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By VeloNews Interactive Wire Services, Copryright AFP 2001
According to a report in the Saturday edition of the Corriere dello Sport newspaper Fausto Coppi was murdered and did not die of a virus. The paper, with the headline ‘Coppi was murdered’, told how the rider fell ill while training in Africa before he died back in Italy in 1960 at the age of 40. The paper claims that Coppi was given poison while in Africa but the evidence it brings to support its claim is far from convincing even though the cyclist’s death has always been shrouded in mystery.
Nonetheless, on Sunday Italian prosecutors opened a dossier relating to the death of the Italian cycling legend, though Saturday’s edition of the paper, which devoted its first three pages to the story, is the only item of evidence as of yet. The dossier was opened in Rome but could be handed over to magistrates in Tortona (near Alessandria on Italy’s Ligurian coast) where Coppi died on January 2, 1960 after first contracting his presumed illness in Burkina Faso.
Coppi’s son — also named Fausto — said he took the reports with a grain of salt, saying: “It is a rather incredible story. The only thing that is certain is that if my father had been properly treated he would still be alive.”
Corriere quotes the testimony of Italian Olympic Committee administrator Mino Caudullo who has visited Africa several times and claims to have been told by a monk in Burkina Faso that Coppi was murdered. The monk told Caudullo that he had received a confession from a man that Coppi was poisoned because of a grudge.
“The monk told me ‘it is a potion that is well known here because it is derived from local grass. It is a slow-acting poison that leads from small to high fevers to eventual death,” Caudullo said.
The monk — a Benedictine named Adrien believed to be French and still alive in Burkina Faso despite his advanced years — is said to have claimed that African cyclists wanted to kill Coppi because of an incident a few years earlier in which a rider from the Ivory Coast died in a race with European riders.
Asked if he wanted an inquiry, the younger Coppi said: “I hope not. When my mother died (in 1993 after two years in a coma following a car accident) we had to accept an autopsy. It was the rule, but it was hard. What was the point after she had been in hospital for two years? I hope we are spared another trauma.”
The late rider’s former doctor, Ettore Allegri, also chastised the report. Now 80 Allegri said: “It is absolute drivel because the blood tests in Genoa after the death confirmed the presence of the malaria bacillus.”
French rider Raphael Geminiani, who was with Coppi in Burkina Faso and now lives in Perignat-sur-Allier in the Auvergne region of France, said the murder claims were false, describing them as “all fantasy.”
“Fausto and myself were both very ill in Alto Volta (Burkina Faso); it was malaria,” said Geminiani, now 77. “I was saved but for him they got the diagnosis wrong.”
Geminiani said when his illness was diagnosed his wife and brother had phoned the hospital in Alessandria where Coppi was being treated for flu to inform doctors the illness was malaria but had been told: “You cure Geminiani for his illness, we will cure Coppi for his.”
Coppi’s premature death shocked Italy. He had made cycling history in 1949 by becoming the first man to win both the Tour of Italy and the Tour de France in the same year, a feat he repeated in 1952. His death was shrouded in mystery and on January 3, 1960 — the day after the rider died — Corriere della Sera’s headline was “The mysterious death of Fausto Coppi.”
In a grueling sport where many riders have died prematurely because of the taking of supplements, legal and illegal, Coppi’s early death was by no means an isolated case. He had left Paris on December 10, 1959 with several other riders, including Jacques Anquetil, for training and also to participate in a safari. Coppi was a keen hunter and was fond of Africa where he once had been a prisoner of war.
Copyright AFP 2001