by Lisa Bartali

The train starts to leave when I put the pen on the notebook. Writing always accompanies me, when I travel. I’m going to meet Gianni Volpi, the great Primo Volpi’s son, one of the main protagonists of that heroic cycling which makes us still dream. Gianni is a generous and welcoming person. His house is full of memories, curiosities and a rich collection of epochal photos..

Primo Volpi was Bartali’s teammate from 1939 to 1948.

Not in a continuous way, because we have to exclude the tragic years of the World War II when the two champions however didn’t stop to meet and to train. Before meeting Gianni Volpi I had time to read an extraordinary book: “Primo Volpi una leggenda nata in Val D’Orcia”, where you will find the references here below and whose text is pointed out in green.

““Gianni, how did your father start his cycling career?”

“My father was a long-distance runner at the beginning. Then he became a cyclist to earn more money. He was born in Castiglione d’Orcia in 1916, from a family of peasants. He was quite the same age as your grandfather. He was noticed by Gino Bartali, the same year when he hired Coppi too as mate in his team!”

Many of the cyclists of that time, as my grandfather Gino, came from the countryside. They were used to tiredness and sacrifices since they were children. They were sons of peasants and masons. Primo Volpi emerged in 1939 earning the third place at Giro del Casentino, in Tuscany. The rising star Fausto Coppi also took part in the competition. Fausto won that race. The next meeting was, for everybody, Giro di Lombardia.

” The night before the race Fausto and Primo met to eat in the same restaurant of the Legnano team, with Bartali and his coach Eberardo Pavesi. Gino confided to Pavesi: “Those two in Tuscany left me behind but then I defeated them, they are doing well and we have to keep an eye on them. Pavesi then took them apart at that dinner and told them:

Tomorrow I want to see how you behave, if you attack and you manage to detach Bartali I will make you sign the contract in the Legnano!

In that Giro di Lombardia Primo Volpi arrived first at the Ghisallo finishing line. Fausto Coppi demonstrated his talent too. It was then that Coppi, as well as Volpi, were engaged as Bartali’s team-mates. There is a “tasty” anectode and Gianni tells me:

“Before leaving for the Giro di Lombardia, my grandmother, Primo Volpi’s mother, invited Coppi to lunch in the farmhouse. She cooked a Tuscan specialty of which Coppi remained enthusiastic: fried rabbit. After lunch grandmother gave them tomatoes and eggs to eat during the journey on the train, from Val d’Orcia to Milan.” 

With the arrival of the Second World War, Volpi, like Bartali, lost precious years of races and victories. For a short period Gino found himself evacuated at San Quirico d’Orcia and he was hosted by Primo.



I was born in ‘42 and I cannot have bright memories,”

but I know that when Gino was evacuated he spent some days with my family in Val d’Orcia.

Afterwards we went to meet him in Florence, where he hosted us for two weeks. I keep a beautiful picture of that time when I was a child in Bartali’s arms, always accompanied by his wife Adriana. Gianni tells me these stories with passion. I perceive that there has been a great bond between father and son.

“He was defined one of the greatest Italian climbers, 

good long-distance racing cyclist and one of the most long-lived Tuscan racer of all times.”

““I believe that my father Primo knew something regarding the rescue operations enterprised by Gino during the war. At that time the two did many kilometers together by bycicle, they went often to Rome. Then at a certain point they took different ways.”

At that purpose, I as well as Gianni, remember a bizarre episode. When Volpi and Bartali went to Rome by bicycle to ride the first after the liberation of Florence in 1944, they were stopped by partisans threatened Gino with death, because they saw him with the “black shirt”, the uniform of the fascist militia. At the beginning of the war my grandfather was recruited by the army as a messenger, but he left his assignment soon. Then he wore the the black shirt when, disguised as an officer, with the excuse of having captured English soldiers, he freed them! Primo Volpi’s intervention at that moment was decisive. From the biography “La leggenda di Bartali”, Gino’s words:

They shouted at me:“Bartali, you’re a Fascist! Now we will shoot you immediately.” ..They had something against me because I had to wear the black shirt. “Go away, let go Brtali away!” – Primo Volpi shouted – “I am a partisan of the Amiata mountains and if I say that Gino has never been a fascist , you have to believe me!”

Another confirmation of the happening is by my father Luigi Bartali. A witness who heard this story narrated by Gino.



Volpi and Bartali, teammates of great successes: winners of Giro d’Italia ‘46 and Tour de France Tour ‘48!

“Gianni, I think that it’s not easy to be a teammate. A great spirit of sacrifice is needed. How was your father’s personality?”

“He was a genuine man, joyful and modest. He donated all his cups and medals to his admirers. These that you see on my shelves are my victories, as cyclist and sporting director.” It’s sufficient to look through the great albums of the journals of that time collected by Gianni, to become aware of the popularity of Primo Volpi.

“During the Tour de France 1948 my father fell down. Result: 18 points of suture around the eye and temperature at 40. It was the day of rest. He asked his captain:

Gino, but how can I start again? And Bartali answered: “I will take you to Lourdes

Primo took a medicine and then they both went to Lourdes. The day after all the team began to ride the Tour and my father was of unquestionable help for the final Gino’s victory!



““After the experience at the Legnano, how did your father’s career proceed?”

He entered as captain in the Arbos, with which he won the Europe Tour of 1954,

a chapter of cycling that didn’t have a sequel, in fact there was only one edition. The journey was a novelty and it included many countries as Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, France. The Italian team was strong, Luciano Pezzi was my father’s teammate, who later became sporting director of Marco Pantani.”

““The moving victory of a great worker of the bicycle. A genuine champion but tranparent, who has never had scandals to hide nor sensational interviews to give.”

” I read that your father Primo Volpi opened a renomated bicycle shop…”

“Yes, it’s true. He opened a bicycle shop in Siena. A meeting point for all the ciclysts of that time!”

And Gino also went there. Nearby we went together to visit a priest, Don Bruno. After a long cycling career ended in 1957, my father found a job in a bank.” 

” How was Primo Volpi as a father? Did he transmit to you his passion for the bike? “

““Yes, of course. My father took me to the races when I was a child ..then when I became coach, he came to see me.”



Gianni too had his successes in cycling. As sporting director of Marcello Bartalini, he won the Olimpic Games af ‘84 in Los Angeles. He showed me the pictures with pride. Still now the bicycle is his passion and when he jumps on the saddle he pedals 80-90 km a day. While we greet each other with mutual esteem, we confess to each other as if we were in a mirror, that the ciclying of today is not that spontaneous, dusty and exciting sport that our dear ones lived. Now the runners are constantly kept under pressure by the mass media and they live a technological cycling”, quite “Robotic”.

““It comes to my mind when my father grumbled Gino:

Stop! If you smoke too much you will lose your voice! 

Gino had the vice to take a small glass of Cognac and to smoke a cigarette after each training. 

The story that I ran through again with Gianni doesn’t speak only of sport and fatigue, but also of friendship, the one sincere and devoted between Gino and Primo. At that time there wasn’t pressing rivalry between cyclists. Even if when they raced it was an hard fight on the pedals, then in the evening they went out for dinner all together. “I grew up with them, my great masters. My father Primo Volpi first of all, but also Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi.”



images and test have all rights reserved . In green words : “Primo Volpi una leggenda nata in Val d’Orcia” authors:  Varis Agnelli, Giordano Cioli,  Fabio Pellegrini

Questa pagina è disponibile anche in: Italiano

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