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La Mamma Volante: The Flying Mother and Her Short but Amazing Career

By Tereza Antonova

The 1985 Tour de France is underway. A lady on her two wheels is reaching the finish line. She flies like an arrow. With 22 minutes ahead of the second rider to finish, she conquers the race. Her name is Maria Canins, this is her first Tour and she is 36 years old, which makes her the oldest rider in the peloton.

The 1985 women’s Tour had one favourite: the famous Jeannie Longo. No one expected a little-known Italian lady in her late thirties to beat the excellent rider and, indeed, for the first week of the Tour, all went as expected. Jeannie was the one to dominate the stages. But as it turned out, Maria Canins just had to shake off the nerves and show her true colours.

Maria Canins after winning the 2nd edition of the women’s Tour de France cycling race with Bernard Hinault on her right (July 21, 1985). © AFP / Profimedia

When it came to mountain stages of the race, Canins stole the lead with the utmost elegance. After the Col du Corbier, she would finish the stage with an 8-minute margin over Jeannie, upping it to 9 minutes the next day. Later on, Maria stated she honestly expected the Tourmalet stage to be more difficult.

The flying mother (la Mamma Volante in Italian), as the public used to call her, became something of a sensation. While mamma raced, her daughter Concetta would sit in the team car. The husband would take his own bike and a tent to each stage and the day before the race he would ride the stages himself, making marks of the most difficult parts. Cycling was a family matter.

Canins stole the victory from Longo one more time, in 1986 Grande Boucle. In 1987, Jeannie managed to turn the game, claim the championship and leave the second place to Maria. The same state of affairs would last for the next three years. In 1990, Maria officially retired from professional cycling.

Nowadays, when recalling her cycling days, she doesn’t exactly give away the impression of a competitive personality. When she felt like it, she attacked and won. Or she simply didn’t, even if it meant not winning the race. Canins was in it for the fun, enjoying travelling over the world, and meeting new people.

Maria’s career wasn’t really long but it surely was successful. Now, aged 70, you can find her living her best life in the Italian Alps, still enjoying herself and leading an active life, skiing, cycling, and running in the beautiful surroundings. Don’t you believe us? Check out her Instagram.