It was a truly unique moment: at the gate of the magnificent synagogue in Florence, the granddaughter of Italy’s greatest cyclist, Gino Bartali, who secretly saved Jewish lives during World War II, addressed the Israel – Premier Tech riders standing before her in her revered grandfather’s name.

“For me, the privilege of being his granddaughter, of growing up in his presence, was a great gift of life,” said Gioia Bartali, looking directly at those will set off for the Tour de France from two-time winner Bartali’s hometown on Saturday.

“From here, he set out on rides during the dark days of World War II, with forged documents hidden in his bike to save Jews hiding from the Nazis.”

“He risked his life, but that’s who he was: a symbol of courage and generosity. As a cyclist and champion, he inspired many riders. Now, as you are about to embark on the Tour, I wish you find within your hearts and legs that wonderful blend of determination, passion, and noble human spirit that was ingrained in my grandfather.”

For Israel – Premier Tech, preparing for its fifth Tour de France, last night’s event was a kind of closing of a circle. Since its establishment 10 years ago, the team has embraced Bartali’s ethos, often commemorating him with rides along his smuggling routes from Florence to Assisi.

Now, arriving in his city ahead of the world’s greatest race, it was the perfect opportunity to honor his deeds that earned him the recognition of Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.

Sylvan Adams, the team’s owner, presented the Bartali family with a framed team jersey for the Tour.

He said: “Gino Bartali was perhaps the greatest cyclist of his era. He won this race twice, remarkably ten years apart, with his first win before the war in 1938 and the second after the war, in 1948. But that is the smaller part of his legacy. His heroism in rising his life to save Jewish compatriots is what truly describes his legacy. We will never forget what he did for our people.

“We proudly wear the name of Israel on our jerseys. As such, we are called to practice this sport with the highest level of sportsmanship. The team ethos is to emulate Gino Bartali, his bravery and his heart for humanity. This is who we are. We call on the community to support our efforts at the Tour. Your support is the wind at our backs. Thank you for your invitation, we hope to excite you these next three weeks with our performance.”

Enrico Fink, the head of the Jewish community in Florence, expressed that the entire community was excited to see the team proudly bearing the name Israel on their uniforms as they set off for the Tour from the city.

“We are so glad and honored to have you here,” added Fink. “This synagogue is a proud symbol of the Jewish community. Florence was one of the first symbols of the Israeli dream. A wonderful symbol of resilience, strength, and standing together, just like the Tour de France. We are really glad to be able to host you. Am Yisrael Chai [The People of Israel Live].”