Friday, 25 July 2014

War heroes, abattoirs and Scalextric. It can only mean one thing: the Tour de France is nearly over.

You might possibly have heard that some kind of bike race came to Yorkshire earlier this month. Tom Grady has taken the opportunity to gather a selection of random facts about cyclists.

Photo: Col De La Croix Fer 1989 by Steve Selwood. Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.
I'm a cycling fan so I'm not yet experiencing over-exposure and was fully expecting to be burbling on in this post about the history of the Yellow Jersey and who might win it this year. But then I thought "Hmm, people can find that out anywhere...what they really want to know is pointless facts like which member of the professional peloton used to work in an abattoir, and which one is a former Scalextric Champion." So that's what this blog post is about.
  • As a young boy, the three time World Road Race Champion Oscar Freire, was also the Spanish Scalextric Champion (the history of Scalextric is touched on in this book on the shelves at the National Railway Museum)
  • Currently riding for Tinkoff Saxo, Danish professional cyclist Matti Breschel used to work as a male model in New York.
  • Before turning pro, Australia's longest serving cyclist Scott Sunderland used to work in an abattoir. He was also memorably knocked off his bike by his own team car but went on to ride at elite level for another six years.
  • Formerly one of the world's top sprinters, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov from Uzbekistan has a band named after him. I found their website, you can download some tracks for free: Two bonus facts: (1) Abdoujaparov the cyclist was nicknamed 'The Tashkent Terror' due to his ferocious riding style; (2) Abdoujaparov the band have a free song called Here's Your Free CD.
  • Winner of the 1988 Tour de France, Pedro Delgado also has a band named after him. The Delgados were from Motherwell in Scotland and released an album called Domestiques and another called Peloton - both titles are cycling references.
But this one is my favourite fact (it's also definitely true):
  • Gino Bartali was one of Italy's most famous cyclists - he won the Giro d'Italia three times and the Tour de France twice in the 1930s & 40s. But few people know that during WWII he was part of the Italian resistance - at one point he was even arrested by Mussolini's Blackshirts. 
According to reports he used his fame and unique talent to act as a clandestine courier, undertaking training rides to carry secret messages all around the country. He wore his racing jersey emblazoned with his name and "neither the Fascist police nor the German troops risked discontent by arresting him." He also hid a Jewish family in his cellar and - I love this bit - led Jewish refugees towards the Swiss Alps himself by pulling a wagon containing a secret compartment, attached to his bike. He told police patrols that it was just part of his intense training. It's a fantastic story and much of it was only revealed after Bartali's death - he believed his actions were not heroic or worthy of remembrance:
"When people were telling him, 'Gino, you're a hero', he would reply: 'No, no - I want to be remembered for my sporting achievements. Real heroes are others, those who have suffered in their soul, in their heart, in their spirit, in their mind, for their loved ones. Those are the real heroes. I'm just a cyclist.'" (Storyville: Italy's Secret Heroes)
Photo: Bartali by CiclismoItalia. Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.
If you want to know more about Gino Bartali and Italian cycling, there's a great book in the Library called Pedalare! Pedalare!: a history of Italian cycling (found on the shelves at LN 6.6 FOO).

And for further reading: the Library subscribes to Bicycling Magazine and the Journal of Science and Cycling. You can access them for free through the Library catalogue.

1 comment:

  1. Great info on Gino Bartali, what a great man


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