Twelve years after Tim Moore toiled round the route of the Tour de France, he senses his achievement being undermined by the truth about ‘Horrid Lance’. His rash response is to take on a fearsome challenge from an age of untarnished heroes: the notorious 1914 Giro d’Italia.
History’s most appalling bike race was an ordeal of 400-kilometre stages, cataclysmic night storms and relentless sabotage – all on a diet of raw eggs and red wine. Of the 81 who rolled out of Milan, only eight made it back.
Committed to total authenticity, Tim acquires the ruined husk of a gearless, wooden-wheeled 1914 road bike, some maps and an alarming period outfit topped off with a pair of blue-lensed welding goggles.
What unfolds is the tale of decrepit crock trying to ride another up a thousand lonely hills, then down them with only wine corks for brakes. From the Alps to the Adriatic, the pair steadily fall to bits, on an adventure that is by turns bold, beautiful and recklessly incompetent.
Any book that features a Brit abroad, in a country that has the audacity to have its own language is always going to be an amusing read and with Moore only learning certain stock phrases there are plenty of chance to cringe on his behalf.
Anybody who has watched one of cycling’s Grand Tours cannot fail to be impressed by the endurance of such athletes. Yet with so much negative coverage of a sport blighted by drugs, the author’s choice to chronicle a time when there was not only real suffering but also plenty of sabotage and other nefarious antics is an interesting one.
You don’t need to know anything about the Giro or cycling in general, there are a light smattering of terms and famous riders and also some technical bike talk but that doesn’t go on much after the first few chapters. The workings of a bike are key to understanding the sheer scale of the endeavour but there is nothing to make the book feel impenetrable, . It’s an honouring of competitors lost past, a true odyssey in sporting achievement, that deserve more than to be relegated to the history books. The author infuses an atmosphere of nostalgia for a bygone age in a country on the eve of World War One as well as giving a sense of freedom as he and we, the reader follow in those wheels of last century.
The sadistic in us humans always comes to the fore when enjoying another’s suffering in pursuit of a strange, self-imposed goal and the inept and shambling nature of the adventure makes it an even more endearing one. These sorts of crazy challenges do have their appeal, though most of us are saner and prefer to let others have the privilege of completing it. The more woefully – yet delightfully – unprepared for the hardships suffered, the better, it is probably not surprising that I would love to do something along these lines.
I did relish the telling of his tale, a chronicle of the blatantly devious goings on and terrible weather, which whilst not exactly a high-octane race is nonetheless monumental and the very idea of tackling this noble absurdity for nothing other than to ‘stick it to Lance’ means you can’t help rooting for Tim and his trusty steed to make the circuit of this mountainous country.
In amongst this celebration of such mad sporting endeavours and seeing how the dirty tricks of cyclists have been committed and evolved, despite the facade of being a noble sport. There is a great whistle-stop tour of Italian towns and mostly bad hotels, as well as some interesting musings which can only come to one’s mind when cycling for hours on end every day dodging, pot holes, buses and angry dogs whilst floundering in a sea of mimes to get your point across.
There is a lot to enjoy in the book but there are a few things that do take the shine off, the biggest one is the overuse of swearing, it’s not all in context of struggle or annoyance, a lot of it seems to be just there for the sake of it, in fact Moore’s writing seems to have a lot more profanity now than I remember in his earlier books. French Revolutions, Moore’s original bicycle odyssey is a great book as well and I feel was a tighter read and probably relied a lot less on the creative license that sometimes seems to give the impression that things that happen are a little to convenient. That said, it’s a fun tale that raised a few smiles and reminds me that absurd ideas make for good reading, which should come in handy one day.
As a self-styled visiting sportsman, I felt entitled to nurture an ugly superiority over tourists and the inanity of their hateful ways – just as everyone else does, in fact even while they are waving a camera at some overseas attraction with ice cream all over their sunburnt faces.