Wednesday, February 18, 2009
A couple of months ago, the Velosopher made a nice post about souplesse, accepting nominations of the cyclist who best demonstrated souplesse. Not surprising, he concluded that Fausto Coppi is the cyclist with that graceful strength that's so elusive and beautiful.
Last month, Belgium Knee Warmers published a really moving four-part essay on Fausto Coppi, written by his friend, teammate, and rival Gino Bartali. "Coppi and Me," Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Bartali's prose is as smooth as Coppi's cadence, and the stories of the two careening between loving cooperation and teeth-clenching competition are really lovely.
I was poking around on Dave Moulton's now-defunct blog and saw a piece on Bartali that I hadn't yet read. Now, one of the interesting elements to Bartali and Coppi's dominance of the sport is that their careers were interrupted by World War II. Bartali, five years older than Coppi, got the shorter end of the stick, being of the prime age between 25 and 30 when the war was underway.
Apparently, Bartali worked with the Italian Resistance movement, working specifically with a network in Tuscany called DelAsEm. He was a courier, going on "training rides" to retrieve photographs of Jews in hiding for use in forged travel documents so that they could flee Italian Fascists and German Nazis. His fame and prominence let him avoid suspicion. That's just Bartali out for a ride - although apparently he was detained and threatened by officials, though no doubt his fame prevented officials from making good on their threats. After that, he went on to actually smuggle people toward the Swiss Alps, pulling a wagon with a secret compartment. "Just part of my training."