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Gino Bartali (1914-2000) Italian racing cyclist

Bartali was active as a professional between 1935 (when technical developments meant that road racing had more or less taken on its modern form) and 1954. He was an extremely strong climber and stage racer, winning his first Giro d'Italia in 1936. He won the Giro again in 1937 and ventured abroad (relatively rare for Italian riders at the time) to take the 1938 Tour de France.

In 1940 (just before Italy entered World War II) the by then established star Bartali was beaten in the Giro by his young Legnano team-mate Fausto Coppi; this rivalry was to captivate and divide the country for another decade or more. After Mussolini threw in his lot with Hitler, Bartali was (unlike Coppi) given a safe posting and was able to continue training and riding such races as there were; after 1943 when northern and central Italy became an occupied country, Bartali used training rides between his native Florence and Rome to carry messages for the resistance to the Vatican, where a number of Jewish refugees were being sheltered.

After the war Bartali resumed his career with both sporting and popular success, winning the first post-war Giro in 1946. His duels with Fausto Coppi, now riding for his own Bianchi team, split the country: pugnacious Gino "the pious", pure in word and deed and frequently photographed with religious figures (and Christian Democrat politicians) against the elegant, adulterous, chemically adventurous and (incorrectly) presumed Communist Fausto. In 1948 news coming over the radio of his epic ride (following a phone call from prime minister Alcide De Gasperi) in the decisive alpine stages of the Tour de France was enough to dampen down what appeared to be an imminent revolution following the attempted assassination of the Communist leader Palmiro Togliatti. It also won him his second Tour, ten years after the first, a record which lasts to this day.

After 1948 Bartali mostly had to play second fiddle to the younger Coppi, but he still managed to become Italian national champion for the fourth time in 1952. He rode a total of 988 races as a professional, finishing 960 of them (a notorious exception being the 1950 Tour where he and the entire Italian team pulled out because of threats, spitting and insults from the French crowds) and winning 184. After his retirement he was a private but popular figure who turned out for the Giro d'Italia every year until his death.

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