ROME (JTA) – Israel’s pro cycling team will cover the route Italian champion road cyclist Gino Bartali took secretly during World War II to save Jews escaping from Nazi persecution.
The March 20 ride by the team, Israel’s first, will begin in Florence, his native town, and finish in Assisi.
“As representatives of Israel and of its cycling movement, we feel obliged to offer something special in memory of an extraordinary sportsman that did so much for the Jewish people,” team manager Ran Margaliot told the Corriere Fiorentino newspaper on Wednesday.
Recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations in 2013, Bartali is one of the most popular cyclists of all time. He won the Tour de France twice, in 1938 and 1948, as well as the Italian Giro d’Italia multi-stage race three times — in 1936, 1937 and 1946.
“Bartali, who was a courier for the resistance, came to play an important role in the rescue of Jews within the framework of the network initiated by Dalla Costa and Rabbi Nathan Cassuto,” Yad Vashem says on its website.
Bartali, who was known to cover large distances with his bicycle for training purposes, transferred forged documents that were hidden in the handlebar and seat of his bicycle from one place to another. Also during World War II, Bartali hid a Jewish family in his apartment, witness Giorgio Goldenberg revealed in a 2010 interview with the Italia-Jewish publication Pagine Ebraiche.