MILAN (VN) — Italy’s celebrated national coach, Alfredo Martini, died Monday at home in Sesto Fiorentino due to ongoing health problems. After a fall, two surgeries and other complications, the 93-year-old’s health had deteriorated.
“The time passes quickly,” Martini said on his 90th birthday, “you need to always remind the youngsters to enjoy the moments they have.”
Martini led Italy to six world titles, but his health prevented him from attending the world championships when it was held in Florence last fall. Martini celebrated his 93rd birthday on February 18.
“You couldn’t give worse news than this!” 2014 Tour de France winner, Vincenzo Nibali wrote on Twitter after news spread about Martini’s passing. “Farewell Alfredo Martini, a great man. Your words will be missed!”
Martini’s impact as Italy’s longtime head coach lives on. From 1975 to 1997, he helped Italy take the rainbow jersey with Francesco Moser (1977), Giuseppe Saronni (1982), Moreno Argentin (1986), Maurizio Fondriest (1988) and Gianni Bugno (1991 and 1992).
“He was our conductor and our captain,” Bugno said. “Thanks, Alfredo.”
“It’s hard to say [which rider] was the best,” Martini said three years ago. “I was luckily to have great winners in my ranks. They raced in the national colors and gave it their all. It was a great pleasure to have them all at my calling to fight for the wins.”
Martini took the reins of team Italy after working as a sports director for trade teams Ferretti and Sammontana. During that time, he guided Swede Gösta Pettersson to his biggest career win with the 1971 Giro d’Italia title.
Martini began riding at eight years old on a silver bike gifted to him by his father, but his time racing bikes was not as fruitful as that of his protégés later. He won a stage at the Tour de Suisse, and also won Italian one-day races, the Giro dell’Appennino and the Giro del Piemonte. He raced the Giro d’Italia nine times. In 1950, he took over the race lead and wore the famous pink jersey for one day. He went on to finish third overall, behind Swiss Hugo Koblet and Italian Gino Bartali.
Perhaps Martini’s greatest victory was outliving the champions from his era: Bartali, Fausto Coppi and Fiorenzo Magni. He also outlived one of his successors, such as Franco Ballerini.
Ballerini led the current crop of Italians starting in 2001, and with Martini advising, collected five gold medals. Ballerini died in a rally car race in 2010, leaving the job to Paolo Bettini, and now, Davide Cassini. Martini continued advising Italy’s coaches throughout the last decade, and often rode shotgun in the team car at worlds.
“My eyes are filled with tears,” Cassini wrote on Twitter. “I would have given anything to see him in the Italian team car that was his for 23 years. Ciao Alfredo. I already miss you.”
Martini will be missed but his words, wisdom and charm will surely remain with the ‘Squadra Azzurra’ as it tackles the world championships this September in Ponferrada, Spain — and in the years to come.