if they weren’t dropped by Phil. the big insult: they DIDN’T EVEN FUCKING TRY.

    I love your energy, but you’ve raced long enough to know the difference between not getting dropped and passing someone, let alone attacking. If you’re cooked, you’re cooked.

    Riding at the top of Haleakala, there was nothing I could have done to attack someone, let alone pass them. At the very top, as I hit the 10,000ft sign, you can see me “sprint”. My cadence lifts by about 0.2%. And that was for 2 meters. It was all I had. If that was their state, I can’t blame them for not attacking.

    @Pedale.Forchetta
    +1

  32. Love the Coppi photo. Sure looks like the face of a man who’s sick of fucking around and is getting on with the job.
    Question! What is that in the pocket of the guy on the left? They look like reporters to me with their smooth image but is that a paddle? And Coppi is holding his ass. Has he just got a severe spanking and got told “now get out there and dominate!”

  33. GottaRideToday:

    Ron :
    Schlecking. I like it. [stuff deleted] Schlecking it is disappointing no matter what sport you are considering.

    Certainly good use of the term, however we use the term in my neck of the woods to indicate when one “schelecks” their chain on a ride.

    And when someone schlecks on your Sunday ride the correct reaction is “ATTACK!”

  34. Effing brilliant Frank. I couldn’t agree more. Not to mention the coat is pretty cool (but I know there is no way I could pull it off without looking like a total D-bag)…

    Time for a little Rule #9?

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