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Original Issue


How one Tour de France winner left his tire mark on WWII

"Everyone has his way of expressing life's purpose—the lawyer his eloquence, the painter his palette, the man of letters his pen from which the quick words of his story flow," Gino Bartali once said. "I have my bicycle."

Bartali's bicycle had already made him famous by the time World War II reached his native Italy—he was the 1938 Tour de France winner. But as Aili and Andres McConnon show in their compelling new book, Road to Valor, it is what Bartali did with his bicycle during those war years that made him a true hero: He continued his long training rides around Tuscany, and even when he was stopped by Fascist and Nazi troops manning checkpoints, the guards were too starstruck to suspect that hidden within his bike frame were counterfeit I.D.'s that would save countless Jewish lives.

The sibling authors' narrative is elevated by exhaustive research, which allows them to paint a detailed portrait of their imperfect hero (Bartali could be proud and fussy), his fractured nation and his sport. You do not have to follow cycling to relish Bartali's story, however. Like Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit before it, Road to Valor is about an unlikely, headstrong champion who transcended his sport to make a deep impact on the broader world.

An excerpt from Road to Valor can be read at beginning on June 13.