My All-Time FIFA World Cup XI

In the build-cup to the 2014 FIFA World Cup the internet has gone crazy with people posting their all-time World Cup XIs. So I decided to have a go at my own. With such a rich history it was a difficult task but this is my final draft. The person I most feel sorry for is Lothar Matthaus as the single anchor man…

All-time World Cup XI


Here’s how they line up (4-1-3-2): Banks (Eng); Cafu (Bra), Moore (Eng), Beckenbauer (Ger), Maldini (Ita); Matthaus (Ger); Pele (Bra), Maradona (Arg), Cruyff (Ned); Muller (Ger), Ronaldo (Bra)

Subs bench: Zoff (Ita); Baresi (Ita); Breitner (Ger); Zidane (Fra), Garrincha (Bra), Puskas (Hun), Romario (Bra)

In case you can’t tell, the man in bottom left is Gusztav Sebes, who I’ve chosen as coach. He never won the World Cup but he managed the greatest team never to win it – the 1954 Hungarians. A visionary from behind the Iron Curtain, his team brought football into modern era and lost only one match in 50 – that fateful 1954 World Cup Final against West Germany, which is known as ‘The Miracle of Bern’. People mainly remember that defeat and forget Hungary’s 8-3 trouncing of the Germans earlier in the competition, their gold medal at the 1952 Olympics and the lessons they dished out to England in 1953/54 – a 6-3 win at Wembley, when Sebes’s Communist superstars became the first non-British team to win on English soil, and a 7-1 victory in the return match in Budapest.

Sebes’s attacking genius paved the way for Holland’s Total Football in the 70s, Brazil’s mercurial 1982 side and the Johan Cruyff-influenced Barcelona teams of the last 25 years. He deserves a shot at managing this team – though they’d need to travel to another planet to find opponents capable of giving them a game…


ARCHIVE: The Frankel Fairytale


Frankel was a central figure in one of the most extraordinary comebacks in the history of modern sport

Frankel was racing’s undoubted star of 2010-12 and was a horse the like of which we may never see again. In this magazine feature I looked back on the incredible career of the unbeaten superstar and the Hollywood-style story surrounding those connected to him…

Miracles of the sporting kind are so few and far between that those with an emotional attachment to them can’t help but turn into evangelists. They take on a significance that borders on the spiritual and memories of them are carried around as they go about their enriched daily lives, ever ready for inculcation to anyone who might unwittingly lend a receptive ear.

Just as those present when Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in Zaire in 1974 watched in the knowledge that the experience would go with them to their deathbeds, followers of flat racing in the UK and beyond saw the story of Frankel unfold over three seasons increasingly sure that they were witnessing a sporting fable like no other. While the end result would be unique in itself – the horse would retire unbeaten in 14 starts and be officially rated as the greatest flat horse since records began – it only told a fraction of the tale. Central to it were sub-plots that would have been beyond even the most imaginative writers of fiction.

The horse took everything asked of him in the stride that devoured the ground it covered, including the burden, of which he was thankfully unaware, of being the central figure in one of the most extraordinary comebacks in the history of modern sport, preluded and ultimately footnoted with tragedy and premature death.

To find its origins we must go back around ten years to the early 2000s. Back then two men, born on different continents 18 months apart, bestrode the sport of kings on each side of the Atlantic. Sir Henry Cecil and Bobby Frankel were at the top of the training ranks in Britain and America respectively. The languid, upper class Cecil – privately educated and stepson of the Queen’s trainer – had sent out more Classic winners and more Royal Ascot winners than any Briton in history, and had been crowned champion trainer ten times. Frankel, a streetwise, self-made man from the tough neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York, was about to have the most successful season that any trainer in the world had ever enjoyed by saddling 25 Group/Grade 1 winners in 2003 – a record that still stands.

Bobby Frankel

The late Bobby Frankel, the US trainer after whom the horse was named

In terms of their backgrounds the two men couldn’t have been more different, but they were bound together by common ground: unsurpassed genius in the handling of thoroughbred racehorses; and the patronage of one of the world’s most powerful owners: Prince Khalid Abdullah, the founder of Juddmonte Farms.

At around the time that Bobby Frankel was breaking records in the USA, Cecil’s private and professional life took wrong turns. His second marriage broke down publicly and his beloved twin brother David lost a battle against cancer. As Cecil was then diagnosed with the disease himself, the winners dried up, and with it the patronage of some of his once-loyal owners and breeders. The ten-time champion trainer had been used to regularly sending out more than 100 winners in a season. By 2005 he had reached a nadir of just 12.

