Gino Bartali’s Secret WARTIME Heroism & The Cycling School Inspired By It

This is the story of a 77-year-old secret, a new, cycling-based boarding school that commemorates it, and the kick-off for a 180 kilometre bike ride that retraces its roots.

This episode of the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast is about Gino Bartali’s 1948 Tour de France victory, his secret wartime rides to smuggle fake IDs for Italian Jews, a new Israeli cycling-based boarding school launched in his honour, and the Bartali 180 commemorative cycle ride from Florence to Assisi, retracing Bartali’s mid-1940s training-cum-smuggling route.

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Welcome to episode 227 of the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast brought to you in association with Jenson USA, I’m Carlton Reid, and the audio you heard at the top of the show was from a period Italian film about the 1948 Tour de France won by Italy’s Gino Bartali. On the day before the climb which clinched it, Bartali was staying at the Carlton hotel in Canne when he was called by the future leader of Italy’s Christian Democratic Party and told he had to win a stage or two because it would prevent the outbreak of bloodshed following the attempted assassination of a Communist politician. “I will do even better than that,” promised Bartali. “I WILL WIN THE WHOLE TOUR.”

That Bartali’s against-all-the-odds victory possibly prevented an Italian civil war would be an amazing claim to fame, but more recently, something even more amazing came out about Bartali, a secret that the devout Catholic had kept to his dying day. During the war against Hitler, at great risk to his own life, and that of his young family, Bartali used his fame, and, indeed, his bicycle frame, to smuggle documents that saved perhaps as many as 600 Italian Jews from the gas chambers. We don’t know the exact number, because – for obvious reasons – no records were kept. Despite being one of Italy’s most famous sports personalities, the subject of countless newspaper and magazine articles, and in his later years, a pundit on Italian TV, Bartali never talked about his war heroics, not even with his family.

In this special episode of the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast, I talk to Canadian journalist Aili McConnon, co-author of a Bartali biography. I also speak with Bartali’s granddaughter, as well as a bicycling Holocaust survivor, a bunch of Hebrew and Arabic speaking school kids connected by their love of cycling, and the former pro cyclist who brought all of these folks together in Italy last month.

Catch the full episode here!