Andrea Sandrino Carrea, Fausto Coppi‘s last “gregario” (domestique) has died aged 88. He was the first cyclist to ride the Alpe d’Huez in the yellow jersey of leadership in the Tour de France and probably the only rider to have wept in distress at accidentally leading the race.

Andrea Carrea, Fausto Coppi’s last “gregario”

Andrea Carrea was born in Gavi Ligure in 1924 (August 14). He raced as a professional from 1948 to 1958 and he was one of the loyal domestiques of Fausto Coppi.

Andrea Sandrino Carrea with Fausto Coppi
Andrea “Sandrino” Carrea with Fausto Coppi

The Alpe d’Huez was introduced into the Tour de France in 1952. Carrea was riding as a domestique for Coppi that year.

At the previous stage before the Tour hit the Alpe d’Huez first time in history, a group broke away and Carrea went with the escapees to protect Coppi’s interests. Until he crossed the finish line, Carrea had no idea that he had become the race leader. When officials told him, he looked bewildered, then distressed, and burst into tears. He had to be dragged to the podium ceremony.

He wept as he received his jersey, looking constantly down the road for the main field that included his leader. French sports journalist Jean-Paul Ollivier said:

“He did not understand and cried when he put on the livery. He thought the sky had fallen in. How would Fausto take it? When the champion arrived a few minutes later, Carrea went towards him in tears to offer his excuses. You must understand that I did not want this jersey, Fausto. I have no right to it. A poor man like me, the yellow jersey?”

Andrea Carrea recalls: “Without knowing it, I had slid into the important break of the day and at Lausanne, to my great surprise, I heard I had inherited a jersey destined for champions. For me, it was a terrible situation.”

Il campionissimo already knew before he finished that Carrea had taken the jersey. He crossed the line while he was on the rostrum. He said: “I wondered how Carrea, so shy and so emotional, was going to take it. When I went to congratulate him on the track at Lausanne, he didn’t know what face he ought to adopt.”

Carrea feared that Coppi’s smile was for public consumption, that his wrath would come when they reached their hotel. Still not knowing what to say, he cried like a child, said Gatellier, and poured out excuses. Coppi, touched by his tears, comforted him. Carrea was pleased to lose the jersey the following day, a day he started by posing for photographers in his yellow jersey while symbolically polishing his leader’s shoes. Coppi, who called Carrea “the good and wise Sandrino”, said:

“Ours is certainly a very hard profession with terrible demands and painful sacrifices. Carrea gave everything to me. In return, I offered him only money. I know very well that if he was not my team-mate he would earn much less, and when all is said and done he is happy and many of his comrades envy him, but I personally think he deserves more than he has the right to: a little of intoxication of triumph.”

“I had a way of settling the debt: it was to let him wear the jersey for a few days. Do you know what he said to the journalists the next evening after he had taken the jersey? That it was not right for a soldier to leave his captain.”

As a result, Carrea became the first cyclist to ride the Alpe d’Huez in the yellow jersey. He wore the yellow jersey only one day. The Alpe d’Huez stage (the first in history) was won by Coppi, who took the yellow jersey from Carrea and became the first rider to triumph on the legendary Alpe d’Huez in Tour de France history; “Il Campionissimo” also win the Tour.

Alpe d'Huez, Fausto Coppi
Fausto Coppi climbing up to Alpe d’Huez, leading Jean Robic, 1952 Tour de France. “Il campionissimo” was the first rider who conquered Alpe d’Huez, in history.

For years after retiring, he rode up Alpe d’Huez ahead of the Tour de France, recognized only rarely by spectators. It was, he said, “A pilgrimage that nothing would make me miss.”

At the time of his death (January 13, 2013), Carrea lived at Cassano Spinola, a comune (municipality) in the Province of Alessandria in the Italian region Piedmont, located about 100 kilometers (62 mi) southeast of Turin, close to Fausto Coppi’s former home, with his wife Anna and his son Marco. He died at about 4.30, probably due to a heart attack.

Correction – February 18, 2013

Carrea was not Coppi’s last gregario, because the Frenchman Raphaël Géminiani is still alive. (He is one of four children of Italian immigrants, born Clermont-Ferrand, France, 12 June 1925)

Bianchi Team, 1952
Bianchi Team, 1952

Sources

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