If you’d rather struggle through Italian alps on a bike rather than as a Carthaginian foot soldier (see previous review), then this history of the world’s second most famous cycling race could be just for you.

A tight, beautifully written book, Giro d’Italia (Colin O’Brien, Pursuit Books, 2017) tracks the race since it started as a newspaper promotion in 1909 through to its 100th running in 2017. While probably most of interest to middle aged men in Lycra, there’s a lot for any reader to enjoy.

First is a better understanding of the event, which plays second fiddle to the Tour de France each year. Second is to marvel at the stamina that people must have had in the early 1900s. Competitors in the 1924 event, for instance, clocked up 3,613 kilometres in less than three weeks on primitive bikes. They also included a woman, Alfonsina Strada, and a first day’s course that went for more than 300 kilometres. In fact, the stages were so long competitors often started hours before dawn. Third is to let the wonderful names of Italy’s most famous cyclists like Fausto Coppi, Alfredo Binda and Marco Pantani, and brands like Bianchi and Colnago, roll around your mind. Fourth are the mysteries, frauds and compromises that have accompanied the race over time, including a murder many believe was ordered by Mussolini as sport and politics collided. For a lighter read that literally covers much of the same ground through the eyes of a modern-day English eccentric who decides to relive the 1914 Giro, you might also look up Gironimo! Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy by Tim Moore. I preferred O’Brien’s history, but Gironimo is funny.

By Grant Butler


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