One of the iconic names of Italian cycling, Gino Bartali made himself known not only through his victories during races, but also through his brave actions during the World War II, when he helped persecuted Jews escape from a fascist Italy.
His outstanding career as a professional rider stretches over 20 years, during which he won Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, along with numerous other races. Deceased in 2000, Bartali led a life filled with accomplishments on the race track, and proved, not only once that a talented rider could beat the odds and mark great victories even later in life.
Bartali’s love for cycling started at the age of 13, when he began working in a bicycle shop. Gifted with a powerful build and what was called a boxer’s face, the young apprentice soon learned how to ride a bike and make it yield to his ambition. In 1935, he decided to turn professional, and from that point forward, he started writing his own files in the Italian cycling history.
For the young rider, winning Giro d’Italia seemed quite easy right from the start. During his career, he won the title ‘King of the Mountains’ during Giro d’Italia no less than seven times. He won the most important trophy, the overall classification, three times, in 1936, 1937, and 1946. Also, between 1935 and 1954, he won 17 individual stages.
Right in the beginning of his career as a professional rider, Gino Bartali was close to give up on cycling, after his brother died in a racing accident.
Like many other Italians, Bartali was considered at the time the kind of Italian rider that could not fare too well outside the boundaries of his home country. However, he was going to prove everyone wrong, by winning Tour de France two times, in 1938 and 1948 (a gap between victories that made him famous).
These were also the years when he won the mountain classifications during Tour de France. During his participation in this important event, he won 12 individual stages.
The Grand Tours were not the only goal for the ambitious Italian rider. He also won the Italian National Road Race Championship four times, in 1935, 1937, 1940 and 1952, along with one-day races such as Milan – San Remo in 1939, 1940, 1947 and 1950, and Giro di Lombardia in 1939 and 1940.
Ten years after Bartali died, documents emerged that showed that the famous Italian rider hid a Jew family in his cellar, helping them survive and escape the Nazi persecution during the World War II. This was not, however, the only way in which Bartali fought against the Nazis. During the war, he made use of his fame as a professional cyclist, to carry messages for the Italian Resistance.
He was also involved in the escape on many Jews that were trying to leave Italy. By attaching a wagon to his bike, he was telling those that were stopping him that he was using the wagon to train and develop more strength. The wagon had a special compartment where people hid in order to cross the Swiss Alps.
Even when questioned and threatened by the Italian RSS office representatives, Bartali kept his cool and his only response was that he was doing only what his heart was telling him to do. A book, entitled ‘Road to Valor’ written by Aili and Andres McConnon, illustrates the many activities Gino Bartali was involved in during the war.
Bartali was also known for his great rivalry with the other iconic name in Italian cycling, Fausto Coppi, but, in the end, both of them brought fame and glory to their country.