Throughout all of this Prince Khalid remained loyal to the man who’d brought him so much success and by 2007 Cecil’s name was being mentioned more frequently again in the racing press after plenty had concluded that it had disappeared for good. Two Abdullah-owned horses, Twice Over and Midday, played key roles in kick-starting Cecil’s incredible racing resurrection. But over in America, tragedy was about to strike.

Looking for a legacy

Bobby Frankel died in November 2009 at the age of 68 after a spirited fight with leukaemia. Racing in America was plunged into mourning and the news particularly saddened Prince Khalid. More than anyone the Brooklyn boy had enabled the Saudi prince to make a success of his operation in the US. The likes of Empire Maker, Sightseek and Beat Hollow (sent to Frankel from Cecil’s stable) provided Prince Khalid and his trainer with some of the most memorable moments of their careers. As he said goodbye to Bobby Frankel that autumn, the prince formulated a plan for a lasting tribute to his deceased trainer.

A safe bet would have been a statue. In the end Prince Khalid decided on the far riskier strategy of naming his most promising yearling of 2009 after the American in the hope that the Frankel name could be further immortalised on the racetrack and then in the breeding stables. Even the most optimistic of those closest to him didn’t expect his plan to work.

“Bobby had died in the November of 2009 and he had trained for the prince for roughly 20 years,” says Prince Khalid’s racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe. “A large majority of the successes we’d had over in the USA was down to him and the foundations that he had laid down there for us.

“Prince Khalid was always keen to honour Bobby in some way and so when this horse came along he liked him and decided eventually to name him after Bobby. That’s not to say that he was going to end up as a champion, as plenty of people who have named horses with a specific tribute or purpose in mind have found out. It usually ends in disaster.”

The breeding of racehorses and their graduation to the track is a notoriously unpredictable process. Those with the most regal of pedigrees often disappoint, as the ultra-knowledgeable and hugely successful connections of Snaafi Dancer and The Green Monkey will attest to. The former cost Sheikh Mohammed $10.2 million at auction in 1983 and never saw a racecourse, while the latter cost the owners of Coolmore Stud around $16 million in 2006 and never won a race. Prince Khalid himself breeds and purchases around 200 yearlings a year. Identifying the one that might one day do Bobby Frankel’s memory justice appeared to be as likely to succeed as choosing some lottery numbers in the hope of paying the gas bill.

In the end Prince Khalid and his advisors settled on a striking son of Galileo, one of the world’s most successful sires, and one of his former race mares, Kind. It was a pedigree that blended speed and stamina, but more than a fair share of luck would be needed for him to win a race at the highest level. Believing that he would prove to be a lasting tribute to his namesake required an enormous leap of faith. As for him becoming, on official ratings, the greatest horse ever to grace a racecourse – talk of that was likely to end with a visit from some men dressed in white coats.

Henry Cecil

Frankel’s trainer Henry Cecil in his 1980s heyday, when he dominated the Sport of Kings – before his professional fortunes changed and illness struck

Cecil had displayed a toughness and resilience in his own fight with cancer and his dwindling fortunes that belied his demeanour. Unlikely as it may have seemed to those that had followed his career and his life, he showed Bobby Frankel-esque qualities in battling the disease that his late friend across the Atlantic would have respected. Whether it was this, or simply Prince’s Khalid’s unwavering faith that Cecil’s genius as a trainer had not deserted him, that led the owner to send the young horse to Cecil’s Newmarket base, is an answer that only the prince and those closest to him know. Almost immediately the connections began to realise that they had a horse that looked capable of becoming a star.

“He was always a nice foal and he really began to develop when he was a yearling,” says Grimthorpe. “He was broken in during the September of his yearling year and by the time October came he was looking a pretty impressive horse in every way and we were all very excited by him.

“He went into training at Henry’s yard, Warren Place, in the January of his two-year-old season in 2010. Prince Khalid does all the naming of his horses at around that time and he was our nicest by a considerable margin in looks, pedigree and everything else. He began to develop in the spring of that year and into the summer he started to look like he could be something very special. Every time he ran he encouraged us to think higher and higher.”

