Gino Bartali and another cyclist enjoy a smoke.
(photo credit 10.1)
IN THE MONTHS FOLLOWING the liberation of Florence in August 1944, Gino finally started to sift through the rubble of his life. Thirty years old, he had a wife and a three-year-old son to support, not to mention two aging parents. Like many of his fellow cyclists, Gino had burned through his savings during the war, when there was no chance of drawing income from the sport. “What we had earned from ’35 to ’40 had gone up in smoke,” he explained. On a deeper level, the physical hardship of this era had changed him. It was not just the prizes he might have won during his prime years as an athlete—the Tour was canceled between 1940 and 1946, and the Giro between 1941 and 1945—but the war itself had scarred Gino. “I think that all that time, more than just lost, is to be thought of as a negative force,” he explained. “You feel like you have gotten much older than if you could have led a normal life.”
If Gino felt old, he looked even older. His thick, wavy hair had thinned and receded well beyond his temples, and his forehead had become permanently creased with leathery furrows. His eyes were sunken, emphasizing his nose, which seemed chiseled out of rock with rough strokes. He was just easing into his thirties, but could have passed for a man at least a decade older.
Although Gino had not earned anything from cycling for years, he knew that he couldn’t start over in a new job. He had no trade or education, and he feared the financial hardship that his father had endured as a day laborer. “He taught me that poverty tastes bitter when you’re twenty, and feels like salt in an open wound when you’re forty,” Gino said. If he was to build a new life for himself and his family, he had to race.
Banding together with a small group of fellow cyclists, he started traveling around the country contacting other racers and staging small races. Few had cars or trailers to carry their equipment, so they made their way “like clowns in a traveling circus,” in one cyclist’s banged-up old truck that could hold ten riders and their bikes. The scenes that awaited them on the road were heartrending. In villages, locals wore the remnants of discarded military khakis; nearby cemeteries brimmed with the freshly dug graves of the war dead.
Gino and his fellow racers traveled from sports club to sports club looking for any and all cyclists willing to race against them. But as the country reeled from the physical destruction of World War II and debilitating postwar inflation, it was a challenge to find the tifosi, those fervent Italian fans who had grown up following the races. “The triumphant years of the prewar period—the championships, the Giro d’Italias, the hard-earned wins—were far away. It seemed like they had been lost in that deafening uproar that had shattered nature and souls,” said Gino. “People had forgotten about us. They had other things on their minds, and those who still followed sports considered our generation already ‘old.’ So we had to struggle a great deal to make our comeback.”
They survived on prizes that were as ad hoc as the races themselves. The victors won chickens, pigs, furniture, wine, and—most useful of all—cash, gathered in a hat from fans along the route. Racers often shared the spoils of their victories with their teammates, families, or even hometowns. During one competition, Gino arranged to be paid with gas pipes. Bombs had destroyed many of the gas lines in Florence, so Gino asked for pipes if they won to donate to a gas company in Florence. “We were all really hard up,” he said.
In the rush to start competing again, however, he greatly underestimated how much racing fitness he had lost. During the first event after the war, a medium-length race in a small industrial town near Florence called Prato, Gino had to make a humiliating withdrawal, because he was physically unable to complete the course.
This disappointment and others that followed it wounded Gino, cementing his deeply felt sense of injustice that the war had deprived him of his best racing years. This latent feeling of indignation started transforming Gino, already prone to a lack of diplomacy, into an acerbic personality who complained and criticized, and was liable to flare up over any slight, perceived or real. In short order, this testy temperament earned him his most lasting sobriquet—Ginettaccio, or “Gino the Terrible”—from reporters and fans who would learn to expect his barbs.
But in that moment, after the race in Prato, Gino was stung by paralyzing frustration. “I ended up completely demoralized. Any kind of dignified resumption of our activity seemed impossible,” he said. When he returned home, he pedaled back up the familiar road to the cemetery in Ponte a Ema to visit Giulio’s grave. As he sat there for a long while, he was reminded of the promise he had made soon after Giulio died—to honor his memory by becoming a champion. “Then I found my strength again,” he said. “I had a wife, a baby, and parents. I had to keep going for them.”
