Sunday, August 5, 2012

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

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this, We didn't know this book was out. "In bocca al lupo" at l'Eroica 2012, wish we could be there like last year.