Fiorenzo Magni, Italian Cyclist, Dies at 91
Fiorenzo Magni, a bicycle racing champion whose fearlessness on descents and fortitude in difficult conditions earned him victories in Europe’s most prominent road races in the postwar years, often described as Italian cycling’s golden age, died on Oct. 19 in Monza, Italy, north of Milan. He was 91.
The cause was an aneurysm, the Italian cycling federation said in announcing the death.
In the late 1940s and early ’50s, cycling was the leading sport in Europe, more popular even than soccer, and it helped knit the continent together after World War II but also fanned its lingering animosities. Magni achieved renown for his three consecutive victories, from 1949-51, in the Tour of Flanders. He was the second non-Belgian to triumph in the race, and in each, he battled snow and freezing temperatures, earning the nickname the Lion of Flanders.
“Cold, windy, rainy or snowy days were music to my ears,” Magni said in an interview in 2006. “It was the same with extreme heat! I had no problems in the torrid summer days.”
In Italy, Magni was known as the third man, the chief competitor of the Italian cycling gods Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. He was not their equal in popularity — partly because of allegations that he had collaborated with Fascists during the war — but he won his share of races. He was the Italian national champion three times, and he won the prestigious Giro d’Italia three times as well.
Magni never won the Tour de France, though he won individual stages of it seven times, and he was wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey in the 1950 Tour when he and the rest of the Italian riders dropped out of the race to protest the behavior of French fans, who had accosted Bartali after a crash involving a French rider.
One of Magni’s greatest achievements also came in a race he did not win. Never a great climber but known for his furious descents, he was competing in his last Giro d’Italia, in 1956, when he crashed on a downhill during the 12th stage and fractured his collarbone. He continued to race, wrapping a tire tube around his handlebars and holding the end in his mouth to help his weakened left arm control the bike.
In Stage 16, he fell again, this time cracking a bone in his upper arm. Still he rode, and days later, when bad weather descended on the race, some 60 riders dropped out. Magni finished in second place.
“I didn’t want to abandon the Giro in the year of my retirement,” he said.
He was born in Vaiano, a Tuscan village near Prato, on Dec. 7, 1920, and attended a trade school before starting to cycle professionally. In the beginning, he raced in secret because his parents did not think cycling was a job.
After the war, Magni was accused of having participated in a Fascist roundup of Italian supporters of the Allies in the town of Valibona in 1944. He had faced a long prison term and banishment from cycling before he was cleared.
Magni became a successful businessman in his retirement — an acumen he had displayed while still a rider. In 1954, with cycling manufacturers struggling, Magni persuaded Nivea, a skin care company, to underwrite his team. The deal is generally thought to be the first in which a noncycling business sponsored pro cyclists.
His survivors include a wife and two daughters.
In later years, Magni coached the Italian national team and founded a cycling museum in Magreglio, near Lake Como. And he remained respectful of his rivals, Coppi, who died in 1960, and Bartali, who died in 2000.
“In life, defeats are more likely to happen than wins,” Magni said.
“Losing to Coppi and Bartali, and therefore congratulating them, is an experience that I am happy to have had — an experience that taught me a lot.”