Book recalls Bartali's feats on and off the bike

Thu Jun 21, 2012 10:32pm EDT
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By Tiziana Barghini

NEW YORK (Reuters) - For Italians of all generations there are few mysteries about Gino Bartali, one of the country's best known and most successful road cyclists.

Bartali is a symbol of a different era, when Italy was poorer, more naive but much more confident in its future.

But now, a new book, the first in English about Bartali, chronicles his victories before and after World War II and his role as a courier who helped countless Jews during the conflict to a whole new audience.

"Bartali's story fascinated us because it combined this incredible comeback story with an untold tale of wartime heroism," said Aili and Andres McConnon, two brothers who spent 10 years researching "Road To Valor - A true story of World War II, Italy, the Nazis and the Cyclist who inspired a nation".

Bartali has a long list of success - he won the Tour de France twice, in 1938 and in 1948, and the Giro d'Italia three times in 1936, 1937 and 1946. Because of the war, he holds the records for the longest time span between victories.

Born in 1914, Bartali faced an uphill battle from the beginning. His life-long love affair with the bicycle started when he bought a second-hand bike from the savings of a summer job and rode it to school, up and down the hills around Florence.

Despite an unquestionable talent, he had to fight his parents' fears for his safety before being allowed to start racing.

His younger brother Giulio died in 1936 in a bike accident and when the first victories arrived, he had to face the Fascist regime's attempts to use his success and fame for political propaganda.   Continued...