- Category : Cyclist
- Type : PE
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Split - Large
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Obscuration 1
Gino Bartali, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI (born Ponte a Ema, Florence, Italy, 18 July 1914, died Florence, 5 May 2000) was a champion road cyclist. He was the most renowned Italian cyclist before the Second World War, having won the Giro d'Italia three times (1936, 1937, 1946) and the Tour de France twice, in 1938 and 1948. His second and last Tour de France victory in 1948 gave him the largest gap between victories in the race.
In September 2013, 13 years after his death, Bartali was recognised as a "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem for his efforts to aid Jews during World War II.
Gino Bartali was the third son of four children of a smallholder, Torello Bartali. He was powerfully built, with a broad nose and a boxer's face. He earned pocket money by selling raffia to makers of covers for wine bottles. He began work in a bicycle shop when he was 13. He started racing at 13, became a promising amateur and turned professional in 1935 when he was 21. He was Italian champion the next year. On 14 November 1940 Bartali married Adriana Bani in Florence. The wedding was celebrated by Cardinal Della Costa and was blessed by Pope Pius XII, to whom Bartali donated a bicycle.
Bartali won a stage of that same year's Giro d'Italia and was King of the Mountains, the first of seven times he won the title in the Giro. He was 20. In 1936, before he turned 22, he won the Giro and the Giro di Lombardia, although his season was marred when his brother, Giulio, died in a racing accident on 14 June. Bartali came close to giving up cycling.
He was persuaded to return and in 1937 won the Giro victory again. His reputation outside Italy was that he was yet another Italian who couldn't ride well beyond his country. There was some truth in the claim. The writer Tim Hilton said: "Bartali was essentially an Italian cyclist, a champion who rode within sight of his own people, and was uneasy when the Tour de France travelled north of Paris. He never disputed the northern classics." Stung by the claim, he rode the Tour de France in 1937. He got off to a bad start, losing more than eight minutes by the third stage and more than ten by the Ballon d'Alsace, a mountain in the Vosges. There he came back to life and led by 1m 14s over the rest and by enough over the leaders that he took the leader's jersey that night in Grenoble. But that was the end of his race. He and two helpers, Jules Rossi and Francesco Camusso, were riding a wooden bridge over the river Colau when Rossi skidded. Bartali rode into a parapet and fell into the river.
Roger Lapébie wrote: "In the valley that leads to Briançon, I saw the accident to the maillot jaune, Bartali. The narrow and bumpy road ran along the foot of a rock. Suddenly Rossi, who was leading, took a bend badly, braked and his back wheel hit the parapet of a bridge. Bartali, who was beside Rossi, couldn't get clear and I saw him fall over the bridge and into the little river three metres below." Camusso pulled him out. Bartali was cut to his arm and knee and had trouble breathing because of a blow to the chest. He rode on to the end of the day, often pushed by his helpers. He finished 10 minutes behind the rest but kept his lead.
He got through the Alps, by then having lost his jersey, and retired in Marseille. Before he dropped out, he warned the organiser, Henri Desgrange, who said: "You are the first rider to come to see me before dropping out. You're a good man , Gino. We'll see each other again next year and you'll win."
He did return in 1938 and overcame the teamwork of the Belgians, the cold and rain and a puncture on the Col de l'Iseran. He won the hardest stage, from Digne to Briançon by more than five minutes. The radio commentator Georges Briquet, after he had seen the crowds of Italians greeting Bartali with green-white-red flags said: "These people had found a superman. Outside Bartali's hotel at Aix-les-Bains, an Italian general was shouting 'Don't touch him - he's a god.'" A public subscription started in his name in Italy and Benito Mussolini was among the contributors.
The approaching war led Italy not to send a team in 1939.
Bartali won the Giro d'Italia twice before the war - 1936 and 1937 - and once after it (1946). He won classics such as Milan – San Remo, the Giro di Lombardia and the Züri-Metzgete. His most famous victory was the 1948 Tour de France.
Winning was for him a simple formality. Not only was he the best climber, at the age of 34, but he was the fastest man on the flat. Ten years after his first Parc des Princes lap of honour he rode another with the victor's bouquet. Gino could feel really proud, for he had won seven stages. And he won them in the heroic manner of the legendary giants of yesteryear Tours. He took the opening stage, then two in succession entering the Pyrenees, then a great climax of three successive Alpine stages. Bartali won that 1948 Tour not by a handful of seconds but by over 26 minutes from runner-up Briek Schotte.
