Friday, July 27, 2018

Addio Piero Coppi

Our dear friend Piero Coppi passed away a few days ago. It's been twenty years since we first met him. We'd driven up to Castellania with the idea of mapping out a cycling pilgrimage to the birthplace and final resting place of Il Campionissimo and his brother.

There's a town building next to the site and the door was open. Turns out the mayor was in! The mayor was Piero Coppi, first-cousin of the famous  brothers. He was pleasantly surprised to find Americans showing up here to pay their respects and couldn't have been more welcoming. We promised to bring some clients out there next year. He gave us his phone numbers and asked us to call in advance.

He wanted to meet our group, telling us he feared the memory of his famous cousins Fausto and Serse was fading, especially in places like the USA. He'd never visited there, telling us he made ONE airplane trip that scared him so badly he declared "Never again!" We called in advance and showed up midday - to be met with chilled water, spumante and some rice-based cookies that came to be known as "Coppi-cookies". With Heather translating a great time was had by all.

Lunchtime was approaching so as we prepared to say arrivederci, Piero asked what our pranzo plans might be? We really had nothing arranged, this being the first time on this route we never know exactly where we'll be when it's time for lunch. Hearing this, Piero grabbed his telefonino and made a quick call. "OK, that's settled" he said. Responding to our confused looks he said, "Follow me" and hopped into his car. Our group of cyclists trailed behind, followed by our van - to a tiny trattoria a few kilometers away. This was Piero's hangout and he beamed as he marched his new Amici Americani into the dining room.

Antipasti, primi, secondi, even homemade gelato, one flavored with lavender! When it was time to go we found we could not get a check...the whole thing was on Piero! He was so excited that we were helping to keep the memories of his cousins alive he made us promise to return the next year - and to call in advance!

We did - almost every year, sometimes more than once. Piero seemed to love our visits, always insisting on treating us to lunch. All we could do in return was to share some CycleItalia schwag, which he really liked. Being in the world of cycling he had something that none of his other cycling pals could have - though we'd bet he'd have given them anything they liked!

Each time we'd say goodbye and talk about next time or next year we'd wonder if this might be the last as Piero was getting up there in age and always seemed to have a new health problem once he stopped riding his bike. He even rode with us one time, meeting us on a rare, mostly flat part of a route we'd laid out, joining us for a panino at the end before turning around to ride back to his car. This time we paid, which brought we never tried it again. He was just too generous, something the current mayor of Castellania reminded us at the service.

We last saw him around the end of the Giro d'Italia this season, just a few months ago. We tried to meet up again at La Mitica this year but he wasn't up to it. That turned out to be the last time we spoke with him.

Everyone we brought out to meet him was charmed and the turnout at the service proved he had a lot of friends. Faustino Coppi was there as was Marina Coppi, Egidio Coppi and Sergio Coppi, Piero's brother. A few of Fausto's old gregari showed up too, I'm sure they remembered Piero as the little cousin who bragged when he won his first (and only) bike race. When he told Fausto about the win, Il Campionissimo replied, "What happened? Did everyone else fall off?"

Piero Coppi was no cycling champion, but to us he was a champion of life.

RIP Piero

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