Fiorenzo Magni, the ‘third man’ of Italian cycling during the years of Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali’s post-war rivalry, has died at the age of 91. Despite his career coinciding with the dominance of his two illustrious compatriots, Magni’s own palmares included three Giro d’Italia titles and three victories in the Tour of Flanders, the latter earning him the nickname “the Lion of Flanders.”
Those Giro d’Italia victories came in 1948, 1951 and 1955, but Magni was unable to emulate Bartali and Coppi in winning the Tour de France. He did wear the maillot jaune during the 1950 edition of the race, but pulled out with the rest of the Italian team after home fans had accused Gino Bartali of causing Jean Robic to fall, Bartali being kicked and punched and even threatened with a knife.
Instead, it was the Tour of Flanders that Magni made his own, winning it for three years in succession from 1949 – he took the last of those with a 75km solo ride after dropping his fellow breakaway companions – and he was only the second non-Belgian to win the race.
His exploits there earned him the nickname 'Il Leone delle Fiandre' - the Lion of Flanders - from the Italian press.
For all those successes, Magni himself considered his 1956 runner's-up spot to Charly Gaul in the Giro d’Italia to be his greatest performance, riding nearly half of that race with a broken clavicle.
That gave rise to one of the most iconic cycling photographs from the era, Magni pulling on an inner tube with his teeth to help steer the bike, since he was unable to do so with his left arm.
Magni died overnight at home in Vaiano, the same small Tuscan town around 25 kilometres northwest of Florence where he was born on 7 December 1920.
As John Foot recounts in his history of Italian cycling, Pedalare! Pedalare!, it was close to Vaiano that Magni was widely believed to have participated in a fascist massacre of partisans in January 1944, and rumours of his wartime activities would taint his career.
In his later years, Magni would go on to run a successful car dealership in Monza near Milan, as well as being closely involved with the development of the Madonna del Ghisallo cycling museum.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.