René de Latour,
Bartali returned to the Tour in 1948 to find that many riders he had known had died in the war and that there were as many more who had started racing since he stopped (see below for Bartali's war record). He was so worried that he spent an evening memorising two dozen riders he didn't know. The Tour started in a rainstorm and Bartali found he could identify nobody because the whole field was wearing waterproofs. He took his chance and found he was with Briek Schotte. The two finished together at Trouville and Bartali took the yellow jersey.
It was during that Tour that the leader of the Italian Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti, was shot in the neck by a sniper as he was leaving the parliament building. The writer Bernard Chambaz said:
History and myth united, and a miracle if you like, because that evening Bartali got a phone call at his hotel. In a bad mood, dubious, he didn't want to answer. But someone whispered that it was Alcide de Gasperi, his old friend from Catholic Action, now parliamentary president, who told him that Palmiro Togliatti, secretary-general of the communist party, had been shot at and had survived by a miracle. The situation in the peninsula was very tense amid the ravages of the Cold War. Italy needed Bartali to do what he best knew how to do, to win stages.
The communists had occupied factories and radio and television stations and angry rows in parliament came close to blows. A revolt was looming. And then Bartali won three stages in a row and led the Tour by 14 minutes. An obituary says:
Just as it seemed the communists would stage a full-scale revolt, a deputy ran into the chamber shouting 'Bartali's won the Tour de France!' All differences were at once forgotten as the feuding politicians applauded and congratulated each other on a cause for such national pride. That day, with immaculate timing, Togliatti awoke from his coma on his hospital bed, inquired how the Tour was going, and recommended calm. All over the country political animosities were for the time being swept aside by the celebrations and a looming crisis was averted.
The former prime minister, Giulio Andreotti said: "To say that civil war was averted by a Tour de France victory is surely excessive. But it is undeniable that on that 14th of July of 1948, day of the attack on Togliatti, Bartali contributed to ease the tensions."
Gino Bartali had a row during the 1950 Tour de France with the French rider, Jean Robic. Newspapers made much of it and the atmosphere was tense. Robic got clear of Bartali on the col d'Aubisque in the Pyrenees. Bartali made up ground over the Tourmalet, took the descent to Sainte-Marie-de-Campan and started up the col d'Aspin. There he caught Robic and the two rode together. The two rubbed shoulders and they fell.
Bartali said French fans by the road were so angry, accusing him of sabotaging Robic's chances, that they punched him and that one threatened him with a knife. Bartali remounted and won the stage. Fiorenzo Magni, leading the Italian 'B' team, the Cadetti, took the yellow jersey. The pair and their teams had barely returned to their hotel when Bartali said he was going home and so, he said, were the two Italian teams. The organisers, Jacques Goddet and Félix Lévitan, went to his hotel, the Hôtel de France, in Lourdes, to dissuade him. Bartali, a cigarette in his mouth, said: "I have no intention of risking my life to a madman." The truth of what happened may never be known: Louison Bobet, who saw the incident on the mountain, said: "I'm pretty sure that in the time it took me to pass him, Bartali wasn't struck, and I think he mistook as blows what was an attempt to get him back in the saddle. A hunt started for the knifeman but all spectators could remember was that a man who had been slicing salami still had his knife in his hand when he went to help.
It then emerged that the Italian teams had been withdrawn by the Italian cycling association. Italian fans grew so angry that a stage due to cross the border to San Remo stopped just short of the Italian border instead, at Menton. The affair escalated to national level when the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, apologised to his Italian counterpart for what seemed to be no more than a man interrupted in the making of a sandwich.
René de Latour said:
To say that Magni was sore is putting it very mildly indeed. When he spoke to men he could trust, he would say: 'Gino knows what his little game is. He is too clever to ignore the facts that he will be lucky to win this Tour, and he prefers a foreign team win rather than see one of our team succeed, especially me. It was bad enough for him with Coppi winning last year.
Rivalry with Fausto Coppi
"This mercurial beginner joined Bartali's team in 1940, and then won the Giro d'ltalia with a massive lead over his team leader. Bartali was astonished and affronted.
