The story of Ottavio Bottecchia is of both great athletic achievement and mystery. He won the Tour de France two years back to back and the events leading to his death are still a mystery.
Bottecchia was born August 1st, 1894 in San Martino di Colle Umberto, Italy. He was one of nine children in a very poor family and only went to school for one year before becoming a bricklayer. During World War I he joined the Bersaglieri Corps of the Italian army and received a bronze medal.
After the war Bottecchia became an avid cyclist and started to race. In 1922 he joined the professional team of Automoto-Hutchinson. In 1923 he came in fifth in the Giro de Italia. Bottecchia wore the yellow jersey for much of the Tour de France and finished second overall.
Bottecchia won the Tour de France in 1924 and then again the next year in 1925. He was the first Italian to win this race. Bottecchia was also the first racer ever to wear the yellow jersey for the entire race. He won the first stage in 1924 and maintained the lead all the way to the end of the race. In 1926 Bottecchia abandoned the race on a climb in a thunderstorm. The roads they climbed on in those days were dirt or gravel.
In the summer of 1927 Ottavio Bottecchia was found on the side of the road badly bruised and with a serious skull fracture. He was taken to a hospital where he died a few days later. His bicycle was not damaged, indicating that his injuries were not the result of an accident. There were two death bed confessions to the murder of the great cyclist. One was from a farmer who confessed on his death bed that he had hit a man in the head with a rock who was picking grapes in his vineyard. When he realised who it was he dragged him to the edge of the road. The second confession was from a dying Italian man in New York who said he had killed the cyclist under contract. In 1973 the Italian pastor who had given Bottecchia his last rites, on his deathbed, attributed Bottecchia's death to Fascist jealous of his success. (Ottavio Bottecchia was opposed to Mussolini's Fascist regime) Bottecchia died June 14th, 1927 at the age of 32.
In 1926, Bottecchia had begun working with frame-maker Teodoro Carnielli to manufacture racing bikes. The business expanded under the Carnielli family after his death.
Ottavio Bottecchia was a complete racer, a good sprinter, time trialist, and climber.
Ottavio Bottecchia racing on a very rough road
Bottecchia raced on the team Automoto-Hutchinson. Automoto was a French bicycle maker and Hutchinson is the bicycle tire company.