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When Italy got back in the saddle.

The rusty wheels on the bikes of men and women in the post-war period allowed the country to start pedalling again towards the future.
And hidden within the folds of our history we discovered that a cycling victory saved Italy from the brink of a civil war



Crowded streets, cheering people, Jeeps zipping here, there and everywhere, people dancing the boogie-woogie. The radio has announced “war is over”, and as soon as the military trucks leave the streets, life begins again. No longer are there armoured vehicles on the roads but rather bicycles, forced to weave their way between the rubble. The means by which the partisan despatch riders aided the liberation now becomes the vehicle of revival.


Women too, called to the polls for the first time, to decide between Republic and Monarchy, sit on the crossbars of their men’s trusty steeds to go to vote on that historic day in 1946, showing what little legs can achieve at a time when even kissing in the streets is a crime. And their vote will be a decisive one: Italy is a republic! Let’s roll up our sleeves, pull up our socks, and get on our bikes again.



The country starts over. It does so by getting back in the saddle of the only means of transport available to those who have nothing: “It’s the only thing I have” mumbles a voice in ‘Bicycle Thieves’ (De Sica, 1948). As essential as bread. Upon bicycles sit labourers, rice workers and shop boys, postmen, priests and night watchmen. Labourers and Policeman. They all ride. And this fact does not escape the singers, writers and poets of the day. Pavese writes, “At various times throughout the day, the police sergeant would pass by on his bicycle,” and Palazzeschi, “On foot or by bicycle, the early birds dash to work whistling,” as well as Calvino and many others.



It does not escape them because there are 3 million of them. On board are the heroes of the reconstruction. They find work, an undertaking in itself, perhaps 20 km from home—yet another undertaking—and there they travel, on aged bicycles on roads that are not roads.



And on bicycles little better than these, the Giro d’Italia, suspended during the war, begins again. Champions only recently out of uniform scale Pordoi on bicycles weighing 13 kilos with all-steel frames and only 3 gears, spare tyres upon their shoulders. Heroism in the heroism of the time. In 1946, Coppi won the Milan–San Remo by a margin that remains in the history books, still unmatched today: 14 minutes ahead of second and 18 minutes ahead of third.



The bicycle belongs to everyone and cycling unites the country. But then again, sometimes it divides it just a little, between fans of Bartali and Coppi, two equal and opposite worlds. In the words of Indro Montanelli, Bartali is the “De Gasperi of cycling” and Coppi the “Togliatti of the road”. Adversaries yet friends. Cycling, the mirror of the nation, reflects it again at a time when the country holds its breath. On 14 July 1948, Togliatti, leader of the Italian Communist party, is the victim of an attack. Hospitalised, his life hangs by a thread. Italy is in turmoil. Strikes bring factories to a halt, trains to a standstill and telephones stop working.



At the same time, Gino Bartali prepares for the following day’s mountain stage in the Tour de France. He receives a telephone call. It’s De Gasperi, with a simple request. He asks him to win. But there is one small detail: he is 21 minutes behind the yellow jersey, a geological era in road cycling. But De Gasperi insists. His victory can calm the waters. On 15 July, Gino is star of one of the greatest achievements ever seen on the Alps. Acclaimed by all. Peace is restored. Italy, saved by a bicycle.



It is this world of tough and silent heroes, who add value to the nation with their simple everyday craft, which inspires Selle Italia. A world of craftsmanship and silent work, just as in the workshop, of things made by hand. The same hands that picked Italy up all those years ago and which, by example, make us pedal on ever forwards.

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