Mostly uplifting account of the Tuscan champion cyclist whose prime was ruptured by the advent of World War II.
The extent of Gino Bartali’s work as a courier of forged documents for Jews hiding in Tuscany has only recently gained the cyclist, who died in 2000, humanitarian recognition. The scrappy laborer’s son was 24 when he won his first Tour de France in 1938, his best years subsequently interrupted by military service when war broke out and Mussolini’s Italy was allied with Nazi Germany, yet he made his incredible comeback and won the race again for a war-defeated Italy in 1948. The McConnons—former BusinessWeek writer Aili and filmmaker Andres—have sifted through the archives and interviewed Bartali’s widow, family and former teammates. With his simple peasant beginnings in the Tuscan village of Ponte a Ema, Bartali and his younger brother, Giulio, found in cycling races around their native mountains an opportunity for distinction and money. After winning the Giro d’Italia in 1936, Bartali almost quit racing following Giulio’s fatal accident, but meeting the young woman who would become his wife, Adriana Bani, encouraged him to strive on, and he won another Giro in 1937. He was manipulated by Mussolini’s national sports directors to concentrate solely on the Tour de France; however, because of his alliance with the Catholic Church, even his 1938 win received muted response by the government. He did not speak about his war efforts, helping the church shuttle counterfeit documents for the flood of Jewish refugees into Florence in 1943; they were hidden in his bike while he was ostensibly training up and down the hills. The authors interweave the plight of one saved family, the Goldenbergs, within the Bartali narrative.
A workmanlike biography that fills in some of the gaps of this strange, troubling time.