While competitive cyclists like Gino were grappling to find their legs after the war, the bicycle had become more important to everyday life than ever before. People biked to get food, share news, and find work. In the early months, when civilian manufacturing was still nearly nonexistent and public transit was in disarray, bicycles were often the only way to travel significant distances on roads that had been pulverized by the violence of war. They were ubiquitous, “the inseparable companion of the peasant, the worker, the professional, the clerk, the student, the housewife, and our rosy-cheeked girls,” as one journalist described them.
Even when manufacturing did recommence and major roads were repaired, cars were prohibitively expensive for everyone but the wealthiest. Three years after the war had ended, the cheapest car for sale in Italy still cost almost five times the annual salary of the average worker. (In modern terms, this would be equivalent to seeing compact cars with a price tag of nearly $150,000 instead of their actual cost of about $13,000.) In contrast, a new bicycle cost the average worker just a month’s wages and there was an extensive secondhand market where a used bike could be purchased for much less. With these economics, it comes as no surprise that in 1947 there were some 3.5 million bikes on the road in Italy and just 184,000 cars.
One film, Vittorio De Sica’s Academy Award–winning Ladri di biciclette (released as The Bicycle Thief in the United States in 1949), best captured the centrality of the bike in postwar Italy. The film starts with the protagonist, Antonio, waiting in a long queue for jobs. When he finally gets to the front of the line, he is offered work on the condition that he has a bicycle. On his first day of employment—putting up posters around Rome for a movie that starred Rita Hayworth (herself a Bartali fan in real life, and vice versa)—his bicycle is stolen. After several fruitless efforts to recover it, Antonio makes a pathetic and failed attempt to steal a bicycle for himself.
From the beginning to the end of the film, bicycles permeate life. They are the prerequisite for work and a way out of the endless queues of the unemployed. They are the subject of fantasy—Antonio’s son’s room is adorned with photos of the famous cyclists of the period. And they are also a spiritual symbol of the dignity to which man can aspire in his workaday life—hope and integrity fashioned from metal, gears, and rubber.
In film and in real life, a bicycle in postwar Italy, far more than a simple means of transport, served as an anchor—a connection to the world—in the way that cars and mobile phones now unite people to one another. The bicycle was considered so integral to the lives of all Italians that stealing a bicycle was always viewed with particular severity by the judicial system, according to Oscar Scalfaro, a former Italian president and judge. Like stealing a horse in the United States or the United Kingdom in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—a crime punishable by imprisonment or, at times, death—stealing a bicycle in postwar Italy was not just theft; it was an act of forced isolation that stripped a man of his livelihood and exiled him from the world.
If bicycles shaped the rhythm of everyday life in postwar Italy, it was poverty and endemic joblessness that defined its spirit. Economic coverage in the newspapers of the era was as optimistic as a retelling of the story about the plagues of Egypt. Headlines and articles were filled with jarring statistics. Six hundred thousand agricultural day laborers went on strike in the fall of 1947 in the Po Valley. Shortages made Italian gasoline three times as expensive as it was in France, and almost four times as expensive as in the United States. The unemployment rate for industrial workers in central Italy (including Tuscany) rocketed past sixty percent.
The numbers told only part of the story. Gino and his teammates saw the face of poverty everywhere they raced. War had reduced entire city neighborhoods to rubble. Women tried to heat food over haphazard cooking fires set up in the streets. Grizzled, weary men stared somberly as they sipped coffee from old tin soup cans. In Ventimiglia, a small town in northern Italy, an American journalist was dumbfounded by the sight of a pizzeria destroyed during the war where “half-naked children crowded together on the dusty rim of the broken walls and in the holes that had been windows.”
Florence lay in shambles. Along the Arno River, where Gino had swum as a child, sat piles of rubble, the remains of the many bridges bombed by the retreating Germans. Nearby buildings and medieval towers stood in various states of collapse and disrepair. The Jewish synagogue had also been disfigured; it was damaged while being used to store German trucks, and another part of the building was dynamited.
In the face of such wreckage nationwide and with few opportunities for employment, some 750,000 Italians went to work temporarily in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. (Tens of thousands of other Italians would leave Italy permanently.) The work that awaited them in those countries was inevitably the most grueling—mining for coal, working in the fields or forests—and the wages tended to be low. Living in pitiable conditions and unable to speak the native languages of the countries in which they worked, many Italian workers quickly found themselves scorned by the locals—even if they had been officially invited and contracted to work by the same locals’ governments.
