The incredibly unknown story of Gino Bartali, the cycling champion who helped Jews escape the Nazis

The name Gino Bartali may not tell you anything, and yet this cyclist of the thirties and forties is a true hero. In addition to a career full of performances and medals, this great champion hides a personal story long kept secret, and which during his revelation made him one of the most respected men of his generation. Focus on an absolutely unconventional destiny.
Photo credit: curiositasufirenze
Born in Florence in 1914, Gino Bartali has grown from a simple mechanic to one of the most esteemed riders in the history of cycling. Between 1936 and 1948, the sportsman won numerous important titles,including the Giro (in 1936, 1937 and 1946), but also the Tour de France (in 1938 and 1948). Unfortunately for the Italian sportsman, his incredible victory and his progression will be stopped by the Second World War. And yet, as crazy as it may seem, it is during this conflict that he will play the most precious and the strongest part of his life. The one who will mark his existence, and make sure that we still remember him today.
At the time, for those who followed the cycling and who knew the character, it was common knowledge that Gino Bartali was not in favor of fascism, a position particularly assumed and courageous. In 1938, when he won the Tour de France, he refused to dedicate his victory to Benito Mussolini. Instead, he decides to insult the founder of the fascist movement, which incidentally also bears the cap of President of the Council of Italy. An attitude and a resistant personality that will hit the eye of the Cardinal of Florence, his hometown.
The latter, Archbishop Elia Dalla Costa, feels in him a man capable of doing great things. This is why he is approaching Gino Bartali with a project in mind: to propose to him to integrate a secret network whose aim is to offer a way of escape to the Jews and the other persons directly targeted by Nazi Germany. Without hesitating a second, eager to help, the former champion agrees to embark on what is about to be the biggest challenge of his life.
For him, the resistance group even invents a unique role: that of a cyclist who claims to train. An alibi that explains the great distances that it covers, but also the frequency with which it traverses them. Yes, to succeed in a great career, he must push his limits and progress! It is in any case what he makes believe to all those he crosses on his way. It should be remembered that, at the time, the media coverage of sport has nothing to do with the media we know in 2017, so that the faces of athletes are not necessarily known to everyone. In reality, during his travels, Gino Bartali's mission is to transport photographs, counterfeit identity documents or to lead newspapers that organize resistance to clandestine printing works.
Photo credit: welovecycling
However, the cyclist caused suspicions among the Italian government authorities by dint of back and forth. Worse, he gets arrested several times. Each time, he ensures that he cooperates in the best possible way by giving the impression that he is doing his utmost to help the police. His only request, that one does not touch his bike, "perfectly tuned to reach the best speed possible". Nobody knows, but this argument serves mainly to protect the secret documents hidden in the frame and in the handlebars of his bicycle.
Despite a few no-cost warnings, Gino Bartali wants to go even further in his investment in the network. He then takes indiscriminate risks that clearly show his desire and determination. After passing papers and photos, the champion with the big heart decides to accelerate the cadence. He then had the idea of ​​hanging a caravan behind his bike.Officially, he can carry more things, but unofficially, a hidden compartment will allow him to conceal sought-after people. Thanks to his technique, Gino Bartali slips between the checkpoints as if nothing had happened. Very active, he even went so far as to hide a family of Jews in his cellar, the Goldenbergs. He gets away, but always stays on the razor's edge. A mistake, and that's the end.
According to estimates by historians and scholars who have been interested in this period, his relentless work has saved hundreds of people from the hands of the Nazis, and thus certain death. By putting himself in danger, he set an example for the whole world. Until, until recently, its history was unknown to the general public. A detail not really surprising if we take into account the fact that Gino Bartali even hesitated to talk about it to his son Andrea. And as soon as that was the case, he immediately asked her not to share her secret with anyone else.
Photo credit: welovecycling
"When I asked my father why I could not say it, he said, 'You gotta do things well, but you do not have to talk about it. If you talk about it, you want to take over the others for your own glory. '' Andrea said in an interview with our British colleagues at the Guardian. And when he wished to make his father understand that his actions were heroic, the latter would have answered without waiting: "No, no, I want to be remembered for my sports performances. The real heroes are the others, those who suffer in their souls, in their hearts, in their minds, for those they love. These are the true heroes. I'm just a cyclist. "
Died on May 5, 2000 in Ponte a Ema, the same city that he born, near Florence in Tuscany, Gino Bartali will remain as one of the heroes of History. A great gentleman, congratulations to him for his incredible struggle and his incommensurable urge to reach out to others!
Photo credit: squarespace

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