Gino Bartali was born in the Italian village of Ponte a Ema near Florence on July 18, 1914. He was the third of four children. Interested in bicycles from age 13, he enjoyed racing against his brother Giulio. Bartali turned pro at age 21, when the team from Piedmont known as Frejus recruited him. He participated in the Milan - San Remo, racing against champions such as Olmo, Guerra and Cipriani. Bartali came in fourth. He transferred to the Legnano team the following year, where he remained until 1948. In 1936, he won the Giro d’Italia for the first time at age 22. A week later, tragedy struck when his brother Giulio died after a car ran him over during a bicycle race. Bartali was devastated, and considered giving up racing forever. But his future wife Adriana convinced him not to abandon the sport. Bartali went on to win the Giro d’Italia again in 1937.
He participated in the Tour de France that same year, but had to withdraw from the race due to a fall. Determined to win the competition, Bartali devoted himself exclusively to the Tour de France in 1938. He won, becoming only the second Italian after Ottavio Bottecchia to win the race. Bartali was favored to win the Giro in 1940, but against all expectations his young support rider Fausto Coppi won it instead. Thus began a historic rivalry that split Italian cycling fans into two camps: those in favor of the cool Bartali, and those who rooted for the shy Coppi. The duo’s sportsmanship was immortalized by a famous photo that captured them sharing a water bottle during the 1952 Tour de France. The Second World War caused cycling to be suspended. The conflict devastated Italy. Bartali started racing again in 1946, earning his third victory in the Giro.
But by the summer of 1948, Bartali’s fame had extended beyond the realm of sports. The Italian’s victory on the Tour de France acted as a salve to the social tensions Italy was experiencing in the wake of a terrorist attack on Palmiro Togliatti, secretary in the Italian communist party. After having covered 150,000 kilometers on two wheels, 40-year-old Bartali retired from racing. Over his nearly 20-year career, he won 124 victories. Bartali died on May 5, 2000 in his hometown of Ponte a Ema. He was 85.