I really, really wanted to hate this book. My good friend Bill McGann had been working on his Story of the Giro d’Italia and was about to complete volume one when I learned of this new rival. I thought, “Here we go, another British writer with a love/hate relationship with everything Italian.”
How wrong I was! I liked the first edition so much we gave copies to our bike tour clients even though the original plan was to feature McGann’s book. We couldn’t ignore MAGLIA ROSA so we gave away copies of both.
The first edition was like a dark-haired Italian beauty. I had a serious crush. Reading the second edition for this review was like going back to see her again and discovering she was even more beautiful, perhaps more voluptuous and certainly more worldly.
Perhaps my favorite chapter was “The New Fausto Coppi.” I won’t spoil it for you here, but though it was the second time I’d read it, I found myself tantalized by the unveiling of the man’s life story and wondering again who this cyclist was. Sykes has a great gift: the ability to draw out of these lesser lights of Italian cycling stories that will illuminate the lives they led and the challenges they faced.
I don’t agree with Herbie on everything in this book, especially his harsh treatment of poor Marco Pantani compared to other Italian cyclists, just as doped, but not nearly as good. I truly believe The Pirate’s climbing prowess did not come completely out of a syringe, but I do accept that doping helped him immensely in time trials, without which his Grand Tour victories might have been impossible. His memory deserves better. I also found an error - a photo caption on page 239 where Bernard Hinault is identified as Roberto Visentini
But overall, especially with this second edition, MAGLIA ROSA now ascends to the top of my list of English-language books about the Giro d’Italia. Herbie sums Il Giro up well: “Through its frequent peaks and troughs it prevails. It will continue to do so because it remains by a distance the most beautiful, and the most captivating, of cycling’s great stage races. Quintessentially and resolutely Italian, it is the perfect distillation of the Bel Paese – enthralling, esoteric and frequently unfathomable. That’s entirely as it should be, for despite the meddling of those who claim to know better, the Giro is still Italy’s race, the country in microcosm. Try, at least once in your life, to experience it for yourself.”
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.