Collectively, these enduring miseries, the everyday hardships and indignities suffered at home and abroad, made an already strained political situation downright volatile. Complex, emotionally charged questions shadowed every aspect of public life. What to do with the monarchy? How to craft a new constitution? What to do about individuals who had been involved in the previous Fascist government? What course would Italy take in the postwar era?
And—perhaps most important of all—who would lead it?
Two men emerged as viable candidates for the task. The first was Alcide De Gasperi, a severe sixty-seven-year-old former librarian whom one journalist described as “utterly honest and sincere, painfully humorless and uninspiring.” He was the leader of the Christian Democrats, a large centrist party that was allied closely with the Roman Catholic Church. He was also friends with Gino, whom he had met through mutual Catholic acquaintances in the 1930s. De Gasperi’s rival for the job was Palmiro Togliatti, the heavyset leader of the Italian Communist Party, who was so charismatic that even an otherwise unsympathetic, right-wing American magazine acknowledged him as “Italy’s most brilliant politician.”
In the months that followed the war’s end, both men promised the public that they would restart Italian industry and put the nation back to work. While their immediate aims were similar, their international alliances stood in stark contrast. Along with the Catholic Church, the Christian Democrats were closely allied with the United States. The Communist Party, although officially not antireligious, was more closely aligned with the Soviet Union. With these associations as a backdrop, perhaps the biggest question of all facing Italy was not about domestic policy, but which side the country would pick in the emerging Cold War. The decision taken would “influence the course of European history for perhaps a hundred years,” in the words of one prominent American reporter.
All of this would come to a head as Italians prepared for their first free parliamentary elections in a quarter of a century. They would endure a bitter political campaign that lasted almost half a year, and on April 18, 1948, they would make their choice.
Gino’s appetite for politics had only decreased during the war, and as competitive cycling started up again, he was relieved that government officials no longer questioned his every decision. “Now I didn’t have to worry about the authorities,” he said. “I could train and follow the methods that I judged to be the most opportune, based on my experience and the advice of my doctors and coach.”
The 1946 season kicked off with the traditional season-opener, the Milan–San Remo classic. Despite racing over treacherous war-damaged roads and riding through a critical mountain pass in complete darkness because electricity had not yet been reconnected, the race was declared a success. A few months later the Giro was resurrected after its six-year hiatus (few counted the Fascist version of several one-day races during the war as a real Giro). Nicknamed Il Giro della Rinascita, or “the Giro of Rebirth,” the race also reignited the rivalry between Gino and his former teammate Fausto Coppi. Gino headed into the race, buoyed by the happy personal news of the birth of his second son, Luigi.
Fans hoping to see a suspenseful battle of the cycling titans were not disappointed. The pink leader’s jersey changed shoulders many times, and Coppi wore it heading into the final stage. The winner did not emerge until the final minutes, when, in an upset of sorts, Gino managed to beat Coppi by a scarce forty-seven seconds. He felt indomitable. “Yes, I had become Ginettaccio,” he said, “but ‘Giant of the Mountains’ was a nickname no one would yet take away.”
But by the end of the second postwar season and the beginning of the third, Gino was coming up short more and more often. Journalists and fans took note. The inconsistency in his performance couldn’t easily be explained by a fluke injury here or a bad race there. Instead, it was something far more perplexing. His imminent decline as an athlete seemed manifestly obvious when he would wheeze in at the end of one race. But then he would suddenly find his stride again in the next competition, and muster up a measure of the old fire.
The most obvious culprit for this erraticism seemed to be some rather dubious medical advice from his physician at the time. In 1946, Gino began to notice a change in how his heart was behaving at the beginning of races. Specifically, he felt that it was beating more regularly but less frequently than it had before the war. “I was slow to get in gear, my body was numb,” Gino explained, like a “racing car” with a cold motor. Although the change in the regularity of his heart rate is still puzzling, we now know that a low resting heart rate is a perfectly normal side effect of prolonged cardiovascular endurance training, and starting more slowly comes naturally for many cyclists with aging. Nevertheless, Gino was worried about how it was affecting his ability to race, and so he visited his doctor. Amazingly, the doctor shared his concern and encouraged him to have a couple of cups of coffee and a few cigarettes before every race to speed up his heart. With such official sanction, Gino was soon drinking as many as twenty espresso coffees a day. Smoking in turn evolved from being a pre-race pick-me-up to a reliable salve for all his anxieties. “The cigarette that I had avoided for so many years ended up being my most faithful companion in certain moments. For racers like me, a mouthful of smoke offers a brief and modest consolation during the difficulties of a race or during moments of melancholy in our solitary life as vagabonds of the street—surrounded always by an immense crowd, but always essentially alone with our thoughts and with our worries,” he said later. Along with an emerging penchant for staying out long into the night with friends, consuming copious amounts of Chianti, Gino was slowly abandoning his prewar asceticism, and was living “more of a life of a normal person than of a cyclist,” as one teammate described it.
