1949 Gino Bartali v Fausto Coppi
This was a text-book Old Master/young upstart rivalry between two of the greatest talents the Tour de France has ever seen.
In 1939 Gino Bartali was the undisputed king of road racing. He had numerous Tour de France victories, along with success back home in the Giro d’Italia. He would win sprints effortlessly, but his forte was in the mountains, where he was peerless.
However, that year a young rider broke onto the scene; Bartali’s compatriot, Fausto Coppi. The two immediately took a dislike to each other, with the older statesman not caring for the younger man’s assertive attitude and disregard the traditional chain of command within a team.
As the two battled it out over many races throughout the years, suspicion and paranoia grew, with Bartali allegedly even breaking into to the hotel room of Coppi to see if there was any evidence of doping or cheating. Alas, none was found.
In 1949, the pair competed for the first time in the Tour de France. At this point, le Tour was contested by national teams, and the two Italians signed somewhat of a peace agreement prior to it beginning. It didn’t last.
Just before the first stage, Coppi released a statement which read;
“A team of twelve modest, united riders is stronger than a team divided among different leaders… This is why I have always reproached Bartali for his poor team spirit and why I don’t like to race with him.”
Animosity grew between the pair until age caught up with Bartali. Tensions thawed and Bartali even signed a then 40 year old Coppi to his own racing team.