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Biography

Gino Bartali, who was five years older than Fausto Coppi, had his great career strongly conditioned by the Second World War which occurred during his best years. His most well-known adversary was Fausto Coppi, resulting in a legendary rivalry also due to differing political beliefs of the two champions, which divided post-war Italy. The famous photo portraying Gino and Fausto who pass each other the water bottle during the hill of the Tour de France of ‘52 has become a symbol of an entire era of sportsmanship. It has never been revealed if it was Bartali who passed the water to Coppi, or vice versa, a mystery which even the protagonists themselves strived to keep secret, each claiming to have helped his rival.
In the film, “Gino Bartali, The Timeless” produced by the RAI in 2006, it is Bartali who passes the water to Coppi.. Bartali’s wonderful victory of the 1948 Tour de France remains in the history of Italy and is said to have contributed to alleviating the tension in Italy after the terrorist attack at Togliatti.

 

The beginnings

Gino Bartali made his debut in the early 1930’s with the club "Aquila Divertente". In 1935, by then ready to make the step towards professionalism, he signed up for the Milano-Sanremo race as an independent. After leaving behind Learco Guerra, he incredibly found himself as leader but is disturbed by an interview by the director of Gazzetta dello Sport Emilio Colombo, and is surpassed and places 4°. Hired by the racing team Frejus, he participated in his first "Giro d'Italia" placing 7° and wining one of the circuits. He ended the season with the victory at Criterio of Monitniujch, in the Netherlands Race and becoming Italian Champion.

 

The consecration (1936-1937)

In 1936 he passed to the Legnano of Learco Guerra, who seeing the great potential of the new arrival, became his supporter rider, permitting him to participate in the Pink Race of that year which he won, with three circuit victories. A few days later, following the death of his younger brother Giulio in an accident in a race for novices, Bartali seriously considered giving up his cycling career. That year ended with victory in the Giro of Lombardia. In 1937, captain of Legnano and number one Italian cyclist, he won his second Giro d'Italia and was chosen to attempt the Tour de France, up till then only won two times by an Italian, Ottavio Bottecchia in 1924 and 1925. While still wearing the yellow jersey, he was forced to pull out from the race after a bad fall in the River Caloau during the Grenoble-Briançon circuit and due to injuries to his ribs and a bad case of bronchitis.

 

First victory in France and at the "Sanremo" (1938-1939)

In 1938 the regime forced him to skip the Giro d'Italia to prepare for the Tour de France, which he won including two circuit victories.

 

Then in 1939 he was finally able to win the legendary Milano-Sanremo, while losing the "Giro" to Giovanni Valetti, even after four 4 circuit victories.

 

The "giro" of 1940 and Fausto Coppi

In 1940 he had his second victory at the "Milano-Sanremo" and he prepared to win his third “Giro d’Italia". A new and promising young man, Fausto Coppi, had just recently joined the “Legnano” team; a cyclist whom Bartali himself had wanted as supporter rider. During one of the flat circuits and late due to a puncture, Bartali falls and hurts himself when a dog crosses in front of him just as he was reaching the first positions of the race. Pavesi, the director of the team, decides to concentrate on the young Coppi, who had placed better. At the end of the circuit, Bartali congratulated Coppi and became his supporter rider, just as Guerra had done with Bartali in 1936. During an Alpine circuit, Bartali was a few metres ahead of Coppi who was having muscle cramps. When Bartali realized that Fausto was about to get off the bike and drop out of the “Giro”, he went back and reminded him of all the sacrifices made to get to that point and was able to get him back on the bike yelling at him” Coppi, you are a tea toddler! Remember that! Only a tea toddler!” Bartali wanted to say that a man who never drank wine was not worth much, in other words, a tea toddler. Bartali enjoyed eating and drinking well before races in contract to Coppi who was always very careful about his diet. At the end, Coppi won the "Giro". The race, which had been deserted by foreigners, finished the day before Italy entered into the First World War and marked the interruption in the careers of the two champions.

