A talented track cyclist and skilled bike builder, Ortelli started riding bikes in 1927 when he was six years old and children's bikes did not even exist. His father adapted an adult one for him, and from that moment on, cycling became his world.
Four times Italian champion, as an amateur and professional, he was one of the most important champions in the history of cycling and the only one, after the war, able to compete with the legends Coppi and Bartali.
A successful career
1921 - Vito Ortelli was born in Faenza, and from an early age his great passion for bikes was obvious to anyone. He started racing bikes as a child, and by the age of 15, he was already welding frames in his father's workshop and learning every trick of the trade.
1938 - At 17, Ortelli left the workshop and began an impressive racing career.
He joined the Faenza Sportiva Team, and immediately achieved two victories and eleven placings.
1939 - This was the start of a long and successful collaboration with Tullio Campagnolo, who had the first Campagnolo gearbox, which was not yet widespread, fitted on his bike. That year, Ortelli won seven races and the title of Italian Junior Champion, which also became Campagnolo's first competitive award.
From then on, Ortelli always used Campagnolo components.
1940 - The year he became an amateur racer, he won 14 out of 17 races. Another incredible feat: Ortelli and another rider, Magni, were called to the opening pairs race at a professional-only race in Milan, and the two won both the tracks and time trial races, even beating Coppi and Bartali. From then on, Ortelli's fame grew even more.
1941 - With war imminent, and despite Ortelli having to do military service, he won 12 races, proof of his talent and unstoppable determination.
1942 - At the age of 20, he became an independent professional and joined Bianchi.
1943 - During the war, all competitions were interrupted and Ortelli was sent to the front in Croatia. After the surrender, however, he escaped from the army and, like other champions, joined the Resistance, laying down arms for the Partisans.
1945 - After leaving Bianchi and joining the Benotto Team, Ortelli beat Coppi by a good 60 metres in the semi-final of the Italian track pursuit championships in Turin, with a record time of 6'23'' and an average speed of 46 km/h. And in the final, he became Italian track champion.
Meanwhile, with the money he earned from racing, he helped his father rebuild his workshop, which had been destroyed by bombing.
1946 - Ortelli began to suffer from health problems and knee pain that would end his career prematurely, but he still won the Milano-Torino, the Trofeo XX Settembre and a stage of his first Giro d'Italia, where he finished third, wearing the Maglia Rosa five times.
1947 - Again a challenge with Coppi, again Ortelli triumphed, this time with the Atala Team, becoming for the second time Italian champion on the track, despite an operation on his leg.
1948 - After winning two more races, Ortelli came third at the Giro d'Italia, despite 7 flat tyres in one stage and a serious crash caused by a fan who hit him with a bucket of cold water.
That year, Ortelli also won his most prestigious title. He became Italian road champion, beating his historic rival Fausto Coppi.
1949-1952 - Serious problems with his right knee led to a decline in his racing career, and in 1952 Ortelli had to give up racing but not before leaving his mark on the history of cycling.
The return to the workshop.
In the mid-1950s, after a successful cycling career, Ortelli began another successful one.
He went back to work with his father and, like other champions, he founded his own brand of bicycles, built the frames himself, and even the countertop, which he obtained from the door of a German World War II armoured car abandoned near his home.
When he brought the sheet metal home, Ortelli used a protractor to draw a model of the frame.
In doing so, he introduced an innovation to the method used by his father.
He began to design the frame based on the inclination and therefore the width of the angles. These left the length measurements unchanged but allowed the rider's position on the saddle to be shaped as desired. In this way, the best possible use could be made of each rider's abilities. The sprinter could exploit his fast sprint and the climber had the perfect position for a more effective sprint.
Ortelli bikes were assembled using a coal forge to heat the steel tubes and then weld them together. The tubes used were the prestigious Columbus.
Ortelli paid close attention not only to the quality of the frames but also to aesthetic details.
His invention of the embossed mark on the diagonal tube and the elaborate pantographs on the frames and components were highly appreciated. They were true steel sculptures, which were worked on by masters such as the painter Leoni and the engraver Gino Cornazzani.
The quality of the bikes always remained high until the 1980s, when Ortelli finally stopped welding.
But only because he had run out of tubes!
In sixty years, Ortelli produced 5,000 frames, and his workshop was frequented not only by other champions who were friends of his, such as Magni and Cinelli but also by young apprentices who, thanks to Ortelli's help, went on to successful careers as mechanics and skilled craftsmen.
This made Ortelli's workshop a sort of 'salon for sportsmen, professionals and bicycle lovers'.
And this continued until he died in 2017.
Because friendship, sharing passion and knowledge were as important to this champion as building great bikes.
(1) Ortelli at the Tour de France '49
(2) a detail of an Ortelli bike
(3) a detail of an Ortelli bike
(4) Vito Ortelli in his late years
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