Another possible explanation for his poor results was his training. After the war, Gino was toying with a few new ideas in his preparation. On at least one occasion he tried training at night, riding in front of the family car while his wife drove behind him and illuminated the roads with the car headlights. He also began experimenting with another novel tactic—rearranging his bedroom furniture so that his bed was aligned exactly on the north-south axis. He was convinced this would better protect him from what he believed were the pernicious effects of magnetic waves.
By and large, however, he followed essentially the same strategy he had used in his twenties. He built up the length of his training rides over the season until he was out riding nearly every day, and covering as many as 250 miles per training session. In contrast, modern training theory suggests that adding recovery days into the mix would have served an older athlete such as himself much better. An older racer is affected most by a loss in his explosive, top-end ability for hard accelerations rather than by any decrease in his overall endurance. In fact, some evidence suggests that muscular endurance improves to an extent with age as the muscles become more efficient at processing lactic acid and long years of training increase the number, size, and kinematic activity of the mitochondria, the energy plants in muscle fibers. Thus, Gino was right to build up some level of distance in his regimen, but then a focus on shorter and more intensive rides would have better rebuilt his lost sprinting strength, that instinctual hard push that gave his attacks their teeth during climbs.
In any case, Gino was losing—and taking the losses personally. The booing and heckling that every rider encounters began to cut him more deeply. Speaking with a journalist, he lamented how ignorant the spectators were of all the training that a cyclist undergoes to compete with the best, regardless of how he places. He called the crowds ungrateful and temperamental, offering “total glory for the winner, total indifference for the one who loses.” All of this seemed a seismic shift for the rider who had avoided criticizing spectators in the press because his popularity among them directly affected his livelihood.
At the 1947 Giro d’Italia, the situation turned from bad to dismal. During a stage in the second half of the race, Gino zeroed in on a fan at the sidelines who taunted him with an anti-Catholic slur. Although he was the leader in the general classification at this point, on course for winning the whole competition, Gino hopped off his bike mid-race. He walked over to the fan and struck him, and then calmly mounted his bike again and rode off. He still managed to win the stage, but it would be his last day at the top. Fausto Coppi overtook him in the rankings in the next stage, and, a few days later, won the race altogether.
Gino’s career was clearly sputtering, but that did not stop the Christian Democrats from using his name to mobilize support for their candidate, Alcide De Gasperi, as they revved up a fierce political campaign ahead of the 1948 national election. There was a certain logic to their rationale. Beyond the two men’s friendship or the promotional value of Gino’s popularity, the men had much in common. Both were devout Catholics and both were fighting very public battles against more charismatic younger opponents—a parallel so powerful that it would lead one journalist to memorably describe Gino as “De Gasperi on a bike.” He elaborated, “With a crushed face and not at all handsome, without lyrical flights or rhetoric, [Bartali] shows in pedaling, the calculated patience and tenacity that De Gasperi inspires in governing.” As the election neared, the Christian Democrats went even further and asked Gino if they could add him to the Christian Democrats’ electoral list, which meant that if they won, he would likely hold office in Rome as a deputy. Gino politely declined.
The Catholic Church also drew on Gino’s fame as it outlined what it believed was at stake in the election. In the fall of 1947, Pope Pius XII addressed Italian Catholics gathered in St. Peter’s Square with an appeal that linked themes from Gino’s life to the Bible:
It is time to put ourselves to the test. This difficult competition, which Saint Paul spoke about, has begun. It is a time for intense effort. The winner can be decided in an instant. Look at Gino Bartali, member of Catholic Action. Often he has earned the right to wear the much-sought-after “jersey.” You should also participate in a championship of ideas, so you can achieve a much more noble form of victory.