Henceforward, the two riders were in personal combat - it often seemed that, as fierce rivals, they cared less about winning a race than beating each other."
Tim Hilton, 'The Guardian'
Bartali's rivalry with Fausto Coppi divided Italy. Bartali, conservative, was venerated in the rural, agrarian south, while Coppi, more worldly, secular, innovative in diet and training, was hero of the industrial north.
The lives of each came together on 7 January 1940 when Eberrardo Pavesi, head of the Legnano team, took on Coppi to ride for Bartali. Bartali thought Coppi "as thin as a mutton bone" but accepted. Their rivalry started when Coppi, the helping hand, won the Giro and Bartali, the star, marshalled the two men's team to chase him. By the 1949 world championship at Valkenburg, both climbed off rather than help the other win. The Italian cycling association said: "They have forgotten to honour the Italian prestige they represent. Thinking only of their personal rivalry, they abandoned the race, to the approbation of all sportsmen." They were suspended for three months.
The thaw partly broke when the pair shared a drink bottle during the climb of the Col d'Izoard in the 1952 Tour but the two men fell out over who had offered it. "I did," Bartali insisted. "He never gave me anything.". Their rivalry was the subject of intense coverage and resulted in many epic races.
When professional cycle racing resumed in 1946 after World War II, Bartali narrowly beat Coppi in that year's Giro, while Coppi won Milan – San Remo. Bartali won the Tour de Suisse twice, another Milan – San Remo, and the 1948 Tour de France - a full ten years after his last victory. Coppi took victories in the 1947 Giro d'Italia, the Giro di Lombardia and the Grand Prix des Nations.
Despite the rivalry, perhaps heightened by Coppi's victory in the 1949 Giro, Bartali supported Coppi's bid in the 1949 Tour de France. The two Italian team-mates destroyed the race as a contest in a mountainous Alpine stage over the Col de Vars and Col d'Izoard. When Coppi punctured on the Izoard, Bartali waited for him, then Bartali did the same and Coppi waited. On the final climb to Briançon, Coppi allowed Bartali to win (on his 35th birthday) and take the yellow jersey. But Coppi assumed the maillot jaune the following day after Bartali punctured with 40 km of the stage still to race. Coppi retained the leadership to Paris, while Bartali took second place on the podium.
The 1950 Tour de France saw him lead the Italian team again, with Coppi electing not to contest the race, but having been threatened by frenzied fans the entire Italian team resigned from the race.
Bartali always suspected that Coppi took drugs. On the hairpins of the Col di Bracco, during a stage of the 1946 Giro from Genoa to Montecatini Terme, Coppi drank from a glass phial and threw into the verge. Bartali drove back after the race and found it. He said:
“With the meticulous care of a detective collecting evidence for fingerprinting I picked it up, dropped it into a white envelope and put it carefully in my pocket. The next day I rushed round to my personal doctor and asked him to send the phial to a lab for analysis. Disappointment: no drug, no magic potion. It was nothing more than an ordinary tonic, made in France, that I could have bought without a prescription.”
“I realised that I should have to try to outsmart him and I devised my own investigation system. The first thing was to make sure I always stayed at the same hotel for a race, and to have the room next to his so I could mount a surveillance. I would watch him leave with his mates, then I would tiptoe into the room which ten seconds earlier had been his headquarters. I would rush to the waste bin and the bedside table, go through the bottles, flasks, phials, tubes, cartons, boxes, suppositories – I swept up everything. I had become so expert in interpreting all these pharmaceuticals that I could predict how Fausto would behave during the course of the stage. I would work out, according to the traces of the product I found, how and when he would attack me.”
Bartali in wartime
Piazza Gino Bartali in Florence
Bartali has earned respect for his work in helping Jews who were being persecuted by the Nazis during the time of the Italian Social Republic. It emerged in December 2010 that Bartali had hidden a Jewish family in his cellar and, according to one of the survivors, by doing so saved their lives.
Bartali used his fame to carry messages and documents to the Italian Resistance. Bartali cycled from Florence through Tuscany, Umbria, and Marche, sometimes traveling as far afield as Rome, all the while wearing the racing jersey emblazoned with his name. Neither the Fascist police nor the German troops risked discontent by arresting him.
