Arguably the two most famous riders in Italy’s proud history of the sport, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi were at the peak of their powers in this golden era of racing. Their styles divided a nation: Italian fans were either coppiani or bartaliani, with Coppi loved in the south and Bartali revered up north.
By 1949 the intense rivalry had spilled over into a dislike just short of hatred, so much so that the Italian cycling association rebuked the athletes for forgetting “to honor the Italian prestige they represent.” But a strange thing happened during the stage to Briançon: in the heat of competition, a brotherhood was forged. Bartali and Coppi surged away from the pack, but when Coppi punctured a tire during the climb, Bartali sportingly waited for him. And when Bartali got a puncture on the rough descent, Coppi similarly stood by his man. When Coppi informed his rival that he was eager to continue, Bartali responded, “Let’s finish together. Let me win the stage. Tomorrow you will win the Tour.” And that’s exactly how both events played out.