Garibaldi’s Giro VI

Unfortunately, due to more pressing commitments, I’ve only caught bits of the last few day’s of the Giro. Even worse, I have fallen asleep during transmission of the Tour of California. Why is it that when I watch transmission of the former I am entranced by the countryside, the honeyed stone-walled towns, the sense of history, the wide swathes of sandy coastline while in the latter I wonder why anyone would want to visit, let alone live there? I’m thinking, there’s a lesson to be learnt here. One of the aims of any Tour is to promote the region in which it’s taking place. The Americans haven’t quite got to grips with the concept. Of course, they’ve not been helped by the weather.  Meanwhile, over in the Giro, and in stark contrast to last year, the weather has been fabulous. Those pallid, concave,  pigeon chests are rapidly getting as tanned as their arms and legs.

The last couple of day’s has seen heroic French efforts sandwiched by two Cavendish wins. These wins were not without controversy as the winner allegedly had an assisted ride up Mount Etna on Sunday, thereby avoiding the cut.  Cavendish has hotly denied the accusations but my friends in the peloton tell me that not only does Cavendish get a ride from the team car but he’s often pushed over  hills by his team mates. No wonder he thanks them profusely after every win.  As we bade a fondish farewell to the sprinters, particularly Ale-jet, who are speedily exiting the Giro before the really big climbs, let’s return to the French.

Christophe Le Mevel (Garvelo) tried to seize the opportunity and the pink jersey yesterday. His team had been assured that Bert wasn’t fussed about defending it and decided to give it a go. Personally, I was willing Christophe into pink but had to leave before the end of the stage for my English class. It was only on my return I learnt that he’d sadly been unsuccessful. While SaxoBank would have been happy to let the jersey go, other teams wanted to preserve the position on GC of their riders and took up the chase. Thanks to a split in the peloton, Christophe lost time and dropped a place on GC. However, it was great to see him try. Too many riders ride just to defend their position, not to better it. Chapeau Christophe.

The win instead went to a diminutive grimpeur (another one who’ll never belong to that select sub-set who weigh more than me) John Gadret (AG2R-La Mondiale) who has a definite empathy with the climbs of the Giro and, with his bald head, a more than passing resemblance to Pantani. Fittingly, he dedicated his win to the late Wouter Weylandt, who’s funeral was held yesterday.

As tomorrow’s stage heads into Austria, can I suggest that the teams’ chefs prepare the boys a spot of post-race Kaiser’schmarrn which has to be one of the best things to eat after significant exertion. This dish is made from a rich pancake batter where the egg whites are whipped and folded into the batter to lighten it before cooking it in a frying pan. Once cooked it is shredded, sprinkled with icing sugar (and in my case, rum-soaked raisins) and served  with a fruit compote, generally apple or plum – enjoy.

Dig in, it's delish

Garibaldi’s Giro III

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.

A good read

This month’s Cycle Sport magazine opines on “the best 50 cycling books of all time [in the English language]”. Lists are always interesting, open to debate and, ultimately, very subjective despite their authors proclaiming their objectivity. Given that I have quite (typical British understatement) a large collection of books on cycling, I was keen to see where we agreed, where we differed and which books were in their list which I had yet to acquire and read.

I guard my books and only a favoured few are allowed to borrow them. I say this from bitter experience as a number of books have been borrowed and never returned and, as they are now out of print, are proving difficult to replace. For example, my beloved, one of the worst culprits, may borrow any book but cannot remove it from the premises. I don’t keep lists of who has what book at any point in time, I don’t need to, I know by heart where they all are at any given time.

You will note that I qualified the list as, not unnaturally, Cycle Sport has only included books either written in English or those subsequently translated into English. So, for example, “Tomorrow We Ride” written by Jean Bobet, “A Century of Paris-Roubaix” by Pascal Sergent and “We Were Young and Carefree” by Laurent Fignon make the list as they’ve been translated from the original French into English.