The meaning of the Pope’s message was “unmistakable,” according to one Italian cultural historian. The Catholic faithful were being warned to stand guard, and be “ready to struggle for their faith against the menace of Communism just as Bartali battled his way to victory.”
Closer to the elections, tens of thousands of lay members of Catholic Action were mobilized to get out the vote for the Christian Democrats. In cities they walked from apartment to apartment, and in the country they rode by bicycle from one isolated hamlet to the next, knocking on doors to plead with people to support their cause. A small group of clergy complemented this work by directing a moral suasion campaign.
Dramatic films warning about a Communist victory were screened around southern Italy by trucks carrying film projectors. They offered alarming—and likely staged—scenes of what might happen if the Communists won, including images of them ransacking churches and pushing bells down from belfries. In places where few residents had ever seen a film, the production was mesmerizing.
Some four thousand miles away, in the United States, one small group of people was watching the Italian campaign even more closely than most Italians—a new outfit called the Central Intelligence Agency. In late 1947 the CIA received its first orders from the National Security Council to carry out “covert psychological operations designed to counter Soviet and Soviet-inspired activities.” With the battle brewing between the Christian Democrats and the Communists, Italy represented a very high-value target in the escalating conflict that came to be known as the Cold War.
Geography explained much of its importance to the United States. Italy was in the heart of Europe, and when it came to the flight path of a plane or a missile, Turin (in the northwest of Italy) was closer to London than it was to Brindisi (in the heel of the boot of Italy). Whoever controlled Italy had all of Western Europe at its doorstep. Naturally, members of the Italian Communist Party rejected the suggestion that they would immediately hand over all power to Stalin and the Soviet Union if they won. The Americans, however, didn’t trust them. They believed that an Italian Communist electoral victory might set up another opportunity for a Soviet coup, as had happened just months earlier in Czechoslovakia.
Yet the task of actively influencing the outcome of a foreign nation’s elections seemed like a dangerous one, especially to the American field officers charged with carrying it out. Nevertheless, secret authorization was given for an Italian campaign that would represent the CIA’s first-ever mission. Tellingly, it was never approved by Congress and it was “illegal from the start,” according to Mark Wyatt, one of the CIA agents assigned to the task.
Covert field operations in Italy ran a gamut of activities. The agency created forged documents, books, and leaflets, all aimed at sabotaging the Communist Party. Above all, there was cash—an estimated ten million dollars of it. Millions were funneled “into the bank accounts of wealthy American citizens, many of them Italian-Americans, who then sent the money to newly formed political fronts created by the CIA,” according to one leading American journalist. There were even provisions to prevent the IRS from raising its eyebrows about the flow of cash: “Donors were instructed to place a special code on their income tax forms alongside their ‘charitable’ donation.”
And when illicit bank transfers were insufficient for the task at hand, there was a more direct way to get the money to its intended recipients—in black suitcases. In the kind of scenario that would later dominate Hollywood movies, barely trained CIA operatives met with high-profile Italian politicians in rooms at Rome’s luxurious four-star Hassler Hotel and handed over bags of cash, intended to defray campaign expenses. Wyatt later acknowledged: “We would have liked to have done this in a more sophisticated manner.… Passing black bags to affect a political election is not really a terribly attractive thing.”
For all its activities and money, the CIA’s work was just one part of a larger American effort in Italy. Other government officials worked with various Italian-American organizations to implement a wide-reaching public campaign to win over the hearts and minds of Italian voters for the Christian Democrats. Americans with Italian roots were encouraged by local churches, newspapers, and other organizations to write some ten million letters, postcards, and cablegrams that were sent to Italy with various terrifying messages. (“A Communist victory would ruin Italy. The United States would withdraw aid and a world war would probably result.”) Hollywood also took up the Christian Democrat cause. Italian radio stations aired a one-hour program to raise money for the orphans of Italian pilots killed during World War II, and stars ranging from Frank Sinatra to Academy Award–winning actor Gary Cooper recorded messages of support that were broadcast throughout the country.
Russian Communists, working on behalf of “Uncle Joe” as Joseph Stalin was nicknamed by some in the American press, staged some stunts of their own. They released Italian war prisoners in a bid to gain sympathy, and supported Communist newspapers in Italy. They also gave money. Although the total amount remains unclear, one reporter estimated it was several million dollars.
