I recently treated myself to a copy of Herbie Sykes’ “Maglia Rosa – Triumph and Tragedy at the Giro d’Italia” but have held back from reading it. I’ve been saving it for the start of the Giro. I bought it because I so enjoyed his previous book “The Eagle of Canavese – Franco Balmamion and the Giro d’Italia”. Who? Yes, that’s what I thought; but I still bought the book which is a totally charming, insightful and absorbing read.
Balmamion won back to back victories in the Giros of 1962 and 1963. A feat no one has since replicated. Herbie, who I understand lives in Turin (wonder if I’ll bump into him), has a real feel for cycling, Italy and its culture. He makes the post-war era come to life, showing how cycling is woven into Italy’s social and economic fabric. While the book’s focus is very much on the first of Balmamion’s Giro victories, he includes stories about Balmamion’s contemporaries, both on and off the bike, which provide context and colour for this charming, parochial, rose-tinted tale.
I only have one other book about the Giro; Gazzetta dello Sport’s “Un Secolo di Passioni – Giro d’Italia 1909-2009”, choc- full of wonderful photographs, which celebrates its centenary but accords Balmamion little more than a name check. Of course, one cannot read any biography about il Campionissimo (Fausto Coppi), or indeed Il Pirato (Marco Pantani), without being treated to a run down of the Giro but, it’s not centre stage. I think it’s fair to say that by comparison with my books on “The Tour” (25 and counting), The Giro is woefully underrepresented on my cycling bookshelves.
I shall attempt to redress the balance when I’m in Turin where I will be heading straight for the nearest book shop to check out what (if anything) they have on cycling, particularly on the Giro. I will then stray over to the cookery section to see if there’s any tomes which I simply, absolutely have to add to my library. I’m hoping I’ll be lucky on both counts.