Smuggle Documents Like a Tour de France Champion

By Scott B. Wilson

Italy’s greatest cycling superstar, Gino Bartali, is best known for winning the 1938 Tour de France, then huffing cigarettes and downing chianti for ten years before winning again in 1948. It’s considered one of the most unprecedented comebacks in sports history, but recently historians and journalists discovered Bartali’s involvement in a far more dramatic plot – rich in clandestine subterfuge and unsung heroism – that took place between his two epic wins, at the behest of World War II.


It’s a story that defies plausibility: a priest and forgery expert, Father Niccacci, and an atheist printer, Luigi Brizi, enlist professional cyclist Gino Bartali to use his celebrity status and the ease of movement that comes with it to transport fake passports to Italian Jews and other at-risk populations hidden in monasteries and safe-houses throughout Nazi/Fascist-controlled Italy. By rolling documents and stuffing them in his handlebar and seat tube, Bartali personally saved hundreds of people and kept it a secret (he didn’t even tell his wife!) until making a meek admission on his deathbed.


Now as harrowing as the current worldwide political flavor may be for believers in democracy, things aren’t quite as bad as they were in Bartali’s time. Nonetheless, it might do the cycling contingent of a republic well to take a few tips from the Italian champion’s heroism.

So, should anybody ever need to their adapt their training routine to double as a covert messenger service, here are the best places to hide documents on la bicicletta.

Level I:

As an international celebrity bike racer, Bartali enjoyed more freedom of movement around the countryside than regular citizens, though he still had to stop and submit to searches at road barricades. Apparently,  the authorities didn’t think to unplug his bar ends.


But I would like to point out that underneath the bar wrap is a great spot to hide documents, provided you bring along some finishing tape for re-wrapping.


Level II:

Because it’s slightly less obvious than inside the handlebars, the hollow of a seat post conceals a rolled parchment nicely. Depending on the tube’s internal diameter, a bar plug or wine cork will work to keep the docs from falling into the bottom bracket.


Level III:

Here’s a secret hiding spot that has only come about since the advent of threadless headsets: behind the handlebars. The modern stem has about thirty cubic centimeters of wasted space inside, might as well use it for smuggling.


Shimano users might also want to take advantage of the watertight space behind the Hollowtech II crankset’s preload bolt. Just make sure to clean out the grease first.


Level IV:

It is said that as Bartali became increasingly nervous of his frontline role in the plot to undermine the Nazis and the Fascists, he took greater precautions to hide docs in ever more challenging locations. But one of the hardest storage spots to find on a bike is also the one with the greatest capacity: the downtube. On most –but not all– bicycles the downtube can be accessed by removing the crank and bottom bracket. On a steel frame, sandwiching the docs to the inner tube with a powerful magnet will keep them in place.


A nefarious reader might see this article and draw certain felonious conclusions. But to be clear, Bicycle Times and all its affiliates do not condone the use of bicycles to smuggle narcotic contraband, and this article is in no way intended to be a guide on how to turn a cyclist into a drug mule (we’ll save that discussion for an article on Pablo Escobar’s continental racing team). This is a work of speculation designed to entertain and provide historical context to the life of Gino Bartali during WWII. So, we will be extremely disappointed if dozens of drug-totting bikers show up to the after parties of any Bicycle Times or Dirt Rag sponsored events, and start passing out “freebies.” That would be, like, very uncool.


Want to learn more about Gino Bartali and his wartime efforts? I suggest starting with Pedalare! Pedalare! by John Foot, followed by Road to Valor by Aili and Andres McConnon. The 2014 film My Italian Secret also provides some excellent first-person accounts from individuals saved by Bartali, though I take issue with the anachronistic bicycle they use in the cut-away scenes to represent Bartali ([Caution: nerd alert ahead] it has a parallelogram-style derailleur, which Bartali famously refused to implement on any of his racing setups). Still, it’s a nice movie.


Check out ‘LE RIDE’ film screenings across the country on November 9

LE RIDE follows Phil Keoghan and his friend Ben Cornell as they attempt to recreate the original route of the 1928 Tour de France. Averaging 240 kilometers a day for 26 days, Phil and Ben traverse the unforgiving mountains of the Pyrenees and the Alps, on original vintage steel 1928 racing bikes with no gears and marginal brakes. The documentary takes inspiration from the remarkable true story of Australians Sir Hubert Opperman, Ernie Bainbridge and Percy Osborne, and New Zealander Harry Watson as the first English-speaking team to compete in the Tour de France. They arrived after six weeks at sea, under-trained and under-resourced, untested and completely written off by the French media. The 1928 Tour was the toughest in history – a hell-on-wheels race of attrition. Only 41 finished out of 161 starters, yet remarkably, three were from the Australian team. This extraordinary story of achievement against the odds has never been told on film – until now.

LE RIDE will screen nationwide at over 300 locations for one night only, Thursday, November 9 at 6:30 p.m.

Find out more and find a screening near you here!

