He had a rakish body, 60 kg by 1.80 m, long, curved legs with promising muscles and a ribcage made for storing breath at will. Biagio Cavanna saw his potential. A former boxer, cyclist, masseur, and athletic trainer, known by all as the ‘blind seer’ (he was blind but very capable of interpreting an athlete’s body with his hands), Cavanna worked hard with Coppi, became his friend and confidant, and helped him achieve heroic feats. When it was still impossible to shake off the trauma of World War II, his victories made those days a little brighter. Like the legendary triumph in the Cuneo-Pinerolo stage of the Giro d’Italia in 1949: Coppi rode solo for 192 km. And on the radio the voice of Mario Ferretti croaked: “There is only one man in command. His jersey is white and pale blue. His name is Fausto Coppi”.
Besides the myth of the “Great Heron”, however, there is also a territory to be discovered, and doing so by emulating the “Campionissimo” makes it all even more evocative. You have to see with your own eyes these roads of the epic cycling of the early 20th century. These roads are still (and magically, one might say) free of traffic, and naturally follow the gentle ups and downs of the Tortona hills. Running alongside a countryside made of rows of vines and crops, you will travel through villages with modest houses and working farms where time seems to have stood still, cities and towns worthy of a stop, for one reason or another.
In bici sui colli
In bici sui colli
If you want a full immersion in a yesteryear atmosphere, then it is worth participating in La Mitica, a historic cycle race that takes place every year in June. There are four routes of varying length and difficulty: short, medium, long and hors catégorie for the more daring. That is, around 50, 70, 90, and 100 km, which are quite demanding. You come in vintage clothing and ride vintage bicycles. It’s not a race: everyone chooses their own route and pace, because the aim is to enjoy the landscape and the history of those who crossed these roads in times gone by.
No one, however, forbids tackling these circuits in the period most congenial to you: from spring to autumn, indulging in a bike ride through these lands is a fine way to treat yourself.
Whatever the case, we set off and arrive in Castellania Coppi. A Mecca for cyclists, Fausto Coppi was born there. It’s a tiny village of just a few houses and as many inhabitants that welcomes you with a mural by Riccardo Guasco inspired by the champion. It can be considered as a village-museum, a place of worship and passion where everything speaks of Fausto, including blow-ups that cover the walls of the homes and farmhouses, the mausoleum shared with his brother Serse, and the house-museum, where nostalgia is overpowering, with memorabilia, bicycles, personal items, photographs, and old newspapers.
You will pedal through the countryside, between vineyards and wheat fields, on roads that climb the low hills and offer views of the green and yellow fields, which resemble a mosaic. The wheels will turn on grey strips of asphalt, on cycle paths, following mostly provincial roads, and on a few white roads – like the Rampina, the iconic path of the historic cycle race that goes up to Castellania.
Museo dei Campionissimi, Novi Ligure
Museo dei Campionissimi, Novi Ligure
And here you must imagine him, a very young Coppi who, when he was still unknown to glory, went back and forth the delicatessen in Novi Ligure, where he was working as a helper, or you can think of him struggling with the chronometer, muscles and breath, sweat and thirst during training.
Depending on the route chosen, one reaches places that tell about the art, history, and culinary traditions of the area: Volpedo and Tortona, which can be reached along all the routes, and Novi Ligure, touched by the two longer routes.
Volpedo is the birthplace of Giuseppe Pellizza, who worked in today’s Piazza Quarto Stato, between 1891 and 1901, at his masterpiece and great manifesto of the same name. Today the town celebrates him with the installation of reproductions of his works around the town and opening to the public his painting studio as well as an educational museum.
In Tortona, you can stop for an agnolotti lunch, taste baci di dama and take some time to visit the Divisionism Art Gallery, which traces back the Divisionism history from the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century, also including early Futurist works. The Museum displays 17 works by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo and art pieces by, among others, Segantini, Bistolfi, Morbelli, Olivero, Boccioni, and Balla.
Finally, Novi Ligure. A walk through the centre is enough to realise how much Novi resembles the villages of Liguria: you will see lots of colour and a triumph of trompe l’oeil on the façades of the buildings. This is the heritage left by the Republic of Genoa during its rule over the region. And who knows how much chocolate Girardengo, a thoroughbred Novese, and Coppi, who lived in Novi for most of his life, ate. So, in this case, an unmissable stop is the Campionissimi Museum, 3,000 sqm entirely devoted to the history of cycling and bicycle, and to the two champions who gave all their energy, as sportsmen as well as men, to this area.
in partnership with
Distance from Serravalle Designer Outlet to Castellania Coppi by car: about 20 km, travel time about 25 minutes
Cycling routes from Castellania Coppi: about 50, 70, 90 and 100 km
Castellania Coppi (AL)
I Colli di Coppi Association. Piazza C. Cannavò 2, Castellania Coppi, tel. 0131837127, www.lamitica.it
Coppi house. Via Fausto Coppi 9, tel. 0143322118, www.faustocoppi.it
Painting studio. Via Rosano 1 / A, tel. 013180318-3385633056 www.pellizza.it
Educational museum. Piazza Quarto Stato tel. 013180318-3385633056 www.pellizza.it
Pinacoteca Il Divisionismo. C / o Cassa di Risparmio di Tortona Foundation, medieval building, Corso Leoniero 2, tel. 0131822965, www.ildivisionismo.it
Novi Ligure (AL)
Museum of the Champions. Viale dei Campionissimi 2, tel. 014332263, www.museodeicampionissimi.it