Gironimo: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy – Tim Moore

19 Jan

51xJGpmh4ILTwelve 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.



Posted by on 19/01/2015 in Travel


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25 responses to “Gironimo: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy – Tim Moore

  1. Letizia

    19/01/2015 at 18:13

    Other than the gratuitous swearing, this sounds like a book I’d really enjoy! Love watching those cycling races – the endurance, the crowds of people standing oh so close…


    • Ste J

      19/01/2015 at 18:19

      I get all sweaty just watching them tackle those mountains, I wonder how I would cope actually attempting to tackle one, perhaps one of those people by the side of the road would give me a sneaky push. The fans love it, when the Tour De France came to Britain last year thousands flocked to watch the riders by, it put some of the other countries to shame. It’s been years since I read his earlier effort but I don’t recall there being much swearing in that one so you could always tackle that one.


      • Letizia

        19/01/2015 at 21:32

        The mountain part is always my favorite. I can barely cycle on a steep incline. I once saw the Tour de France final arrival in Paris; it was a sight I’ll never forget!


        • Ste J

          20/01/2015 at 19:11

          I bet that was awesome! I would love to see it live but then again all those amazing aerial shots on the TV are also wonderful. The mountains are the best bit, it must take some sheer determination to get up them and then tackle another.


  2. Seyi sandra

    19/01/2015 at 19:48

    The mere sight of cyclists doing their stuff makes my heart beat faster. Don’t get me wrong, I wish I could ride a bike but I can’t and I don’t think it’s one of my life goals now. Your review makes me want to start reading the book now. Great post my friend!


    • Ste J

      20/01/2015 at 19:17

      There is a lot of fun to be had from other people’s sufferings, it’s just such a crazy task to take on with dodgy breaks and carrying all your own stuff as well. whether Moore is tackling a bicycle race or following some obscure historical figure he always makes travelling more attractive.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. shadowoperator

    19/01/2015 at 20:48

    Have you by any chance seen the animation classic of about ten years ago called “Les Triplettes de Belleville”? It’s a sort of Tour de France satire (with subtitles) and is very engaging. What you say of the comic turns in this book reminds me of it somewhat. Try to see it if you get a chance: it’s one of the best animation pieces I’ve ever seen.


    • Ste J

      20/01/2015 at 19:39

      I haven’t seen it but it is on YouTube and going by the trailer it looks absolutely fascinating, I will get to watching it when I get a day off. I am getting into animations in a big way recently which I blame on my life long love for the 1953 Alice in Wonderland cartoon.


  4. Sheila

    19/01/2015 at 22:20

    This is hilarious – I love the details of living only on eggs and wine and using wine corks as brakes. It sounds like something I’d love to do someday too!


    • Ste J

      20/01/2015 at 19:31

      I think the wine would definitely attract me but I would have to have some kind of steak to go with it and I do like my eggs hot as well. Books like this do make it seem like any of us can do any crazy adventure, no matter how unprepared we may be. Long may these heroic people suffer in the name of art lol.


  5. Jilanne Hoffmann

    20/01/2015 at 07:48

    Interesting. But my TBR pile is overwhelming thanks to a few other blogging friends, so this one will not tempt me. I need to take a speed reading course.


    • Ste J

      20/01/2015 at 19:18

      Tell me about it, there are too many books out there!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Alastair Savage

    20/01/2015 at 08:16

    Cheating or no cheating, I admire professional cyclists like no other athletes. I can dream of being a footballer or a cricket player but I could never imagine taking on the Pyrenees on a bike at speed. The whole thing seems superhuman.
    I’m not sure though that cycling has “the facade of being a noble sport”. I saw a documentary a few years ago about our own Tommy Simpson who died on the Tour de France and I was struck by the camaraderie and respect shown to each other by the other members of the Peloton. It really did seem noble to me.
    Great review – not sure I can have too much respect for one of these travel writers who can’t be bothered to learn hardly anything of the local lingo, though.


    • Ste J

      20/01/2015 at 19:55

      It is an epic sport and they do seem unreal, the way they handle it and then get back in the saddle the next day. There is respect in the peloton I agree, especially when they slow down if one of the leaders gets a puncture and what have you but at the other end of the scale all the doping has sullied it a bit. It seems recently there has been more negative coverage but with more stringent drugs testing perhaps the press can focus on the positives more. The lack of common language does make for some amusing stories and had he not been through Italy before it would be more excusable but there is something endearing about a clueless foreigner bumbling about.


  7. Elizabeth Melton Parsons

    20/01/2015 at 14:01

    Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes I think being a successful write is a cray challenge that a sane person might shy away from. 😀 Loved the review, Ste J. When I was a much younger and more whacked human being, I’d have loved doing this kind of thing. I was a rock climber–minus any safety paraphernalia, including a rope. I could see me doing this then, now I’m more sane thank goodness.


    • Ste J

      20/01/2015 at 19:43

      At least being a writer means you can have crazy adventures at home and there is a lot less embarrassment to be had, lol. I didn’t know you were into such risky things, but I salute you for doing that, I don’t think I could tackle anything as tense and exciting as that, I struggle standing at the top of a step ladder!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Christy Birmingham

    20/01/2015 at 16:21

    When I watch cycling races, I often think, “Why do they do it?” Then I see the end, when they are tired but so proud of themselves. Aha, I think, now I get it 🙂 Sounds like a good book and your review is oh so witty 🙂


    • Ste J

      20/01/2015 at 19:28

      It must be an epic achievement to complete just one stage but doing nineteen stages with only a couple of rest days is an epic test of endurance. Here’s me sometimes just proud to make to the end of my work shift.


  9. writersideup

    22/01/2015 at 06:59

    This is not typical of a book I would read, but more than anything, I’m not one for swearing in literature : /


    • Ste J

      26/01/2015 at 11:03

      If it was in context of going up a big mountain or some such I wouldn’t mind as we would all feel the same in the circumstances but when it is in there for ‘comedy value’ it just doesn’t really work.


  10. LuAnn

    22/01/2015 at 14:19

    I love watching the Tour, although I must admit that our “beloved” Lance has tainted it somewhat for me. Thoroughly enjoyed this review Ste J, and although the gratuitous cursing may be a bit of a turn-off for me, I do believe this one will be added to the list. 🙂


    • Ste J

      26/01/2015 at 10:59

      The Tours are wonderful with all the panoramic views of little villages and mountains and lakes, absolutely beautiful. It is fun to imagine somebody tackling such epic climbs and distances whilst we sit stuffing our faces lol. He also wrote a book called French Revolutions about the Tour De France hich is good and if I remember less sweary.

      Liked by 1 person

      • LuAnn

        26/01/2015 at 15:37

        I cannot imagine persevering through such an endeavor. I will definitely be reading one of these books Ste J. Thanks!


        • Ste J

          26/01/2015 at 20:45

          excellent, sometimes I do like a humorous travel endeavour, I wouldn’t mind a crack at something crazy myself…if only I had an idea and a publisher interested…

          Liked by 1 person

          • LuAnn

            26/01/2015 at 22:14

            The idea I bet you have knocking around in there somewhere. The publisher, now that is a different animal. 😉



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