DISRAELI TRIVIA

Politics

Here’s one of my favourite passages from Roderick Watson and Martin Gray’s The Penguin Book of the Bicycle (1978):

“Perhaps the most striking proof of the sport’s hold on its followers comes from post-war Italy and the story of Gino Bartali’s victory in the 1948 Tour de France. While the race was running the political situation in Italy became very unstable and an armed clash between right- and left-wing factions seemed imminent. Italian reporters began to leave the Tour to return home. ... The Prime minister, De Gasperi, was warned that just a few more gunshots might plunge the whole country into bloodshed. It occurred to him that an Italian victory in the Tour might provide a boost to morale. He telephoned Gino Bartali and asked him to win the race or at least the stage for the next day, 14 July. Gino won the stage.

To win overall was a tougher task, for Bartali had a lot of time to make up and, at thirty-four, his last Tour victory was ten years in his past. Bartali was a hard-headed native of Tuscany, deeply pious and noted for his give-no-quarter riding. He had always been physically strong and so he attacked again and again. Young Louison Bobet, who was later to win three Tours in succession, could not withstand the fierceness of the Italian’s riding in the Alps and soon the yellow jersey fell to Bartali. ... It was one of the great victories: Bartali won seven of the twenty-one stages and helped set a record average speed for the race that was to last for the next six years. All Italy rejoiced. The country had been agog during their hero’s courageous assaults in the mountains. The revolution had been overtaken in the Alps. The politicians had cause to be grateful to the Tuscan rider and ‘Gino the pious’ received the final accolade when he was received by Pope Pius.”

It’s a charming tale that avoids some inconvenient truths - such as the statement made by De Gasperi’s Christian Democrats in the 1948 election campaign, that, in communist countries people ate their own children - hardly the thoughtful claim of a statesman determined to peacefully unite a troubled nation.

Just in case you're wondering about the important stuff, in the 1948 Tour Bartali was using a Campagnolo Corsa fork derailleur system. I don’t know exactly what Bobet was using.

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