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Monday
Jan212008

Gino Bartali: A cyclist who saved a nation

Gino Bartali born in Florence, Italy, in 1914 had a cycling career that spanned both sides of WWII.

He was 24 years old when he won the Tour de France in 1938; then the war robbed him of his peak athletic years, from his mid twenties to his early thirties.

He came back ten years later in 1948 to win the Tour a second time. He also won the Giro d’Italia three times, in 1936, 1937, and again after the war in 1946.

Bartali was a great climber and won the Giro Mountains Jersey a record seven times. He was also the first to win both the Mountains Jersey and take overall victory in the Tour de France in 1938, then repeated the feat in his 1948 win.

Gino Bartali is probably best known for his epic rivalry with Fausto Coppi, another great Italian cyclist. (Picture below left, Coppi nearest camera.) Bartali from Florence in the Tuscany region, was a devout Catholic and deeply religious; this earned him the nickname of “Gino the Pious.” Coppi, on the other hand, was from the industrial north, was not religious at all.

The rivalry between these two in some ways divided a nation, but both riders gave Italy much to celebrate, and this was a country that needed cause for jubilation at that time. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Italy was still recovering their defeat in WWII, and the rest of Europe was still slow to forgive.

It has been said that Gino Bartali’s 1948 Tour de France win helped subdue political unrest in Italy, even possible civil war.

Bartali took the yellow jersey in the first stage with a win in the finishing sprint.

In the following stages the lead was taken by Lousion Bobet, a rising young French star riding his second Tour.

Bobet emerged from the Pyrenees with a nine minute overall lead, and Bartali was some twenty minutes down.

Meanwhile back in Italy, Palmiro Togliatti, Secretary of the Italian Communist Party had been seriously wounded in an assassination attempt, which resulted in large scale civil unrest, protests, and rioting in the streets throughout Italy.

Bartali received a phone call from a friend, Alcide de Gaspari, a Deputy in the Italian Christian Democratic Party. He told Gino of the unrest back home and told him he needed him to win a stage. Such a win would distract the population from the political turmoil.

Bartali told him, “I’ll do better than that; I will win the whole race.” The next day was Cannes to Briançon, and included three major climbs, the Allos, Vars and Izoard. It took Bartali just ten hours, nine minutes and twenty eight seconds to cover the 274 kilometers, (170 miles.) crossing the three mountain passes with a total climbing amount of over 5300 meters. (17,388 feet.)

It was more than six minutes when the second rider came in. When Bobet finished, in twelfth place, over eighteen minutes had passed, and Bartali was now second overall, just 1min. 6sec. behind his young French rival.

This was only the beginning of Bartali’s softening up process; he dominated the race the following day. Major climbs, over the Col du Galibier and the Col de la Croix de Fer before a final attack on the Col de Porte saw him finish in Aix-les-Bains once again six minutes ahead of his nearest rival. Bobet's tenure on the Yellow Jersey was over; Bartali now led by over eight minutes.

Stage 15 to Lausanne, and Bartali was again a solo victor; he was totally dominating the race. Gino Bartali had gone from twenty minutes behind in Cannes, to an overwhelming lead of 32 minutes. He lost time in later time-trail stages but still came away the clear winner by 26 minutes at the end of the Tour.

Winning a total of seven stages, Bartali won with one of the most dominant displays ever seen in the Tour de France.

The population of Italy watched enthralled and by time Bartali arrived victorious in Paris, the political heat in that country had noticeably cooled.

De Gaspari's instincts had been right, Bartali had won the Tour, and in doing so, provided a distraction from his country’s political unrest. Never can a race have mattered so much.


It wasn’t until after his death that his family discovered he had been a member of the Italian Resistance movement during WWII, and was instrumental in helping Italian Jews escape to safety from German occupied Italy.

He used his fame as a racing cyclist to act as a courier; the authorities knew who he was and let him come and go as he pleased.

On his training rides, he would smuggle forged documents, hidden on his bike, to and from various convents where the Jewish fugitives were hidden.

In later years, Gino Bartali only mentioned these episodes to his sons in passing. It wasn’t until after his death when researching his diaries for a biography was the full extent of his war-time resistance involvement revealed. A movie was later made about these exploits, but as far as I know, it has not been shown outside of Italy.

The latter years of Gino Bartali’s career were somewhat overshadowed by a younger Fausto Coppi. (Whom I will write about later.) However, I have touched on the earlier part of his career before Coppi came into his own, in the hopes of showing he was a great rider in his own right.

