By Barry Boyce, CyclingRevealed Historian

Ottavio Bottecchia













The Untimely Death of an Italian Champion:
Ottavio Bottecchia

Ottavio Bottecchia's storied Tour history continued after his victories in 1924 and 1925, but unfortunately the future would not be kind to a very talented rider. Bottecchia returned to the Tour in 1926 but clearly off the form of the previous two years. This fabulous Italian climber abandoned on the infamous stage 10 Bayonne to Luchon, in the “Circle of Death Ironically this was the area where Bottecchia got the greatest time gains in previous years.

Within months of his disappointing performance in the 1926 Tour, Ottavio Bottecchia's life took a bizarre and fatal twist. "Le Macon de Frioul" (the Mason from Frioul), while on a solo training ride near his home, was found bloodied, bruised, and unconscious on the side of the road. At this point the specifics of the incident become mysterious.

Early in his professional racing career Bottecchia was rapidly becoming a great hero in Italy . The political atmosphere was in a state of upheaval in the early 1920's and the celebrity Bottecchia was being recruited heavily by Dictator Benito Mussolini and Italy 's new Fascist Party. Although he did not officially sign on as a Fascist, he was used as a role model for the “New Italy.” As Bottecchia's celebrity status grew, the gap with the Fascists became wider.

To unravel the mystery surrounding Bottecchia's death saw three possibilities that must be examined:

  • The Police Report: “death due to a freak accident.” The investigating officer, under the watchful eye of the local Fascists, stated that Bottecchia had trouble freeing his feet from the strapped toe clips on the pedals after a large drink of water. He lost his balance and fell, striking his head on a sharp rock. However, the police report facts of the case were not verified and questions immediately arose.
  • Theory Number 1: June 3, 1927, in the hot afternoon sun on a long solo training rider, Bottecchia was hungry and stopped for a snack at a local vineyard. The owner of the vineyard spotted him stealing the grapes and confronted Bottecchia. The argument grew violent and the furious owner threw a rock, striking Bottecchia on the head. Once again, the facts did not seem to support the theory and questions arose. Why would Bottecchia steal sour grapes? In June the grape plants were not close to being ripe. Why would a vineyard owner become so angry over a few sour grapes for a grand champion? These questions were never answered.
  • Theory Number 2: The iron-fisted Fascists, who were angry at Bottecchia's success and his failure to fully support the Fascist Party, had him killed. At the hospital, the attending physician diagnosed the injury as a fracture at the base of the skull, broken clavicle, and a large number of bruises. However, the entry in the hospital logbook said nothing of this Fascist beating theory. Ironically, twenty years after the incident, an American immigrant, after being stabbed, made a deathbed declaration that he had been under contract with the Fascists to kill Bottecchia. This theory was confirmed in 1973 by another deathbed from the priest that issued last right to the dying champion.

Whether it was fear of the Fascists or not, Theory Number 1 received the most support, even though the facts of the case supported Theory Number 2.

Whatever the belief, Ottavio "Le Macon de Frioul" Bottecchia will go down in history as a Grand Tour de France Champion!!!


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