Giorgio Nissim, a Jewish accountant from Pisa, was a member of DELASEM, founded by the Union of the Israelitic Communities to help Jewish Italians escape persecution. The network in Tuscany was discovered in autumn 1943 and all members except Nissim sent to concentration camps. He met Pope Pius XII and, with the help of the Archbishop of Genoa, the Franciscan Friars and others he reorganized DELASEM and helped 800 escape.
Nissim died in 2000. His sons found from his diaries that Bartali had used his fame to help. Nissim and the Oblati Friars of Lucca forged documents and needed photographs of those they were helping. Bartali used to leave Florence in the morning, pretending to train, rode to a convent in which the Jews were hiding, collected their photographs and rode back to Nissim. Bartali used his position to learn about raids on safehouses.
Bartali was eventually taken to Villa Triste in Florence. The SD and the Italian RSS office, Mario Carità questioned Bartali, threatening his life. Bartali simply answered "I do what I feel ".
Bartali continued with the Assisi Underground. In 1943, he led Jewish refugees towards the Swiss Alps himself. He cycled pulling a wagon with a secret compartment, telling patrols it was just part of his training. Bartali told his son Andrea only that "One does these things and then that's that".
In June 2012 a book about Bartali's wartime activities, Road To Valor by Aili and Andres McConnon, was published.
In 2013 Yad Vashem recognized Gino Bartali the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
Bartali was a good climber and a pioneer of derailleur gears. His style was unusual: he rarely danced on the pedals and often stayed in the saddle throughout a 15 km climb. When others attacked, he stayed in the saddle but changed up gear, to a sprocket three teeth smaller.
He rode smoothly on mountains but every now and then freewheeled, always with his right foot lowered with his weight on it. Then a second or two later he would start pedalling again.
Tour de France enduring record
Bartali's feat of winning three consecutive mountain stages (13, 14 and 15) in the 1948 Tour de France has never been equaled. It is one of the most astonishing accomplishments in the history of road cycling. It would be 50 years before anyone again won 3 consecutive stages, when Italian cyclist Mario Cipollini did so in the early (flat) stages of the 1999 Tour de France, winning four consecutive sprint finishes in stages 4, 5, 6 and 7.
I have never seen a sports hero so adored. I remember times when Gino could not get out of a hotel even, such was the crush of fans waiting to see him. All the time there would be the roar of shouts which he knew so well, which was really music in his ears: ' Gi-no, Gi-no, Gi-no... ' During the Tour of Italy, Bartali always needed a box of wax balls to stop his ears when he was in bed. Without them there would have been no peace; For right through the night the row kept on, under the window of his room.
René de Latour,
Personality and standing
Bartali grew up in a religious family in Tuscany, and his belief earned him the nickname "Gino the Pious". He prayed before meals and resented when team-mates swore. In contrast, Coppi grew up in Piedmont in the north and was not religious at all. Bartali was proud that Pope John XXIII had asked him to teach him to ride a bicycle. He made no secret that he supported the Catholic-leaning Christian Democratic Party but his personality ensured that he was forgiven by the rival communists. Tim Hilton wrote: "Bartali was a genuinely religious man, making his devotions public and, in return, becoming the Vatican's favourite sportsman - he was personally blessed by three popes. He would set up shrines in his hotel bedrooms when he rode the Giro and the Tour de France, and, on some mountains, children from summer camps sang canticles as he pedalled past, a priest conducting their infant worship."
Bartali was frequently pessimistic. One of his customary phrases was "Everything's wrong; we'll have to start all over again." The best the historian Pierre Chany could say of him was that while he often boasted of what he had done on mountains when nobody was there to see him, he had the grace never to tell the story differently.
Bartali lived at 47 via Chantigiano, Florence in a home full of souvenirs.
Bartali stopped racing when he was 40, after being injured in a road accident. By then he had lost much of his money. His wealth was "uncertain", said René de Latour.
Bartali had a heart bypass operation and then died of a heart attack in May 2000, having received the last rites 10 days earlier. He left behind his wife, Adriana, two sons and a daughter. The prime minister, Giuliano Amato, sent condolences. Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, called him "a symbol of the most noble sportsmanship." The Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) called two days of mourning and silences were observed before sports events.