Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi behind

Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi behind

Gino Bartali with Fausto Coppi behind him. Unfortunately I couldn’t find in which race the photo was taken. Some sources say it’s from 1952 Tour de France, but I think it’s unlikely, because Bartali was a gregario of Coppi at the 1952 Tour, and it seems Bartali is attacking Coppi here. But it must be 1950s though, since Bartali seems very old here. And what was going on behind Coppi? It seems like somebody is fighting.

Gino Bartali (18 July 1914 – 5 May 2000) was the most renowned Italian cyclist before the Second World War, having won the Giro d’Italia three times (1936, 1937, 1946) with 17 individual stages and the Tour de France twice, in 1938 and 1948, with twelve individual stages. His second and last Tour de France victory in 1948 gave him the largest gap between victories in the race, which still remains. He also won Milan-Sanremo four times, Giro di Lombardia (today Il Lombardia) three times, became the Italian champion four times (first in 1935 and the last one was in 1952!), Giro d’Italia mountains classification seven times, Tour de France mountains classification twice, among with many other important stage races and one day classics.

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.

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 (Mussolini’s fascist Italy). 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 [in my heart]”.

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. I strongly recommend this book, you can buy it from amazon.

In 2013 Yad Vashem recognized Gino Bartali the title of Righteous Among the Nations. He is a central figure in the 2014 documentary My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes.

M. Özgür Nevres

I am a software developer, an ex-racing cyclist (at the amateur level) and a science enthusiast. Also an animal lover! I write about cycling on this website, cycling-passion.com. You can check out my social media profiles by clicking on their icons.
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