 

The war

Obliged to work as a mechanic repairing the wheels of bicycles, between September 1943 and June of 1944 he worked in favour of Jewish refugees, undertaking numerous trips on hi bicycle from the station of Terontola-Cortona to Assisi, hiding documents and photos in the frame of his bike so a secret printing press could falsify the documents necessary for the Jewish refugees to flee.

 

It is thought this in this way, Bartali was able to help approximately 800 Jews. Wanted by the fascist police, he hid with some friends and relatives in Città di Castello, where he stayed for five months.

 

Post war (1945-1947)

His career began again in 1945 and the 31 year old Bartali was by then considered "finished" compared to the six year younger Coppi, who was deemed as the new growing star of Italian cycling, even if his imprisonment during the war would make the new start quite difficult. In 1946 Bartali won the Giro d'Italia, while Coppi, who raced with the "Bianchi" team, finished only 47 seconds behind him. Not able to participate in the "Tour" which was forbidden to the former belligerents, Bartali easily won the Giro of Switzerland. In 1947, he won the Milano-Sanremo race but lost the Giro d'Italia to Coppi, due to a technical problem. He went on to win again the Giro of Switzerland which was at that time the most pregistious circuit race in the post war era.

 

Victory in Tour of 1948

In 1948, in difficulty in the early part of the season and delayed due to a fall in the "Giro" where he finished only 8°, Bartali was the only cyclists among the "bigs" to represent Italy in the Tour de France as captain, since Coppi didn't feel ready and Fiorenzo Magni was not "welcome" by the French for political reasons. With a "four cent team", as it had been described, Bartali went on to the greatest victory of his career. In spite of the inferior team, the dislike of the Italians by the French, and his age (at 34 he was only younger than Roger Lapebie, the winner of the Tour in 1937), and he became part of the legend of the Tour. Particularly noteworthy is his lead on the Alps which allowed him to win the Cannes-Briançon, across the Hill of Allos and the Hill of Vars ( where his is commemorated with a memorial), making up the over twenty minute lead which was separating him from Louison Bobet. The next day he gave a repeat performance winning the Briançon-Aix-les-Bains circuit of 263 km, through the hills of Lautaret of Galibier and of Croix winning the yellow jersey. Bartali's successes helped distract the public opinion from the terrorist attempt at Togliatti, the secretary of the l PCI, which had caused much political and social tension in Italy. It has been said that it was Alcide De Gasperi and Giulio Andreotti who phoned Bartali to encourage him, asking him for a victory which could calm the country. That year ended with the disastrous Championship on the streets of Valkenburg where Barlati and Coppi, instead of working together, ended up checking each other so much that in the end they had to withdraw from the race to the disappointment of the Italian immigrants.

 

The final glory years (1949-1954)

In 1949 he placed second in the Giro d'Italia, won by Coppi, and helped Fausto in his victory of the Tour de France, arriving second himself. In 1950, he triumphed under a deluge in a terrible Milano-Sanremo but was forced to withdraw from the Tour he was riding in with Magni because of aggression by the French supporters on the Col d'Auspin. Fourth in the Tours of 1951 and 1952, ridden as the "second" to Coppi, at 38 years old he won his last great title with the Italian Championship. In 1953, after winning at age 39 the Giro of Toscana, he had a serious street accident where he risked losing his right leg to gangrene. After a few months, Gino came back to the scene with the Milano-Sanremo, where even if he didn't have note-worthy results, the public was all for him. In 1954 he decided to end his professional career at Città di Castello, where he had passed several months in hiding, and cycled in a closed circuit race created specifically for the occasion in 1954.

 

After the career in sports

In 1959 he brought a Fausto Coppi, who had become to decline, into his team with the goal of re-launching him. Coppi invited is former rival and then team-manager on the famous trip in Alto Volta which would have been meant the end of the life of the famous champion from Piemonte, but Bartali refused, preferring to spend time away from races with his family, composed of his beloved wife Adriana and their three children, Andrea, Luigi and Bianca. In the following years, Gino cut back his presence in the world of cycling, critical of the negative aspects of the sport: doping, corruption and too high salaries. In 1991 he hosted some episodes of the satiric television show "Striscia la Notizia" saying one of his most famous phrases "It's all wrong here. It all needs to be re-done"!

He died of natural causes on the 5th of May, 2000.



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