Inspired by the lyrical, mythic mode of Italian sports journalism from the 1930s to the 1950s, Viva Bartali! is a biography-in-verse of the iconic Italian cyclist Gino Bartali (1914-2000), two-time winner of the Tour de France (1938, 1948), known both as 'Gino the Pious' because of his fervent Catholic faith, and as Ginettaccio ('Gino the Terrible'), owing to the short shrift he so often gave the Press. Conjuring Bartali at crux moments in his personal and professional career, through joy and tragedy, defeat and victory, the collection places us alongside the young rider proving his mettle and adding to his palmares in the edgy atmosphere of Mussolini's Fascist Italy, whose political ideology he loathed. From amateur races to the professional one-day classics and on to Tour de France glory, Bartali is seen alongside his fellow riders as both vulnerable body and elite athlete; both cycling's hard man and fond and bereaved father; both kneeling believer and climbing god.
The collection gives us an insight into the complex relationship that underpinned his great rivalry with the campionissimo ('champion of champions') Fausto Coppi - the 'man of glass' against Bartali's 'man of iron'. It was a rivalry that a divided a nation and defined a sport. We are with Bartali at the 1948 Tour de France when he takes a phone call from the Italian prime minister, who asks him to do his part in diffusing a political crisis that could have tipped over into violence.
And we witness his remarkable secret missions in the saddle as a courier throughout Tuscany during World War 2, carrying forged identity documents that helped save the lives of hundreds of Italian Jews. It was a deed he never spoke about - one for which he was named 'Righteous Among the Nations' by Yad Vashem in 2013.