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TURIN BRAKES.

THE FAUSTO COPPI VELODROME IN TURIN HAS A PROUD HISTORY OF FEATS AND FABLES. BUT IN RECENT DECADES IT HAS BEEN LEFT TO RUIN, UNLOVED AND PRACTICALLY ABANDONED. PETER BOURNE GAINED EXCLUSIVE ACCESS TO THE VENUE FOR BLACK SHEEP AND EXPLORES MORE.

The shards of glass scattered around the perimetre walls of the Fausto Coppi velodrome in Turin (Motovelodromo Fausto Coppi to the locals) are rather telling. Once home to thousands of spectators enjoying the final metres of an epic stage race or a track competition of international repute, today the venue’s sole focus is keeping people out. Accesso vietato.

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This magnificent structure, designed by Vittorio Ballatore di Rosana, and a distinct representation of the Liberty Style, more commonly known as Art Nouveau and with deep roots in Turin, has been left practically abandoned and unloved for years. Weeds grow apologetically through the stiff, padlocked iron gates; junk mail jams the narrow letter box; the old ticket huts are unsympathetically boarded up. Back in 2015 the venue almost became a supermarket. The threats to demolish it have been frequent. While authorities in Turin claim the arena will be restored to former glories – a kind of multisports arena catering for rugby, triathlon, badminton and more – few are expecting them to deliver. Patience has worn thin.

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Running the arena has proved complex from its very beginnings. Conceived as cycling venue and built to showcase the popular track calendar of the 1920s, it soon was forced to generate funds hosting both rugby and football matches, later operatic pieces. The Torino football team used the venue for the 1925-26 season and the Azzurri (Italian national team) played an international match there in 1926. Later, during the height of the fascist period, the venue was used for military parades and took the totalitarianism dime. Once the fascist era had turned to rubble, more funds were needed to repair the venue following the Second World War and the rain of bombs which destroyed part of the track and tribunes.

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In 1990, thirty years after Fausto Coppi’s death, the venue was renamed in his honour – Coppi an adopted son of Turin and native of the region. Outside the venue on Corso Casale stands a rather odd, erratic tribute to the legend; a haphazard monument trying to be too many things. Only on closer inspection does the tremendous detail resonate. Rock fragments have been sourced from some of Coppi’s great climbs and faded photos of Il Campionissimo adorn the structure. Adjacent to the monument, and easily missed, is a plaque to Serse Coppi. The younger Coppi lost his life in June 1951 following head injuries sustained in a Tour of Piedmont finish.

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Post-war, the venue has been an almost perennial finish point of the Milan-Turin one-day race. The 2016 Giro finished in the shadow of the stadium. Despite the posthumous dedication, the venue is not defined by great Coppi performances. He won neither Milano-Torino (a sprinter’s domain) nor the Tour of Piedmont. He regularly attended track meets but for mere pocket money compared to what he pocketed elsewhere. It would perhaps have been more fitting to dedicate the venue to Serse. One of the track’s stronger Giro connection’s dates back to a moment of Fascist defiance. In 1931 Francesco Camusso rode to stage victory as 20,000 Torinese roared appreciation. Its significance? This was the first edition in which the Maglia Rosa was awarded to the race leader. A pink jersey on Fascist watch. So typically defiant of the Giro.

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If fortunate enough to enter the venue, you’ll experience a tardis effect. Transported back to what feels like 1949. The wooden banks which housed 7,500 spectators are gone but the structure of the tribunes remain. The blue and red stripes on the 393m long, eight-metre high white banking have slightly faded but still have the effect of a giant smudge of toothpaste. While the venue today hosts rugby and American football training on an intermittent basis, caring for the velodrome are the Raggruppamento Associazioni Velodromo, a group of associations working passionately to preserve the venue and to raise awareness about its current plight. This historic establishment deserves to hear the tifosi roar again.

 

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