For similar reasons, the biographies feature largely English speaking riders notably Tommy Simpson, Barry Hoban, Robert Millar, Graeme Obree, Allan Peiper, Greg LeMond, Stephen Roche, Sean Kelly, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and many tomes about that man Lance. However, a couple of my favourite books feature cyclists who are not so well known and they’re both on the list. “A Significant Other” by Matt Rendell covers a former domestique of Lance’s from Columbia, Victor Hugo Pena. While, “Kings of the Mountains” looks at the role of cycling within Columbia’s most recent history and the Columbian riders who’ve ridden in Europe.

Stories about a few foreign riders make the cut, again solely because they’re written in English: Paul Howard’s revealing “Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape” about Jacques Anquetil, Matt Rendell’s excellent “The Death of Marco Pantani” and William Fotheringham’s “Fallen Angel – The Passion of Fausto Coppi”.

I have read a number of books about Pantani and I would say that while Rendell’s is undoubtedly an excellent read, and certainly a measured account, it falls short of Philippe Brunel’s tale “Vie et Mort de Marco Pantani” simply because Brunel had greater access to Pantani while he was alive.

My favourite book about Il Campionissimo was written by Jean-Paul Ollivier “Fausto Coppi La Gloire et Les Larmes”. As a historian, the author weaves his tale about Coppi against a backdrop of the social and economic history of Italy. As a consequence, he breathes more life and meaning into his subject and leaves  the reader with a greater understanding. I’ve also enjoyed the same author’s insights into Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor.

A book I’ve read recently, and whose words really resonated with me, is “Le Metier” by Michael Barry. The book is a seasonal account of the last year Barry rode for Columbia-HTC,  beautifully illustrated with photographs. In my opinion, Barry most accurately conveys to his readers what it’s like to be a professional bike rider. Even as a hobby cyclist I found I could empathise with his accounts of training on his own.

Doping looms large as one of the most frequently covered topics in books on Cycle Sport’s List: specifically, Will Voet’s “Breaking the Chain”, Jeremy Whittle’s “Bad Blood”, from “Lance to Landis” by David Walsh and Paul Kimmage’s “A Rough Ride”.  For me, the most illuminating book on this subject is  “Prisonnier du Dopage”  by Philippe Gaumont a former pro-cyclist who rode for Cofidis 1997-2003.

There are a few surprising omissions. To my knowledge there’s only one book in English about the Vuelta “Viva la Vuelta – the story of Spain’s great bike race” by Lucy Fallon and Adrian Bell and for that reason alone it should be on the list. “The Giro d’Italia – Coppi versus Bartali at the 1949 Tour of Italy” is the only book on that race on Cycle Sport’s list. For some reason, neither the Vuelta nor the Giro have spawned the same number of books as the Tour, not even in their native languages.

There’s a few other books I would put on my list which are not on Cycle Sport’s. I rather enjoyed David (Talking Heads) Byrne’s “Bicycle Diaries”  which chronicles his thoughts and observations as he pedals through some of the major cities in the world. 1960’s Italy and Italian cycling culture in brought to life in Herbie Sykes “The Eagle of Canavese” about Franco Balmamion who won back to back Giro titles. I loved “Indurain: una pasion templada” by Javier Garcia Sanchez which showcases one of Spain’s sporting idols, the very modest and humble Miguel Indurain whom I have been fortunate to meet. For those of you whose better halves don’t share your passion for cycling, can I suggest a Xmas stocking filler: “Roadie: the Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer” by Jamie Smith.

I don’t have all the books on Cycle Sport’s list and that in itself raises some concerns as I’m now bound to try and obtain copies,  even though many are probably out of print,  because my collection just won’t be complete without them. Amazon and eBay, here I come………………………….

Back to back victories

Yesterday, I set off ahead of the rest of my clubmates fearing that I would arrive only to find the lunchtime picnic had already been demolished but mainly so as not to keep anyone waiting for me. It was decidedly chilly as I left St Jeannet, having driven there in the car. I was well wrapped up in  my long sleeved jersey, gilet and leg warmers. Although it was much balmier later in the day, I stayed thus clad.

Despite the cold, I was going surprisingly well and was joined by another early starter on the road to Bouyon. We rode on together until Roquesteron where, concerned that this might be the last bastion, I took a comfort break in one of the cafes. You do not want to be caught short, or rather I don’t, on the plateau: it’s very exposed.