The journey to immortality begins

The horse made his long-awaited racecourse debut at Newmarket in August 2010 and ran out a cosy winner by an unremarkable half-a-length. Hindsight now tells us that the result was better than it looked on paper at the time. Behind him that day were Nathaniel, who would go on to win the King George and the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, and Colour Vision, who was a future winner of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. Frankel’s starting odds that day were 7/4. It was the one and only time throughout his career when he started at odds against.

By the end of Frankel’s juvenile campaign he was undefeated in four starts and was crowned Europe’s champion two-year-old following wins in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes and the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes. He had won both races easily but on each occasion he had displayed flaws in his temperament, making it difficult for his jockey Tom Queally to settle him into a smooth rhythm early on in his races. The horse had so much natural talent and an almost unprecedented love of galloping that he was proving difficult to train. It’s not that he was a reluctant pupil – the polar opposite was true. In more than 30 years at the top of his profession Grimthorpe had never seen a horse display such enthusiasm.

“There were many things about Frankel that were special but for me the most amazing aspect of him was that he had a huge will to run and to please,” Grimthorpe says. “He just loved to run and he had a huge stride – none of us had ever seen a horse like him, and let’s not forget that there were some pretty experienced people connected to him. He was doing too much in his racing and in his work at that point. To come back to normality we needed to rein him in a little bit.

“Of course it just so happened that we had one of the best trainers of all time looking after him. Henry did a super job teaching him and letting him learn to settle. As a juvenile and as a three-year-old he wanted to do too much, but by the time he was four you could pretty much settle him anywhere in a race. That was all down to the genius of his trainer.”

After winning his prep race at Newbury as a three-year-old, Frankel put up a performance in winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in May 2011 that bewildered anyone who saw it. Still headstrong at this early point in his career, Cecil and Queally decided to allow him to race freely from the front, sensing that restraining him would be counter-productive. The result was one of the most eye-catching performances ever seen in the ancient Classic. By the halfway point of the contest, Frankel and his jockey had left their own pacemaker and Europe’s best three-year-old milers fifteen lengths in their wake. Bored by the isolation, he idled slightly in the final couple of furlongs but was still six lengths clear as he passed the winning post. It was a performance so unique in its brutal physicality that many seasoned observers hastily concluded that like a boxer who pushes himself to the limit in the ring and is never quite the same fighter afterwards, the race might have left an indelible mark on him.


Machine: Frankel and jockey Tom Queally in full cry were an exciting and formidable sight

A sixth sense

It was an understandable theory to all but those who knew him best. Cecil insisted that far from the Guineas representing Frankel’s peak, much more was to come. He proved it in three more mile contests over the course of the 2011 season, the highlight of which was his destruction of the brilliant Canford Cliffs in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. His final appearance of the year came at British Champions Day in October, again over the mile, in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Afterwards it was announced that he would be staying in training as a four-year-old to the delight of every racing fan in the country. Despite loud protestations from some sections of the media, Cecil was adamant that for the time being the horse would continue to race over a mile instead of stepping up in distance.

“The clamour for Frankel to run over further started immediately after the Guineas, with people saying that if he simply turned up for the Derby [over a mile-and-a-half] he’d win,” says Grimthorpe. “On the female side of his pedigree it looked as if he had the stamina to run but Henry was pretty reluctant to do so. After the Guineas it was pretty evident to those who know about racing that it would have been a mistake. He still had some learning to do to keep himself in check.”

What happened during the winter of 2011-12 will remain a mystery between horse and trainer. It has long been said that the greatest trainers have a sixth sense in understanding the horses in their care, a way of interpreting the messages given out by the animals that borders on sorcery. Over those long winter months, in between debilitating treatment for his stomach cancer, Cecil drew on all his experience and genius to transform Frankel from brilliant tearaway into the ultimate professional racing machine. It was reported that his legendary attention-to-detail even led to a live CCTV feed between Frankel’s box and his own bedroom. The story has never been denied and it is far from unbelievable.

Sir Henry Cecil

Cecil’s illness-ravaged final years brought with them redemption and comfort in the shape of a racehorse he transformed into arguably the greatest ever seen

After an injury scare in the spring of 2012, Frankel started off his four-year-old season by winning three more Group 1 races over a mile. All three victories, which came by an aggregate of 21 lengths, were jaw-dropping, though his 11-length win at Royal Ascot in the Queen Anne Stakes stands out. By now the horse was creeping into the wider consciousness and capturing the imagination of hundreds of thousands of people with little or no previous interest in the sport.

