In recent years, the sport of cycling has become more about who has or has not cheated than who wins the big races. Bill Littlefield speaks to Aili and Andres McConnon, authors of Road To Valor, a book about Italian Tour De France winner Gino Bartali, whose life on and off the bike was much more interesting and heroic.
Bill’s thoughts on Road to Valor: A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation:
It must have been great fun to root for Gino Bartali.
Bartali was a fellow who started riding his father’s bicycle when he was so small that he couldn’t reach the pedals. He’d wedge himself between the pedals and the seat, reach up to grab the handle bars, and wobble down the dirt road outside his home until he tipped over.
Bartali went on to win the Tour de France in 1938, when few international sports events had the panache of the Tour. He won it again ten years later, having been ridiculed as an old man before he left home and abused for being Italian and Catholic when he got to France. Perhaps those who scorned him on the course assumed he’d collaborated with Mussolini, and then with Hitler’s army when Germany occupied Italy.
Certainly they knew nothing about Bartali’s heroic activities during World War II, when he served as a bicycle courier for an operation that printed false identification papers and delivered them to Jewish citizens trying to avoid the concentration camps. According to Aili and Andres McConnon, the siblings who wrote Road To Valor, Bartali saved at least hundreds of people, perhaps many more, at great risk.
This week, the United States Anti-Doping Agency has once again cranked up the campaign to demonstrate that Lance Armstrong cheated. Need an alternative to that cycling news? Read about a rider whose achievements at the Tour and much more substantial heroics on the back roads of Italy cannot be tarnished.