Thursday, August 16, 2012

Togliatti, Bartali and the 1948 Tour

The story of the 1948 Tour is well known; how Gino fought back from a huge deficit to take three stages in a row and win the overall ten years after his first Tour win, and how that victory eased the tense political atmosphere in Italy after the shooting of Communist leader Palmiro Togliatti. But what I'm truly in awe of is the character of Gino as retold in Road to Valor, upon seeing the Italian journalists were leaving the Tour and heading back home. Not yet aware of the situation in Italy, and over twenty minutes down on the GC, Gino jumped up from his table and shouted...

"Go! Go home! I know what you're thinking: I'm old. You came here and tired yourselves out for nothing. There's no point in following Bartali's race, that poor old man, eh? But I'm warning you: a stopwatch won't be big enough to record the amount of time by which I'll beat the others. And don't come back to interview me when I have the yellow jersey!"

A stopwatch wasn't big enough to measure his winning margin. And you certainly can't measure the impact his win had in an Italy that was thrown into panic, with mobs taking over factories and local governments and political groups literally heading for the hills, ready to start a revolution.

I realize it's a different age, but what destroyed that bravado in our sport? Is it that respecting your rivals now means you have to bury your confidence? Does our media coverage and online peering into every word and detail around a race bury any spontaneity? Do race radios effectively control our racing to the point that the winner is almost predetermined by power numbers? Has cycling emerged from those postwar days when it was the poor guy looking to escape his situation that caused him to drop his shovel and get on a bike because he might find that labor easier to feed his family?

Whatever it is, more people need to know Gino's story and cycling's rich past.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Slowly But Surely... New Wooden Rim Wheels for l'Eroica!

It was almost a year and a half ago that I picked up my unfinished wooden rims for my Airolg from Cerchio Ghisallo. If you read that previous post, you'd see that I was a little unsure if I could finish the Airolg in time for last year's l'Eroica (I couldn't!). But finally, my components are back from the 'Chrome Guy' and the frame has been decaled by Enzo and all pieces are being shipped to me soon.

In the meantime, I spent a long, hot, humid weekend staining the rims, followed by carefully applying the water transfer logos. This was a highly delicate operation that Antonio did not guarantee success for, as the old D.A.M. (d'Alessandro di Milano) transfers were on dry, seventy-year-old paper! But, with patience and a steady-ish hand, I was able to get them down. OK, so one went on a little crooked, but that's the way things were done in an artisan bicycle industry. I surely wasn't going to waste one of the two remaining D.A.M. logos - you never know when I'll need them again!

After some dry time, I put down two final coats of urethane and allowed them to fully dry in my damp garage. I just put down some black paint on the logos of my Continental 'cross tubulars and slipped them over the now-finished rims to have a look. I'm hoping they'll fit in the frame, as this is a drop-dead look for my 'new' old bike!

l'Eroica, here we come, and we can't wait! And with the short training rides I'm doing on new bikes, I may point towards a SIXTEEN hour day on the bike this year!

Gino Bartali's Road to Valor

Travel has afforded me plenty of reading time this year, allowing me to recently breeze through some great titles like Fignon: We Were Young and Carefree; Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape; Team 7-Eleven; and Slaying the Badger. But none were as rewarding as Aili and Andres McConnon's much-anticipated Road to Valor.

I've been a Bartaliano (as Bartali fans called themselves in the "war" between themselves and Coppi supporters) since I started this journey into cycling's history. Little by little, la Gazzetta or Bicisport would reveal his efforts in the underground Jewish aid movement, smuggling falsified documents via long training rides to Italian Jews in hiding. In the past couple of years, even more has been uncovered to a much broader audience, culminating in this book, the first big push to an english-speaking public more and more interested in cycling's past (Rouleur or Rapha, anyone?).

The mystery behind the tales are even more compelling since the gruff Tuscan, who had his greatest sporting years robbed by the war, refused to profit by the telling of incredible tales of bravery and intrigue. It was only well after his death in 2000 that it was revealed how he had hidden a family of friends in his cellar during the darkest days of Nazi occupation. When asked about his actions by his son Andrea, Bartali replied that "One does these things and then that's that."

After the death in 2000 of one of the central figures in the movement, Giorgio Nissim, diary entries were discovered by his surviving sons which revealed the extent of Bartali's involvement. This spurred an intense research into his wartime actions and began to uncover an incredible truth about a man whose fame on the bike was to be eclipsed by his heroics during the war.

That's not to say that Bartali was without flaw, either. He was reported to be difficult at times, a pessimist, gruff, often a braggart, and even prone to drink a little more than a religious man should at the time. His most famous quote is "Everything's wrong, we'll have to start all over again." An odd view of the man who became known as "Gino the Pious." But to me, the post-war silence of a man who saved so many by risking his own life speaks volumes in a time when Olympic champions make more press about their podium celebrations than their performances.

Promo video for the book Road to Valor

npr interview with the authors