BOOK REVIEW: Maglia Rosa by Herbie Sykes

REVIEW: Maglia Rosa: Triumph and Tragedy at the Giro d'Italia (2nd Edition)

by Herbie Sykes

Published in paperback by Rouleur Books (an imprint of Bloomsbury) on 25th April 2013

Buy this on Amazon

Review by Dave Nash

The Giro d'Italia begins in Naples next Saturday and with a timing that would impress the official timekeepers of the Italian Grand Tour, a second edition of the acclaimed Maglia Rosa: Triumph and Tragedy at the Giro D'Italia by Herbie Sykes is published.

Featuring a  stunning new cover photograph showing Fausto Bertoglio and Francisco Galdós battling it out on the unforgiving slopes of the Passo dello Stelvio in 1975, this paperback edition includes additional text, chapters and photographs.  

A roughly chronological rendition of the history of the Giro, Maglia Rosa begins with the story of Giovanni Gerbi - the first ever professional cyclist, but perhaps more famous for his underhand tactics and tenacious character. Nicknamed Il Diavolo Rosso (The Red Devil) Gerbi's story sets the tone of Sykes' book. This is, without doubt, a warts and all portrait of the Giro. The intrigue, the passion, the corruption, the fierce rivalries and the doping culture are all recounted in Sykes conversational and engaging prose. It's a wonderful read, arguably one of the best historical cycling books available, and the perfect companion to nestle in your lap as you watch Vincenzo Nibali and Bradley Wiggins contest the maglia rosa in May.

What lifts Maglia Rosa from being just a pedestrian history of the  race, however, is the stories and the riders that Sykes selected to write about. Yes, the Bindas, Bartalis and Merckxs of this world are discussed at length (not always favourably)  but it is the lesser known riders that add flesh to the bones. Sometimes the focus on the great names of the past detracts from the contribution of the many who surrounded them - Sykes seeks to redress this injustice.

Like his fascinating biography on Fausto Coppi, published last year, it is the recollections of these more anonymous figures from the history of cycling that that are far more engaging and illuminating. Their individual stories are not well known, but these are the men that have made the Giro the race it is. Sexy, swaggering, beautiful, passionate, yet not infallible to scandal, corruption and suffering. In the hands of Sykes, the Giro is transformed from a mere cycling race into a metaphor for Italy itself and the riders who compete in the race are the cast members whose Herculean efforts and human frailties mirror all that is good and bad about the country.

The sexiest of the Grand Tours: cyclists in the Giro d'Italia are momentarily distracted by an enthusiastic tifosa

The issues that have dogged the sport, both in Italy and throughout the world, are also discussed at length but always in the context of Italy and the Giro. Recent doping scandlals are addressed in detail and the main focus of Sykes' ire is the former Director of the Giro, Angelo Zomegnan, who the author charges with turning a blind-eye to the hugely negative impact that doping was having on the race, both at home and abroad.

What shines though in Maglia Rosa, is the authors love both of the Giro d'Italia and Italy. Sykes, who lives in Turin, immerses himself in the history of the race and his adopted country and in his additional chapter to this 2nd Edition, 'Duty Now to the Future', he places his faith in the new direttore corsa, Michele Acquarone, who had the unenviable job of hauling Italian cycling out of the cesspit of corruption, insularity and doping when he succeeded Zomegnan in 2011.

Sykes is hopeful for the future of Italian cycling and the Giro d'Italia. Ryder Hesjedal's victory (above)  in 2012 - a rider from one of the most transparently anti-doping teams in the pro peloton - is to Sykes an indication that things are moving in the right direction. He acknowledges that the journey will be a painful one and not an easy one, but concludes: 'It will change, however, and it will get better'.

After reading Maglia Rosa, you will share the hopes expressed by the author. Forza Italia!

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