Gino Bartali - 1937 photo

Gino Bartali - 1937 Tour de France stage 8 main image

Gino Bartali, Italian, 1914 - 2000

It's traditional to list Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as the four greats of the Tour de France, then to briefly cough and whisper the words 'Lance Armstrong'.

It's a list that includes no Italians and, most particularly, the names of Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi are missing. These two, undoubted greats, only won the Tour four times between them - but, as any of the tifosi will tell you, this was entirely because the Second World War stole their greatest years.

It has become a truism that Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi were the perfect couple. Gino is usually painted as traditional, devoutly catholic and even conservative in his riding style, his nickname was 'Gino the Pious'. Fausto is, handily, charicatured as flamboyant, irreligious, liberal and exciting.

So what do we really know about Gino Bartali? He won two Tours de France (1938 and 1948 - a full decade apart) and three Giros D'Italia (1936, 1937, 1946 - again spanning a decade). Bartali was a great climber, winning three mountain stages in a row in the 1948 Tour - an unheard of achievement and one that is hard to grasp.

He was also a genuinely religious man, and, during the Second World War, Bartali, at great personal risk, protected jews and carried messages for the Italian resistance. As one of the most famous Italians on the globe, his victory in the 1948 Tour de France played an noted role in Italian history. Wikipedia tells the story:

"It was during that Tour that the leader of the Italian Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti, was shot in the neck by a sniper as he was leaving the parliament building. The writer Bernard Chambaz said:

History and myth united, and a miracle if you like, because that evening Bartali got a phone call at his hotel. In a bad mood, dubious, he didn't want to answer. But someone whispered that it was Alcide de Gasperi, his old friend from Catholic Action, now parliamentary president, who told him that Palmiro Togliatti, secretary-general of the communist party, had been shot at and had survived by a miracle. The situation in the peninsula was very tense amid the ravages of the Cold War. Italy needed Bartali to do what he best knew how to do, to win stages.

The communists occupied factories and radio and television stations, and angry rows in parliament came close to blows. A revolt was looming. Then Bartali won three stages in a row and led the Tour by 14 minutes. An obituary says:

Just as it seemed the communists would stage a full-scale revolt, a deputy ran into the chamber shouting 'Bartali's won the Tour de France!' All differences were at once forgotten as the feuding politicians applauded and congratulated each other on a cause for such national pride. That day, with immaculate timing, Togliatti awoke from his coma on his hospital bed, inquired how the Tour was going, and recommended calm. All over the country political animosities were for the time being swept aside by the celebrations and a looming crisis was averted."

It's a great story.

Gino Bartali won his 1938 Tour riding a Vittoria Margherita derailleur. By the 1948 Tour he was riding a Campagnolo Corsa (1001) rod-style derailleur.

This image is from stage 8 of the 1937 Tour de France. It is one of four images of Gino Bartali on this site. The others are here, here and here.

(Source gallica.bnf.fr/ Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Gino Bartali - 1937 Tour de France stage 8 main image
Gino Bartali - 1937 Tour de France stage 8 additional image 01