“People in my circle – my teammates in the dressing room for example – started talking about him,” says British Champions Series ambassador and recently-retired footballer Michael Owen. “These are people who didn’t normally follow racing at all. You need a horse like Frankel so that racing can reach the parts of the population that it usually doesn’t. In most cases it’s been jumps horses that have done that because they’re around for longer and people have more time to form an attachment to them. It’s rare that a flat horse does it. But he was such a brilliant horse and the way in which he spectacularly thrashed his rivals caught everyone’s attention.”

The final furlong

After a repeat win in the Sussex Stakes in July 2012, it was announced that Frankel would finally be racing over further in his next outing, the Juddmonte International Stakes at York over an extended mile-and-a-quarter. A different distance produced the same outcome as he handed a seven-length beating to subsequent Lockinge Stakes winner Farhh, with Breeders Cup hero St Nicholas Abbey further back in third. For the purist it was arguably the most impressive performance of Frankel’s career and it was made extra poignant by the appearance of a visibly frail Cecil, who by this stage of his illness could barely speak and collected his trophy with the aid of a walking stick.

Frankel’s swansong came on October 20th at British Champions Day, where he was scheduled to run his final race in the QIPCO British Champions Stakes. Tickets for the event sold out in a matter of hours and thousands flocked to Ascot to pay their respects to the horse of a lifetime and a stricken trainer who had risen from the ashes of a failing career to guide him through 13 races without defeat, rewriting his obituary to the delight of the millions who loved him. Men, women and children waved flags in Frankel’s honour and held aloft signs in his colours. Clare Balding, broadcasting for the BBC, said on air that the day had an Olympic feel to it. Just three months earlier she had hosted the corporation’s London 2012 coverage so was suitably qualified to comment.

Prince Khalid Abdullah

Frankel’s owner and breeder, Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (r), with Henry Cecil

Almost everyone in attendance – even, you suspected, the connections of some of his rivals – were desperate for the horse to bow out with a final victory to end unbeaten and retire as the now gravely ill Cecil’s ultimate masterpiece. But on the morning of the race he wasn’t even a confirmed runner, with the ground so wet that the going was bordering on heavy. The race would represent a thorough test of stamina and was certain to suit the defending champion Cirrus Des Aigles much more than Frankel. The pair had never met on the track before and the French horse, who was rated second in the global ratings over the race’s distance of ten furlongs, would relish the soft conditions. Eventually, after walking the course, Cecil and Grimthorpe gave the all clear for Frankel to take his chance and avoid the biggest anti-climax ever seen at a racecourse in Britain.

“I walked the course and it certainly was very soft,” says Grimthorpe. “Frankel has got quite big feet, which is an advantage in soft conditions, and we felt that being by Galileo, who was by Sadler’s Wells, he should be ok on it as most of their progeny are. Having said that, when it becomes heavy, or soft/heavy in places, it becomes specialist ground. He definitely didn’t enjoy it. He’s a horse with a great long stride and soft ground horses tend to have less exuberant actions.

“Had we pulled him out he could have gone to the Breeders Cup, probably in the Mile. Prince Khalid had always been keen to run him in America because of the connection to Bobby. If Santa Anita had stuck to their polytrack instead of switching back to dirt then sending him for the Breeders Cup Classic would have come under serious consideration.

“But in the end the beauty of Champions Day was that it provided a different test for the horse and enabled everyone to see that he was versatile as well as brilliant. Winning over ten furlongs in very soft ground highlighted that he wasn’t all pure speed. On that day he proved that he had plenty of stamina as well. In fact you could say without exaggeration that by the time Henry had finished with him he could have raced at any distance from five furlongs to a mile-and-a-half.”

Champion Stakes

Frankel defeats the brilliant French horse Cirrus des Aigles in his final race, ending his career with 14 wins from 14 starts

Despite being tested more seriously by Cirrus Des Aigles than many had expected, Frankel repelled his challenge to the delight of everyone present and finished his career with an unblemished record of 14 consecutive victories. He broke slowly from the stalls – evidence of just how far the tearaway had come under his trainer’s teachings – but quickly made up the ground and as the field turned for home Queally was in the perfect position to deliver one final challenge. Frankel quickened up past the hardy French horse, who refused to lie down and battled all the way to the line. In the end the winning margin was one-and-three-quarter lengths. As the crowd in the grandstands composed themselves they looked up to see Queally and Frankel still cantering half-a-mile from the winning line – the jockey had been unable to pull him up. The career of the horse that loved to run more than any other was now over. You could have been forgiven for thinking that somehow he knew it, and just wanted an extra few minutes savouring the thrill of the track.

