Italy’s famed national coach, Alfredo Martini dies

Riders pay tribute to former professional cyclist and Italy's coach Alfredo Martini, who died on Monday aged 93

Alfredo Martini died yesterday at home in Sesto Fiorentino, Italy, at the age of 93. He won several races as a professional cyclist, but excelled as a director: helping Gösta Pettersson conquer the 1971 Giro d’Italia and Italy’s national team to six gold medals at the World Championships.

“People celebrate me as if I’ve won the races,” Martini said on his 90th birthday. “I’ve had the luck to work with great cyclists who knew how to apply themselves.”

Martini was born in Sesto Fiorentino to the north of Florence, on February 18, 1921, raced from 1941 to 1958 and directed the Italy’s national team from 1975 to 1997.

With Italy’s Squadra Azzurra he won all over the world, taking the rainbow jersey with Francesco Moser in Venezuela in 1997, with Giuseppe Saronni in Great Britain in 1982, with Moreno Argentin in the USA in 1986, with Maurizio Fondriest in Belgium in 1988 and with Gianni Bugno twice, Germany in 1991 and in Spain the following year.

“I couldn’t pick one as my favourite over the other; I’d be like trying to name your favourite child,” he said. “They all put on the blue national jersey and gave it their all. It was a pleasure to have such great champions to fight for the wins.”

Martini’s professional career spanned 18 years, but fails in comparison to his time as a director. He won a stage in the Tour of Switzerland, Italian one-day races Giro dell’Appennino and Giro del Piemonte, and the Giro d’Italia leader’s jersey, albeit for one day. In the 1950 Giro, he took the leader’s maglia rosa at home in Florence at the end of the second stage. The race continued well from there, he finished third behind Swiss Hugo Koblet and Italian Gino Bartali.

As a sports director for Italian team Ferretti, Martini returned to conquer his home tour. In 1971, he guided Sweden’s Pettersson to his biggest career win. He also out-lived Italy’s champions – Bartali, Fausto Coppi and Fiorenzo Magni – and national coach, Franco Ballerini.

Ballerini took over as national director in 2001, helped win five gold medals, but died racing a rally car in 2010. Martini advised Ballerini, Paolo Bettini and current national coach, Davide Cassini in his later years.

“My eyes are filled with tears,” Cassini wrote in Twitter. “I would have given anything to see him in the Italian team car that was his for 23 years. Ciao Alfredo. I already miss you.”

“You couldn’t give worse news than this!” said Tour de France champion, Vincenzo Nibali. “Farewell Alfredo Martini, a great man. Your words will be missed!”

Martini had not been his usual self so much that he had to skip the 2013 World Championships around the corner in Florence. He suffered health problems over the last months and required two surgeries due to a fall at home. He left behind three grandchildren and two daughters, Silvia and Milvia.