He was another of my cycling heroes from my youth; turned out to be a real life hero and a great deal more than just another cycling legend.



Additional picture source: Tiscali.it, and La Repubblica

Friday
Jan182008

Junk


Much of my life it seems is spent dealing with junk; junk urging me to buy more junk.

Surely before long we will all be buried and suffocate under junk.

Junk on television was easy to deal with; I just quit watching most of the time, and when I do watch I am selective in choosing programs. Mail addressed to “Resident” goes straight into the garbage can.

However, the time I save not watching television or reading offers that come to my mailbox, just free up more time to deal with all the junk on my PC.

I used to have a contact page on my website where people could give me their name, email address, and write a message. It was then an easy matter for me to copy and paste the whole page into an MS Word file.

Then I would type in my reply under each message, ready to be copied into a return email. I also had a permanent record of the person who contacted me, their message and my response.

It was so easy, it worked so well for the longest time, then spammers started loading up the page with HTML code. I think the theory was, by putting all this HTML code onto my successful website, it would somehow help them get picked up by the various search engine robots.

Like some life sucking parasite that will eventually kill the host plant, they eventually killed my contact page. Each day I had to scroll though pages and pages of this HTML junk to extract the genuine messages. It became so time consuming that in the end I had to reluctantly scrap my contact page.

The only way to contact me now is through email. The last thing I want to do is break contact altogether. Part of the joy and satisfaction of maintaining this blog and my website is the contact it brings with other like-minded people out there.

Old friends have found me, some from as far back as my teenage years, and I have made many new friends, many of which I have yet to meet face to face, and shake hands.

This blog does extremely well on the search engines. The parasites out there should note that the way to get picked up by search engines is to spend a great deal of time writing quality fresh content on your site.

I must get hundreds of emails a day, most of them junk; I am pretty well organized in dealing with them. I keep on top of my inbox and check it regularly several times each day. However, my system is not perfect and if anyone reading this has emailed me in the past and didn’t get a response, I sincerely apologize.

It is not my intention to ignore people; as I write this I have a backlog of emails I intend to respond to. I do not open every email, I don’t have time, but rather I scan down the incoming list, first reading the names and the subject line.

People who email me regularly, I know their names. If a message comes in with a name like Elmo Fuckstick I can pretty much guarantee it is junk. But many junk emails have a genuine sounding name, so then I have to rely in the subject line.

If the message is offering hot stocks, Rolex watches, or extra inches, it doesn’t get opened. If I am not sure I open it, just to check, I believe that I don’t miss too many genuine emails.

Emails I am going to respond to, I click and drag into a special folder, and then I hit the delete button to remove the rest in rapid time.

Last evening I received an email and the subject line read: “Question about geometry of FR1.” I almost missed it, the FR1 was hidden from me, but the word ‘geometry’ caught my eye. Had the sender put “Fuso geometry” in the subject line, I would have spotted it immediately.

The email was regarding a Fuso for sale on eBay. I always try to respond to these emails immediately and did so even though my wife was serving up dinner at the time. The ebay sale ends this coming weekend, so it would be of little use to answer it next week.

I do not want to get one of those spam removing software programs, I don’t trust a robot to spot another robot and I am afraid genuine messages would get blocked or delayed.

That is my mild rant about junk, especially junk emails. Please do not let this deter you from contacting me if you so wish.

Just remember, if I don’t know your name, the first word in the subject line needs to be “Bike,” “Bicycle” or “Fuso.” Something that will make it stand out, and shine like a little diamond amongst all the junk.


No offense meant to the makers of Spam; a food that was a staple throughout my childhood during WWII.

Wednesday
Jan162008

Tribute to Red Evans


I heard a supposedly true story one time about a skilled wood carver, working on a huge pair of doors for some grandiose building.

The design he was working on was extremely intricate, with leaves and scrolls, and included all manner of symbolic creatures and characters.

Someone watching the old craftsman at work asked him, "How do you know when it is finished?"

He replied, "It is never finished, I just keep working on it until someone comes and takes it away from me."

This story came back to me thinking about my friend and fellow writer Red Evans; Red lost his fight with cancer and died last Sunday. Some of you may recall, I wrote about Red's illness here on January 2nd. My thoughts on hearing of Red's passing centered on the fact that his book "On Ice" was published only last September.

We were members of a local writers' group here in Charleston, South Carolina, and he had shared with us earlier last year that his book was to be published.

