no one line

Gino Bartali
February 18, 2009, 1:43 pm
Filed under: Bartali

A couple of months ago, the Velosopher made a nice post about souplesse, accepting nominations of the cyclist who best demonstrated souplesse. Not surprising, he concluded that Fausto Coppi is the cyclist with that graceful strength that’s so elusive and beautiful.

Last month, Belgium Knee Warmers published a really moving four-part essay on Fausto Coppi, written by his friend, teammate, and rival Gino Bartali. “Coppi and Me,” Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Bartali’s prose is as smooth as Coppi’s cadence, and the stories of the two careening between loving cooperation and teeth-clenching competition are really lovely.

I was poking around on Dave Moulton’s now-defunct blog and saw a piece on Bartali that I hadn’t yet read. Now, one of the interesting elements to Bartali and Coppi’s dominance of the sport is that their careers were interrupted by World War II. Bartali, five years older than Coppi, got the shorter end of the stick, being of the prime age between 25 and 30 when the war was underway.

Apparently, Bartali worked with the Italian Resistance movement, working specifically with a network in Tuscany called DelAsEm. He was a courier, going on “training rides” to retrieve photographs of Jews in hiding for use in forged travel documents so that they could flee Italian Fascists and German Nazis. His fame and prominence let him avoid suspicion. That’s just Bartali out for a ride – although apparently he was detained and threatened by officials, though no doubt his fame prevented officials from making good on their threats. After that, he went on to actually smuggle people toward the Swiss Alps, pulling a wagon with a secret compartment. “Just part of my training.”

Absolutely amazing.


3 Comments so far
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I am so grateful that you posted a link to and a summary of Moulton’s post. I never knew that about Bartali, and he may be about to become my favorite historical racer (actually, he’d form a trinity along with Major Taylor and Eddy Merckx). There isn’t a lot of Jewish-related cycling history, though maybe I should go on the hunt! This story promises to be highly moving. As you know, I only consider those with talent *and* heart to be heroes.Grazie.

Comment by Velosopher

Talent and heart, indeed. < HREF="" REL="nofollow">even when his family was threatened<>: “Bartali was once summoned by Mussolini’s blackshirts to a Florentine villa used as a torture centre and warned off visiting certain convents. The cycling hero then sent his family into hiding before carrying on his role as clandestine postman.” It’s really quite inspiring.

Comment by No One Line

Thanks for exposing us to this history – I never knew this story. It’s always so amazing to me how extraordinary ordinary people can be sometimes. Not that Bartali was ordinary; just doing what he thought was right.

Comment by Suitcase of Courage

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