After 11 years of bringing you local reporting, the team behind the Vancouver Observer has moved on to Canada's National Observer. You can follow Vancouver culture reporting over there from now on. Thank you for all your support over the years!

Canadian Siblings Tell Story of Holocaust Hero

At first glance, “Road To Valour”, written by Canadian siblings Alli and Andres McConnon, may seem like a bit of an odd story to tell at first. There are not many books about cyclists and there are even fewer about cyclists who participated during the Second World War. But that is exactly who Gino Bartali – a cyclist and Tour De France Champion – was. He was a champion racer, and a committed Catholic dedicated to helping Jews escape from Italy during the Nazi invasion.


Although Bartali released his autobiography in the 1980s, there is very little about his heroism during WWII, which is why, as Aili puts it, she and her brother felt the need to write this book.  A culmination of an almost 10 year project, Road to Valour was published in June of 2012 and is a story of the selflessness of a true champion that almost never was.

After losing his younger brother in a cycling accident, Gino Bartali almost gave up his dream. Just weeks earlier, he was victorious in the Giro D’Italia, - second only to the Tour de France in terms of prestige. As was common throughout most of his life however, Bartali persevered. He went on to win the Giro D’Italia again in 1937 and the Tour de France in 1938. When the Nazis struck, Bartali found himself being courted by multiple political parties – including Mussolini, the Communists and the Democrats.


The McConnons are effective at telling this tale because they take care to not revolve solely around Bartali. There are many supporting characters – including rival cyclist Fausto Coppi – making an appearance to help showcase the kind of character Bartali was in real life. Any reader will get the impression that Bartali was a gentle and deeply committed man, who tried his best to stay out of politics through the advice from his father. Due to his celebrity, Bartali’s services were wanted during the war effort. Whether it was being a bike messenger in Assissi, the centre of the Jewish hideout, or finding an apartment for Giorgio Nissim to hide in with his family, he did these tasks quietly and without reward. He also personally biked Jewish refugees towards the Swiss Alps in 1943.


Adding to his accomplishments, he then returned to championship form and won the Giro D’Italia for a third time in 1946 and the Tour de France again in 1948. His ten years between Tour de France victories gave him a record for the largest gap (10 years) between wins. Cycling fans know that winning any race at age 34 is no small feat. Bartali won the Giro D’Italia at 32 and the Tour de France at 34 and remained selfless throughout his life.  “Road to Valour” is a terrific read for cycling fan and history buffs alike.


Aili McConnon, Andres McConnon

Aili McConnon is a Canadian journalist based in New York. She has written for BusinessWeek, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian. She has appeared on ABC, MSNBC, and CNN, and has earned degrees from Princeton University, the University of Cambridge, and Columbia University.

Andres McConnon graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, where he majored in history. He previously worked as a historical researcher for several books. While researching and writing Road to Valor, he lived for a period in Paris and Florence, and on the Italian Riviera.

More in Books

Property versus Values

Charlie Demers' new Vancouver heist novel: pinkish noir.
Undetectable, Kim Goldberg, Vancouver, poetry, book review, Pig Squash Press

A poet never breaks, a poet breaks free: On paying for the world’s most expensive drug with a poem

The award-winning poet and author Kim Goldberg can always be counted on by her readers to be entertained by a literary surprise or two.
Producer and Author Tracey Friesen

Roundhouse Radio's Tracey Friesen authors 'Story Money Impact,' a resource for funding media

Roundhouse Radio's Tracey Friesen writes a book about film, funding and impact.
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.

Aili & Andres McConnon
June 12, 2012
Random House Canada