A monument to two very different men

In June of this year Sir Henry Cecil, with Frankel long out of his care and ensconced in a new career down the road as a stallion, lost his long fight with cancer at the age of 70. The disease claimed him just as it had claimed both his twin brother and Bobby Frankel. It was a premature end to the life of a man who had climbed to the greatest heights and fallen back down again, only to find redemption in his final years in the shape of a horse that he transformed into one of the greatest racing has ever seen.

“I always said that half of the horse was killing Henry – the worry and the strain of having to train him – but that the other half, the joy that he gave him, was keeping him alive,” says Grimthorpe. “Frankel deserved Henry and Henry deserved Frankel. They were deserving of each other and they were the perfect partnership.”

In 2016 the first generation of Frankel’s blue-blooded sons and daughters will appear on the track, ensuring his legacy and those of his late trainer and the man after which he was named will live on. As he enjoys his retirement at stud he will, of course, be unaware of his own significance: that he enriched so many lives; that he rewrote the racing record books; and that he is a monument to the memory of two very different men, who together, from above, are sure to raise a glass to him from time to time.

This feature originally appeared in the Official Guide to QIPCO British Champions Day 2013

© Future Publishing/Mark Robinson 2013

Fausto Coppi: The Triumphs And The Tragedies

Fausto Coppi

Coppi’s life on and off the road was the stuff of Hollywood

If we focus solely on his cycling, the career of Fausto Coppi is in simple terms one of the most decorated of all time. The Italian dominated the sport either side of the Second World War, using his all-round skills as a climber, sprinter and time-trialist to build a palmares that rewrote the record books and raised the bar for those that followed him into professional road cycling. After the anniversary earlier this month of his death in January 1960, there would be enough mileage in his glittering achievements on the road alone to honour the great man in print – here, after all, is a man who in 1999 was voted the second greatest Italian sportsperson of the 20th century.

But Coppi’s story is more than just cycling. In addition to all the the glory there was a rivalry with a fellow Italian pro that divided the country; a spell in a prisoner of war camp; a marital scandal that rocked conservative Italian society to its core; and a premature death. Like his countryman, the great soccer player Valentino Mazzola, and the legendary American heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, it can be argued that the best years of his career were lost to the war and we may have not seen the best of him. So while Coppi is rightly celebrated as one of the all time greats, any analysis of his achievements or his life are unavoidably footnoted by the twin factors of tragedy and controversy. And rarely has a sportsman been exposed to such hysterical levels of both messianic adulation and deep-rooted vilification.

Coppi’s remarkable life began, fittingly, in the shadows of the Alps that he would conquer so often from the saddle. He was born in the Italian Alpine region of Piedmont in September 1919 and by 1940, at the age of 20, he had won the Giro d’Italia. A star had been born.

Coppi’s unexpected success in that race sparked a rivalry with Italian cycling’s established hero of the time, Gino Bartali, that defined both men’s careers and created an intrinsic link between the two men that neither could shake off. For Ali and Frazier in boxing, for Federer and Nadal in tennis and for Senna and Prost in Formula One, think Coppi and Bartali in cycling. At the time of Coppi’s breakthrough in 1940 Bartali was already a dual winner of the Giro and had also won the Tour de France in 1938. He was five years older than Coppi, was the undisputed number one in Italy and universally recognised as one of the best cyclists in the world.

Coppi had been hired to help Bartali to win the 1940 Giro, but ran away with the race himself by a wide margin. The world was astonished. So was Bartali, but his astonishment was supplemented by a sense of indignation that never faded. The stage had been set for a series of intense sporting duels that would last for the best part of a decade.

1949 Tour de France: Fausto Coppi

Coppi soaks up the adulation after winning the 1949 Tour de France

More often than not Coppi came out on top and, perhaps crucially for his legacy, travelled further and wider than Bartali in search of fame and glory. Bartali preferred to race mainly in Italy, eschewing the northern European Classic races. In 1950 Coppi secured the notable double of Paris-Roubaix and La Fleche Wallone, delighting first hand the northern European crowds who had waited patiently to see him win in the flesh and also proving his versatility. Coppi also won more Giros than Bartali (five wins to three) and matched his success in the Tour de France (two wins each).

