The Israeli Cycling Academy team will pay tribute to cycling great Gino Bartali later this month by riding on the same roads he did during World War II when he smuggled forged documents that helped save Jews from the Holocaust.
The two-time Tour de France and triple Giro d’Italia champion, whose victories in those races came either side of that conflict, died in 2000 at the age of 85.
However, he never publicly spoke about his wartime exploits during his lifetime, telling his son Andrea: “One does these things and then that's that.”
After his death, it was revealed that the long training rides he undertook during those years acted as a cover to transport documents hidden in the handlebars and seat of his bike.
Whenever he was stopped and searched, he would tell police and soldiers not to touch his bicycle, since it had been precisely calibrated for his requirements.
It also came to light that from 1943 until the city’s liberation the following year, he had hidden a Jewish family in the cellar of his at his home in Florence, which is where the ride by the Israeli team will start on Sunday 20 March, with the riders heading to Assisi in neighbouring Umbria.
The team’s manager, former Saxo Bank rider Ran Margaliot, told the newspaper Corriere Fiorentino: “As representatives of Israel and of its cycling community, we feel a duty to do something special in memory of an extraordinary sportsman who did so much for the Jewish people. We’ll do it in the saddle of a bicycle, our great passion.
“Bartali’s exploits have a universal value, without borders,” he went on. “His was a marvellous gift for all of humanity.”
A devout Catholic known as il Pio – the Pious – Bartali’s endeavours saw him named by the state of Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 2013, the official recognition of those who risked their lives to help people escape persecution by the Nazis.
On the website of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, his citation reads: “Bartali, who was a courier for the resistance, came to play an important role in the rescue of Jews within the framework of the network initiated by Dalla Costa and Rabbi Nathan Cassuto.”
Other people to have had the same honour, which includes a tree being planted in their honour at the Yad Vashem memorial, bestowed on them include German businessman Oskar Schindler and Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.