I then plodded into the unknown as I’ve never ridden this particular stretch of road. It was largely uphill through Sigale, Collongues, Brianconnet, St Auban and Malamaire then fairly flat across the plateau. At this time of year, it’s pretty deserted and we saw few cars and few other cyclists. The countryside, thanks to the recent combination of sunshine and showers, was looking truly magnificent and I rode to the lake at Thorenc where two of the wives had prepared a magnificent picnic for us. The boys had overtaken me on the long uphill stretch and had already feasted by the time I arrived. I only stopped long enough to down a couple of cokes and a ham sandwich before remounting and setting off towards home.

I was determined that they were not going to overtake me on the way back. I set off at a brisk pace and really pushed on the descents. After the climb up St Pons to Coursegoules, its pretty much downhill all the way. I made it back to the car without being caught though to be honest our paths would have diverged after Carros. When I checked with them today, it appears that I wasn’t caught thanks to time lost on two punctures. In any event, I broke 10 hours by 14 minutes. Job well done.

I got back home in time to witness Pippo Pozzato, resplendent in the Italian champion’s jersey, take Italy’s first stage win of the Giro from a breakaway. Not one that had been away all day, but one that had slipped away in the final kilometers and was composed largely of the recently dethroned favourites, minus Evans, who managed to pull back a few seconds on those better placed on GC.

Well wouldn’t you know it, victories are just like buses. You wait ages for one and then another one comes along soon after. Yes, homeboy Manuel Belletti (Colnago CSF-Inox) won the sprint for the line from a breakaway into Cesenatico, a stage devoted to another local, one Marco Pantani.

Karpets, the scariest looking rider in the peloton, who was in the breakaway, took back over two minutes to leapfrog from 19th to 12th on GC. Otherwise, the status quo was maintained. However, it all kicks off tomorrow with a very lumpy stage which finishes in Asolo, home to one of my dearest friends. I do hope she’ll be watching it live.

Extra time

I’m typing this during the action packed second-half of extra time at Stade de France where the score is one apiece. The Irish started the match strongly and Robbie Keane, deservedly,  fired one in from a Damian Duff pass on 32nd minute.  The match was still tied at the end of full-time.

Govou’s goal in 102 minute was ruled off-side then Gallas scored a minute later, from a double Henry hand ball, much to the disbelief of the Irish present. At the end of extra time cue huge sighs of French relief all-round accompanied by much gallic hugging and kissing. Yes, the French, along with the Slovenians, Greeks, Algerians and Portuguese are off to South Africa.

Obviously, L’Equipe has been building its coverage since Sunday and I’m thinking they’ll easily fill 6 pages tomorrow plus a couple of full-page adverts from grateful sponsors.

I was somewhat mystified to learn that Yoann Gourcuff had been voted (only) the 3rd best looking footballer in France until I learned that it was by the readers of a gay magazine – that explains it. Don’t worry Yoann, you’re still top dog with the girls.

I’ve finished reading Jens Voigt’s book “Man Muss Kaempfen!” (one must fight) and it’s pretty much what one would expect but I was left wanting more. Most of the narrative surrounds his Tour de France rides for firstly Credit Agricole and then CSC, where he’s equally complimentary about Roger Legeay, Bjarne Riis and his teammates. I’d have liked a bit more nitty, gritty. But in Germany, post-Puerto, I guess something anodyne was just what the doctor ordered. Jens comes across as a hardworking, reliable team mate and devoted family man who believes that if you don’t give it a go, you don’t stand a chance of winning – very true.

For a complete contrast, I’ve turned to “Vie et Mort de Marco Pantani” (Life and Death of Marco Pantani) written by L’Equipe’s own Philippe Brunel.

Il Pirato in pink

This’ll be the third book I’ve read on the topic and it appears to give more of an insider’s view than the other two: The Death of Marco Pantani by Matt Rendell and, the compilation, Marco Pantani: The Legend of a Tragic Champion. Shame I never got to see him dance on those pedals.