All writers, or for that matter, all artists of any kind start out as raw amateurs, and work on their craft initially for their own enjoyment. I remember Red reading to the group, and telling us, "I just love writing this stuff."

He obviously enjoyed sharing his writings with the group, and the group in turn shared his joy when his work was picked up by a publisher.

Now just a few short months and Red is gone; he got to see his book published but didn't get to see the next stage, the success of his book. He is no longer there to promote his book, and attend book signings, etc. Something else he was obviously enjoying.

It occurred to me that life is very much like those doors the old wood carver was working on, you just keep on working on it until they come and take it away.

When that time comes you had better be content with the way those doors look; you can’t say, “No wait, there is a little bit here that needs more work.”

Red had done many things in his life, including being a radio DJ, a Television News Director and Anchorman, and a lobbyist in Washington. Writing novels was just another little corner of his door he happened to be working on when they came to take it away.

I remember Red at the writers' meeting last November. He must have known the seriousness of his condition, but never gave us a clue, and was still full of the same wit and enthusiasm as he shared his latest writings with us.

There was no writers’ meeting at the end of December due to it being close to Christmas, and I wonder if he knew this was possibly his last meeting with the group and he made a special effort to be there. I feel privileged to have known Red Evans, albeit briefly near the end of his time here.

The way he lived his life to the fullest is an inspiration to me. Had he lived a little longer he no doubt would have achieved even more, but in the end, he seemed satisfied with what he had done.

I have learned recently that Red had three other novels finished, so more of his work may live on.

At a time when most in his position would have been reluctant to buy green bananas, (Red would have liked that one.) he kept on with his work until it was taken away.

Monday
Jan142008

Sensations, simple pleasures and passions


I have often tried to analyze what it is about cycling, in particular riding a road bike that makes it a life long passion.

Many people, including myself, have had periods when we stopped riding, but we are always drawn back at some point or other.

Non-cyclists can’t understand it, and it is only another cyclist having the same passion who can.

Passions derive from sensations, feelings. I don’t think anyone can explain why certain simple things in life give us so much pleasure.

A beautiful sunset, the taste of a favorite food, or a particular sound. These things have to be experienced to understand, and even then, another person may not have the same sensation.

Out riding alone last November on a quiet country road, the weather was dry and sunny, but cool. The sound of acorns popping under my tires caught my attention. The whole road carpeted with acorns, freshly fallen from overhanging Live Oak trees; it was impossible not to ride over them.

Driving a car, that sensation would not be there, even if I had the windows down and could hear the sound. Walking or running, or simply stomping on the acorns would not have had the same affect.

It had something to do with the speed, and a feeling that only another cyclist would fully understand; the feeling that came from knowing that I was the source of propulsion. The feeling of effort, muscle power transformed into forward motion.

The sound somehow drove me to push harder, and gave me renewed energy. The faster I rode the more rapid the popping sound, and the more intense the feeling.

This feeling was close to the sensation of flying, without actually leaving the ground. In fact, the minimum contact with the ground or road was a large part of the feeling.

As a seven or eight year old, I remember running two miles to school and back home twice each day. Running was effortless, there was no pain, and it seemed like my feet were not touching the ground. Rather I was flying, with each step a fraction of an inch above the ground.

Later as an adult when I ran, I felt every jarring step. However, riding a road bike at speed I sometimes get that same sensation of weightlessness and just barely skimming the surface of the road.

I am guessing the rapidly popping acorns enhanced that feeling by adding a sound to the sensation.

Out riding the same road yesterday, the acorns now swept to the side by passing traffic. It was still possible to ride over them by riding close to the edge of the road, but now soaked by recent rains; they no longer produced that same pleasant popping sound.

It looks like I will have to wait until next fall to experience this sensation again. It is sensations like this that turn simple pleasures into passions.

Friday
Jan112008

A useful little grease gun


Here is a handy little tool you can add to your toolbox for about two dollars.

You can buy these at a Model Airplane Store; they are made for fueling those tiny engines used in model aircraft and cars.

Made from clear plastic, they make great little grease guns. The plunger pulls completely out, and you can place oil or grease inside the cylinder, and replace the plunger.

The curved spout is small enough at the end to fit in the tiny hole in the side of your hubs.

You could also drill a small hole in your pedal dust caps to lubricate the pedals. The great thing is, you don’t have to disassemble the part.

After greasing your hubs in this way, take a rag or paper towel with you on your next ride. The surplus grease will ooze out of the side of the hub, and start traveling along the spokes. Needless to say, you should wipe this off before it reaches the rim.