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Gino Bartali; 1948 Tour de France Victory Helped Calm Italian Politics

May 06, 2000

Gino Bartali, 85, a legend in the history of Italian bicycle racing whose victory in the 1948 Tour de France was widely believed to have averted a political insurrection in his homeland. Born in a small town near Florence in 1914, Bartali became a professional cyclist 20 years later. A superb climber who was also a powerful sprinter, Bartali won the Tour de France twice, the first time in 1938 and again in 1948, something no other rider has done. The national enthusiasm touched off by Bartali's second victory helped ease political tensions in Italy over the shooting of Communist leader Palmiro Togliatti. Several historians have suggested that elation over Bartali's win prevented an insurrection by Italian communists. Bartali's professional career lasted from the 1930s to the 1950s. In addition to the Tour de France, Bartali won the Giro d' Italia three times; the Tour of Switzerland twice; and the Tour of Lombardy three times. Bartali, who enjoyed one of the great cycling rivalries of all time against his countryman Fausto Coppi, remained slightly bitter about his career. "World War II robbed me of my golden years," he said. After his retirement from competition he went into the bicycle manufacturing business. A heavy smoker, Bartali died Friday of a heart attack at his home in Florence.

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