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.


  1. As you can read here, WE HEAR YOU!
    CycleItalia was inspired by the culture of Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, when "steel was real" and Campagnolo was on its way to being king. Major bike races were followed not only by those at the roadside but also the daily newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, and later by radio broadcast. With no video and few photos, the journalists and broadcasters of the day had to be creative and eloquent to capture the imaginations of their readers or listeners; they transformed the sport's heroes and villains into mythic characters of epic proportions.
    We've never lost this romantic notion of cycling, though we're long past our own racing days. Now our desire is to recreate that "come una volta" ("like it used to be") atmosphere in which cycling and friendship are shared along with hearty meals in the countryside through which we pedal. Italy is still the best place in the world for this, as demonstrated by the explosion of vintage bicycle (bici di epoca) rallies, such as Tuscany's L'Eroica, where the food and wine and the sense of history are as important as the ride.
    As the modern world of cycling moves toward electronically controlled machines of ever-more exotic materials, and fuel for cycling devolves into chemical goo squeezed from mylar packets, we look back to the era when cycling was less scientific, but more fun. Our tours are far from easy, but they embrace a spirit of enjoyment derived not from who can ride the fastest or who has the fanciest bike, but simply from the timeless joy of cycling in Italy "like it used to be.

  2. Speakig of Bartali, I'm currently starting a Legnano projetc here in France...