With all this foreign money and attention swirling about, Italy turned into “a sort of European Wisconsin, full of political hoopla, Tammany ward-heeling and high-pressure campaigning from the outside world,” according to one American journalist. Even the leaders of the parties were willing to discard propriety and wage battle in the muddy trenches of personal insult and slander. De Gasperi denounced Togliatti and accused him of having the “cloven foot of the devil.” Togliatti was no better, smearing De Gasperi as a Fascist. He was even reported to have offered something of a vague death threat to De Gasperi, publicly predicting that De Gasperi would meet a violent end like Hitler and Mussolini.
By mid-April, with the elections just days away, the carnival-like atmosphere of the campaign screeched to a loud finale. Italian politics dominated the front pages of newspapers in every language in various countries. In England, discussion of the election had become so popular that Lloyd’s of London was reported to be offering odds on it, with De Gasperi favored three to one. In the United States, where De Gasperi and Togliatti had become household names, the New York Daily News asked the question on everyone’s minds: “Italy Picks Uncles Today; Will It Be Sam or Joe?”
In Italy, there were some signs that many average voters saw themselves as helpless in the face of all the foreign involvement. When asked by an American reporter how it felt to be a voter in Italy, one Italian replied skeptically, “How do we feel? How do you think it feels to be the rope in a tug-of war? Does the rope ever have a chance at winning?”
In the end, the Italian people gave a clear verdict. The Christian Democrats won a landslide victory that handed them an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies. Gino immediately sent a telegram to congratulate De Gasperi on being elected the prime minister of Italy: “With sincere thanks I underline my devotion to you and send deep wishes of good luck for the great victory of democracy. GINO BARTALI.” The message was printed up as a poster and displayed publicly in various cities.
De Gasperi soon formed his new government, but it was obvious that tensions persisted. The great problems of the day, massive unemployment and endemic shortages, remained unresolved; many Communists were embittered at having lost the elections. In June 1948, it all came to the fore during the speech of a prominent Communist in the Chamber of Deputies. He boldly accused priests, sympathetic to the Christian Democrats, of encouraging Calabrian women in southern Italy to go on a “bedroom strike” and cease sexual relations with their husbands so as to motivate them not to vote for the Communists. A Christian Democrat deputy shouted his rebuttal: “You Communists find your recruits only among criminals and women of ill repute.” The Communists wasted no words with their reply, charging across the Chamber almost as one to attack the Christian Democrats. Within seconds, dozens of out-and-out brawls had erupted in what was described as “the worst fight in parliamentary history.” Inkpots were thrown and stenographers’ desks ripped from the ground and used as weapons. Even a Communist woman deputy was said to have joined in the brawl, hitting several bearded Christian Democrats.
When order was finally restored some ninety minutes later, three deputies were found to require medical care and several others were left with bloody noses and black eyes. An uneasy truce was established, but few could ignore the deplorable state of relations in the Chamber. With all the work to be done and with all the lingering hostility between the parties, it was clear that a dramatic change was needed. Nevertheless, it was surprising and almost sacrilegious when a plan was proposed in the ensuing days to do the politically unthinkable—and force the deputies to shorten their summer holidays.
Coppi: 21 votes. Bartali: 1 vote.
As the new government took shape in the summer of 1948, Gino wrestled with the aftermath of an altogether different selection. Earlier that year, when the leaders of the Italian Cycling Federation, along with their international counterparts, voted on the greatest achievement of the past cycling season, Gino had faded almost completely from sight. With his 1947 Giro victory and a string of other wins, Coppi won twenty-one of twenty-six possible votes, proof positive that he was “Italy’s greatest cyclist,” as one leading Italian newspaper editor described him. Gino got just one vote, tying for last place with an essentially unknown rider.
In the press write-up following the award ceremony, nothing was said about Gino—probably because no one knew what to say. Poor results could be dismissed, and a few errant episodes did not a pattern make. Yet Gino had not done anything to win himself any support in a deadlocked court of public opinion. Where some saw an aging athlete growing increasingly desperate, another group, a devoted but shrinking contingent of bartaliani, hung on to the flickering prospects of a renaissance.
Gino knew that the only race that could settle the debate was the one that had consumed him for the last decade: the Tour de France. It was the Tour where he first won cycling’s crown; it was the Tour where he would have to return to reclaim it.