Partly because of his more numerous international appearances and successes, contrasted to Bartali’s insularity, the Italian media were able to create two very different personas. In one corner you had Coppi: cosmopolitan, innovative in his methods, urbane and representative of the economically and industrially progressive north. In the other corner there was Bartali: deeply religious, conservative in attitude, relatively uninterested in life and competition outside Italy and a man who cherished his roots in the rural, traditionalist south of the country. The contrast between the two men polarised the masses.

Some may argue that Coppi needed Bartali. That his star wouldn’t shine so brightly all these years after his death if his great rival hadn’t been around to challenge him and inspire him to his greatest victories. That school of thought, however, does an enormous injustice to Coppi’s mercurial talent and his dedication. In addition to his successes in the grand tours and in northern Europe he also won the Road World Championship (1953), Milan-San Remo three times and, amongst other road successes, the Giro di Lomardia five times. He was the first rider to win the Giro/Tour double and achieved that feat in both 1949 and 1952. And he also broke the world hour record on the track in 1952.

On paper there is little doubt about his greatness. Coppi would have been a superstar in any era. To an extent his rivalry with Bartali simply increased his fame and notoriety, mainly amongst those observers with an untrained eye and only a passing interest in cycling. To the purist his qualities are obvious, with no need for added spice or sensationalism.

In the flesh, according to those who saw him, there was even less of a doubt. In their 2006 book, the Story of the Tour de France, Bill and Carol McGann wrote: “Coppi won it all: the world hour record, the world championship, the grand tours, the classics and the time trials. The great French cycling journalist Pierre Chany says that between 1946 and 1954, once Coppi had broken away from the peloton, the peloton never saw him again. Can this be said of any other racer? Informed observers who saw both ride say that Coppi was the more elegant rider who won by dint of his physical gifts, as opposed to Merckx who drove himself and hammered his competition relentlessly by being the very embodiment of pure will.”

We will never know how many more titles Coppi would have added to his palmares if injury and war hadn’t intervened. As a result of malnutrition as a child, Coppi had very brittle bones. This led to numerous injuries and major breaks to his shoulder, pelvis, vertebrae and more, all of which kept him out of action for prolonged periods. During World World Two his cycling was put on hold as he joined up with the Italian army, eventually being captured by British forces in Africa and being held as a prisoner of war for over two years. He returned to cycling in the post-war years stronger than ever. Yet despite the drama and all of the achievements in his life up until that point, he will have been ill-prepared for what was to follow.

Fausto Coppi

Coppi’s achievements and dramatic personal life made him cycling’s first megastar

On the road in 1952 he clinched a second Giro/Tour double, sealing his place at that time as arguably the greatest cyclist in history. Off the road his personal life was about to cause headlines all across the world and transform him from hero to villain, from angel to devil, in Italy. His affair with a married woman, with Coppi also married himself, caused a huge scandal in Italy where adultery was still a criminal offence in the 1950s. Their affair began to heighten late in 1952 and in 1953 it became public when a French newspaper printed a photograph of Coppi and his mistress together after that year’s Road World Championships, which Coppi won.

The lady in question, Giulia Occhini, was also the mother to two young children and it is not an exaggeration to say that the photo caused shockwaves back home that rocked Italian society to its foundations. The Vatican got involved and eventually Coppi and Mrs Occhini were arrested and put on trial for adultery in 1955. Both received suspended jail sentences. The two eventually got married and had a child together, but neither the marriage nor their son were officially recognised by the Italian authorities.

Just five years after the trial, Coppi’s life – Hollywood-esque in both plot and execution – ended at the age of 40. He died of malaria in tragic circumstances after contracting the disease in Burkino Faso, Africa, following an exhibition race. The French rider Raphael Geminiani was also struck down with disease, but while he was correctly diagnosed Coppi was not. The Italian’s doctors instead treated him for a bronchial complaint and he never recovered.

So 52 years on from that fateful day when he passed away, how should Coppi be remembered? As a man who transcended the sport of cycling? Definitely. With regret for the years he lost? Yes. As cycling’s first superstar who brought it into the general consciousness for the first time? Probably. As the greatest rider of all time? We’ll never know.

This feature originally appeared on

© Future Publishing/Mark Robinson 2012