The Story of the Giro d’Italia, volume 1, Bill and Carol McGann (2012)

A compelling year-by-year account of Italy’s grand tour

The Story of the Giro d’Italia, volume 2, Bill and Carol McGann (2012)

McGann Publishing, 9780984311767 309pp paperback, $18.95 &McGann Publishing, 9780984311798 312pp paperback, $18.95

Books in English about Italian cycling are few and far between, so this two-volume history of the Giro is welcome, indeed. The format is simple – each edition of the race is described in a piece varying from 1,000 to 2,500 words long – with the more recent years receiving more space.

But although it is a formula that repeats from 1909 to the present day, the McGann’s are meticulous in their research and generous in the tit bits and vignettes that they serve up to leaven the stark results.

In 1927, for example, Mussolini donated a 25,000 lire prize for the winner. During the 1959 running of the race, Jacques Anquetil lost the stage on Piccolo San Bernad because he bonked, just when Charlie Gaul had decided to attack. “The lack of a sandwich” cost the Frenchman nine minutes, the race lead, and the overall title. And in 1980, Bernard Hinault, directed by Cyrille Guimard, played a brilliant tactical game to become the first person to win all three grand tours on a first attempt.

Reading accounts of some of the races in the 1990s, it is hard not to wonder at exactly what was propelling a great many of the performances. A test for EPO was not used until 2000. In 1994, for example, the surprising rushes of performance seemed to come with nearly every stage. At the first hilltop finish to Campitello Matese, Evgeni Berzin: “exploded out of the peloton and it was all over for everyone else. Beautiful is the only word for his form as he appeared to effortlessly stroke the pedals”.

Stage eight was a time trial. As the McGann’s relate: “I don’t think anyone could have predicted the outcome of this stage”. Berzin bettered Indurain by 2 minutes and 44 seconds over a 44 kilometer time trial.

Later in the race: “(Gainni) Bugno was riding as though he had limitless reserves”. And Marco Pantani scored his first victory as a professional in a stage a few days later. They were thrilling races to watch – but reliving them now, it is hard not to fret about the toll on the participants and the sport in general.

Read straight through, the two books are a bit much to digest – but that is entirely the wrong way to go about them. Clearly they are fantastic reference works – without parallel in English. But take each year’s action as a discreet treat – a competition to be relived race-by-race, and here is a rich and endless entertaining panorama of sport to enjoy.

PS May 2012

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