Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ottavio Bottecchia

"Ottavio Bottecchia was born on August 1, 1894, in San Martino di Colle Umberto (Treviso). As a young boy he participated in prize competitions and in one of them won a gold watch for 1st place. At the beginning of World War I he enlisted in a special unit, the "esploratori d’assalto” (explorers of the assault), which were equipped with folding bikes. He was awarded the Bronze medal for valor for his actions and distinguished service.

Teodoro Carnielli, owner of a small bicycle manufacturing company and President of the “Associazione Sportiva di Vittorio Veneto”, gave him a racing bike as a present and sent the future champion to the directors of the “Unione Sportiva di Pordenone”, with whom he started to gain his first successes.

The eleventh edition of Giro d’Italia in 1923 was won by Constante Girardengo but Ottavvio Bottecchia was fifth in the general classification and first in the juniors and unattached classification. Thanks to Giro d’Italia he became for the press “best man in the race” and obtained his first contract with Aldo Borella of French company Automoto.

Now racing for Automoto, still in 1923, Bottecchia takes part in the Tour de France. At he end of the first stage there is a surprise: after 381 km from Paris to Le Havre, Bottecchia is in second place out of 200 and more participants. The French fans acclaimed him with shouts of “Bottescià Bottescià! “. The French journalists never fail to praise the Italian rider everyday. When the Tour de France ends Bottecchia is in 2nd (Henri Pélissier was 1st).

In 1924, still riding for Automoto, Bottecchia was in full form, cycling without any effort on any slope, his stamina perfect, and his moral high. On July 22, the Gazzetta dello Sport's front page headline reported in large letters: "Bottecchia triumphantly wins the Tour de France and reaches the goal that for 20 years the strongest Italian riders pursued in vain." Bottecchia is not only the first Italian to who win the prestigious French competition, winning four stages, but also the first cyclist who to wear the yellow jersey from the first to final stage.

The following year, at the end of the twentieth Tour de France referred to as the "Tour of Suffering", only 49 out of 130 riders returned to the Parc des Princes and Bottecchia wins once again, more than 54 minutes ahead of Lucien Buysse. Back in Paris, Bottecchia is received triumphantly and Italian sport is at its peak.

At 10:30 am on June 15, 1927, at just 33 years of age, Ottavio Bottecchia died prematurely in a hospital bed in Gemona del Friuli, after thirteen days of agony under circumstances still shrouded in a gruesome mystery."

Source: from Bottecchia website, in Italian, which I have translated with some additional details

Photo: Bottecchia

Tomorrow: the history of Bottecchia brand

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  1. Thanks for this. Bottecchia is a local hero- even though he was born in Veneto, he moved to Friuli so we claim him. The local velodrome at Pordenone is named for him, as is the beautiful river road from Forgaria to Trasaghis.

  2. I have a framed photo of Bottechia from the "Classics of TDF" series - shows him climbing over the Galibier on his way to the victory in 1924. Good to know that he was not just the first Italian TDF champion, but that he also wore the maillot jaune the entire time!