Books on the Tour de France are ten a penny, throw a bidon into the sports section in Waterstones and you'll probably hit half a dozen. Books on the Giro D'Italia however are as rare as hens teeth, in fact I've never come across one, so The Story of the Giro D'Italia by Bill and Carol McGann, is a welcome addition.
The format is straightforward, it's a year by year history of the first 61 years, giving an overview of the race plus any interesting historical snippets.
The history of the Giro, like the Tour, is a tale that says as much about the history of the country as it does about bike racing. Unmade roads, impoverished racers, governments eager to use the race for their own ends and the isolation of Italy from the rest of Europe in the early 20th century. Of course, we're here for the racing and tall tales of manly men riding ridiculous machines across impossible mountains on unspeakable roads. It's an accepted truth that the early days of the Tour and Giro were insanely hard and that modern racers, with their sub 200k stages, are effete lightweights by comparison so I was surprised to learn that in the early days there was a rest day, sometimes two, in between stages. Apparently this was the way of the Tour also but in all the books I've read, this is the first to point it out.
The Giro has always stood in the shadow of the Tour - after all, it's origins are almost identical, albeit some years later, and it is almost impossible to talk about the Giro without reference to the French race. The main difference between the two GTs is that the Giro lacks a dominant monster. Henri Desgrange created the Tour in his image, run by his (ever changing) rules and illuminated by his deranged hyperbole. At times it seems as if the Tour was his personal plaything and the riders nothing more than toy soldiers to be broken and scattered across the nursery floor as his mood dictated. The Giro by comparison seems more humane, more accommodating, yet it was as hard as any edition of the Tour. The Giro of 1914 where only 8 riders finished stands testament to HD's desire that the perfect Tour would be one that eliminated all but the very toughest rider. In recent years under Angelo Zomegnan the Giro seems to have rediscovered this spirit and the 2011 edition is one that the riders genuinely feared. It will be interesting to see what the McGann's make of his stewardship in the second volume, due this winter.
Unlike the Tour, the myths and legends of the Giro are relatively unknown outside of Italy and hence still fresh. Readers who have ploughed through a million and one histories of the Tour (my favourite is Matt Rendell's Blazing Saddles, which this resembles in structure, if not in wit) will find plenty here that's new. For much of its life the Giro has been an Italian race, run by and for Italians and many of the great riders of the time never bothered with the Tour. The likes of Constante Girardengo (the first rider to be named Campionissimo) Fiorenzo Magni and the awesome Alfredo Binda (so good that he was paid not to ride) will be relative strangers, even to someone who could tell you who Hippolyte Aucouturier was. Did you know that there was, briefly, a maglia nera (black jersey) for the last rider on GC? Giovanni Pinarello 'won' the jersey in 1951 and used the prize money to start his bike manufacturing business. Luigi Malabrocca and Sante Carollo used to resort to all kinds of Tom & Jerry antics in their attempts to lose time and beat each other, hiding in barns and puncturing their own tyres. Oh and did you know about Alfonsina Strada, the only woman to finish a Grand Tour? It's all fascinating stuff, there's so much history here that one quick sprint through can't possibly cover everything, but as a starting point it's hard to beat.
If the book has a fault it is that in an effort to cram in every interesting snippet the years can become a bit of a bewildering blur. It's a bit too dense and indigestible to read through in one go, you need to pace yourself. The lack of pictures doesn't help, as they would break the text up and bring some of the faded names to life. I'd guess the lack of pictures is a reflection of the small-scale of production. What does come across is the enthusiasm of the authors. This was obviously a labour of love, requiring the scouring of historical sources, getting friends to help translate 100 year old Italian idioms or trying to reconcile conflicting versions of events. This is never a dry and academic history, you always have the sense that the authors are right there with you, pointing out the good stuff and sharing their passion.
With the Giro resurgent in recent years this book seems to be at the crest of a wave, with a couple of other Giro books appearing at the same time, Herbie Sykes' Maglia Rosa and John Foote's Pedelare, Pedelare. There is also the second volume of The Story of the Giro D'Italia to look forward to, due out this winter. If you want to learn more about Italian bike racing, times are good and this book is a great place to start.
An informative introduction to the world's second best loved Grand Tour.
road.cc test report
Make and model: The Story of the Giro D'Italia: A Year-by-Year History of the Tour of Italy, Volume 1: 1909-1970
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
"The Giro d'Italia is one of the world's most important and popular bicycle races, yet there is almost no information in English about this magical Italian race's rich past."
It's a small volume publisher, so the price is higher. That said, this books fills a neglected niche and the author/publisher deserves the appropriate reward.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
I learned a lot from this book and will probably find myself reaching for it as a reference on a regular basis.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Gives a clear overview of the Giro's history.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
More pictures would have been nice.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? I already did!
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Definitely
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
Worthy addition to any racehead's bookshelf.
About the tester
Age: 42 Height: 5' 8 Weight: er....85kg
I usually ride: Kona Dew Drop, Dawes Century SE My best bike is: Guess SC1 scandium
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, Audax and long distance solo rides