Watch the trailer:


Former Canadian pro Steve Bauer carrying Pan Am torch


The Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games Organizing Committee (TO2015) has revealed nine Canadian celebrities—including former pro road racer and yellow jersey wearer Steve Bauer—to participate in the TO2015 Torch Relay, which will begin on May 30.

Bauer will be carrying the Torch in the Town of Milton, Ontario, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, using his preferred mode of transportation. He’ll ride his bicycle to complete the leg of the relay from the Town of Milton Sports Centre to the Milton Centre for the Arts.

“It’s a wonderful honor to be nominated to participate in the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games Torch relay,” Bauer said. “In my competitive years as a cyclist, I was so focused on the competition of my sport that I never engaged in the ceremonious events. This time I will join the celebration in Milton, where I have developing programming at Canada’s new velodrome. It’s truly a pleasure to join the Torch Relay team and contribute in the build up of excitement prior to the games. I would like to extend my gratitude to OLG for my nomination and this opportunity!”

Bauer, 55, rose to prominence when he won the silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic road race, weeks before taking bronze at the world championships pro road race in Barcelona. Bauer spent 14 stages in the leader’s yellow jersey of the Tour de France, and is best known for his tenure with Team 7-Eleven and Motorola. He was inducted into both Canadian Olympic and Sports Hall of Fames in 2005.

Bauer will be joined by celebrities Blue Rodeo lead singer Jim Cuddy, Olympic freestyle skier Alexandre Bilodeau, and Olympic figure skater Patrick Chan on the Torchbearer team.



Book: “Goggles & Dust”

From the Horton Collection comes a 120-page hardcover book celebrating cycling’s glory days, when cycling was the world’s most popular sport and racers wore spare tires criss-crossed over their chests like Mexican Revolutionary General Pancho Villa wearing two bandoliers.

Maurice DeWaele fixing a flat during the 1929 Tour de France; no neutral support back then!

Maurice DeWaele fixing a flat during the 1929 Tour de France; no neutral support back then!

The 8” x 7” book was produced using original silver gelatin prints, restored and published for the first time since their original publication in newspapers and magazines of the day. Images of racers hunched over their steel machines turning their single gear (this was during the pre derailleur days; Tullio Campagnolo hadn’t conceived his new mechanism yet) with wool jerseys, cotton caps and aviator looking goggles abound in this collection. The wear and tear on the racer’s body took its toll; in many images the men look a couple decades older than reality, with cratered faces and tree-trunk legs popping out from page. You can see the pain etched on the faces of Victor Fontan, Eugène Christophe and Leon Scieur throughout.

Antonin Magne attacking the 1934 Grand Prix des Nations time trial.

Antonin Magne attacking the 1934 Grand Prix des Nations time trial.

For as much that is made about modern cycling technology and our ‘newfound’ love of gravel, check out “Goggles & Dust” to see how real men raced bikes, and how they were revered for their exploits. You might be inspired to get out and ride in conditions you normally deemed too extreme.

A happy Lucien Buysse celebrating with a toast in Paris after winning the 1926 Tour de France.

A happy Lucien Buysse celebrating with a toast in Paris after winning the 1926 Tour de France.

An ideal holiday gift, found where better books about cycling are sold. Well worth the $16.95 asking price.



New ESPN film examines Lemond vs. Hinault battle of 1986

Greg Lemond Tour de France

Image courtesy of ESPN Films

Before Lance Armstrong, there was the three-time Tour champion Greg LeMond. LeMond was the first and is currently the only American to officially win the Tour de France. In the mid 1980s he was a quickly rising star in international pro cycling, but the riders at the top of the sport, including his own teammates, were reluctant to step aside for a new challenger.

Then the reigning Tour champion, Benard Hinault (known as “The Badger”) had seemingly promised to help LeMond to his first victory, in return for LeMond supporting him when he struggled in 1985 when they were teammates. But in a sport that purports to reward teamwork, “Slaying the Badger” demonstrates that sometimes it’s really every man for himself.

The documentary features interviews with Greg and Kathy LeMond, Greg’s father Bob LeMond, Hinault, former team coach Paul Koechli, former teammate Andy Hampsten, cycling journalists and others. The film is based on the book with the same name written by Richard Moore.

ESPN Films’ award-winning 30 for 30 series will take air “Slaying the Badger” on Tuesday, July 22, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.



Group Hug: Paul Smith, Mr. Porter and Mercian


The 2014 Tour de France begins Saturday in the United Kingdom, and to commemorate the special event, fashion designer Sir Paul Smith has developed a surprisingly understated steel bicycle made by U.K.-based Mercian Cycles, to be sold online by mens fashion outlet Mr. Porter.

The collection is called Paul Smith 531, named after the famous Reynolds lightweight bike tubing used by Tour de France champions up until the early 1980s; the number 531 refers to the ratio of manganese (5), molybdenum (3) and carbon (1) in the steel alloy.

Click through to see video of Sir Paul talking about his love for cycling and the making of the bike.

Watch it here.

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