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Photo ©: Sirotti

I Campioni - the champions, part one

A pictorial of the great Italian riders

With just hours to the start of the 2003 Giro d'Italia, Cyclingnews is pleased to bring you these rare images of great Italian champions from before the Second World War to the present day.

Photo: © AFP
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Alfredo Binda

Binda holds the record for the most stage victories in the Giro with a staggering total of 41, but he was more than just the dominating rider of his nation's eponymous stage race, winning Milan-San Remo and two world road championships.

As you can see from the photo, Binda was a star of the era when mechanical support was a tyre wrapped round your shoulders and the strange experimental device called the derailleur was still banned from racing.

Photo: © AFP
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Gino Bartali

One half of perhaps greatest rivalry in Italian cycling's history, Gino Bartali was the favourite of Italians from the country's religious South while his younger rival Fausto Coppi found his fans in the more freewheeling North.

Bartali won the Giro in 1937, 1938 and 1946 and one can only wonder how many more victories he might have recorded if his career hadn't been punctuated by the Second World War.

Photo: © AFP
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Despite - or perhaps because of - the war, Bartali's career stretched almost two decades from his first major win in the Tour of the Basque Country in 1935 to his retirement at the age of 40.

After his retirement the rider who had started his career as 'Il Pio' (the pious, for his deeply held Catholicism) and had become known as 'Il Vecchio' (the old man) was a fixture at races as an eternal champion of Italian cycling.

Photo: © AFP
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Fausto Coppi

The rider Italian cycling fans still call the Campionissiomo was known for his dominating style and the title was never more earned than in his 1952 Tour de France win, a victory secured in solo exploits in the mountains.

Coppi's rivalry with Bartali enthralled fans in the post-War years and caused enormous headaches for Italian team manager Alfredo Binda in the years when races were run by national teams. The turning point came in 1949 when the two worked together to annihilate the field in the Tour de France - Coppi went on to win and the mantle had been handed down.

Photo: © AFP
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Fiorenzo Magni

Perhaps the greatest victim of the Coppi-Bartali rivalry, Fiorenzo Magni nevertheless won three Giros d'Italia. However, when Italian honour was truly at stake on the roads of France, Bartali and Coppi were the riders chosen to defend it.

Photo: © AFP
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But Magni isn't remembered for his Giro victories in 1948, 1951 and 1955 as for his ride in 1956 when he fell on the descent of S. Luca and broke his collarbone. His mechanic tied a strip of handlebar tape to his bars and, holding the end between his teeth, Magni was able to finish the stage.

Photo: © AFP
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Felice Gimondi

Winner of the Giro in 1967 and 1969,Gimondi had to wait for the end of the Merckx era to take the maglia rosa again, in 1976. The first Italian rider to win all three Grands Tours, Gimondi won the Tour de France in 1965 and completed the trio with his Vuelta win in 1968.

Part two: Moser, Chiappucci, Pantani, Cipollini