21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last!
John Foot is the son of famous British campaigning journalist, the late (alas) Paul Foot; however he is not himself a journalist but an academic, specialising in recent Italian history and culture.
He has previously brought his skills to bear upon the history of Italian football and football fandom (including the 'ultras') and of the Italians' continuing relationship...
Published on 25 May 2011 by magdalene42
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Italian cycling for the academic
The author was found in 2007 at Renzo Zanazzi's bar in Milan, and the church of the Madonna del Ghisallo, the shrine of cyclists, near Como, from where he rode off chronologically into the sunset around Italy to describe the lives and performances of past heroes at the Italian Giri, the French Tours, and in other classical races elsewhere. He does mention the formation of...
Published on 31 Aug 2011 by mangilli-climpson m
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last!,
This review is from: Pedalare! Pedalare! A History of Italian Cycling (Paperback)John Foot is the son of famous British campaigning journalist, the late (alas) Paul Foot; however he is not himself a journalist but an academic, specialising in recent Italian history and culture.
He has previously brought his skills to bear upon the history of Italian football and football fandom (including the 'ultras') and of the Italians' continuing relationship with the so called 'beautiful game', in the well received 'Calcio'. In 'Pedalare! Pedalare' (Ride! Ride! - as screamed by many an Italian (and other) DS to their team members), John Foot applies his expertise to the historic and current relationship of the Italian public to the sport of cycling - with, understandably, an emphasis on the great Italian stage race, the Giro d'Italia.
As a moderately knowledgeable fan of professional cycling I found this book a fascinating read, since until very recently, astonishingly, there had been exactly ZERO books published in English on the history either of the Giro, or of Italian cycling in general. (There are books on individual riders, Franco Balmamion and Fausto Coppi to mention but two; but of general books there were none until the start of 2011.) Here an expert tells the tale of how Italy first fell in love with the bicycle, then as both the times, and more importantly perhaps the economy, changed, almost fell out of love with it again ... only to find a new enthusiasm for bike racing during the 1980s and 1990s as Italians had Giro success once again. But by then cycling was a different sport, competing for television time with short-attention-span-friendly rivals like football, and with its participants sometimes driven to desperate measures to retain their prestige, and with it their sponsors' lire and later euros. The name of Marco Pantani remains for ever on the list of this era's greatest casualties, and sporting tragedies.
John Foot recounts all this with an academic's precision and ability to sort truth from fairy-tale. Right from the start, he makes it clear that for the most part, he is telling the story of an era long passed: the time when the bicycle could take those with sufficient talent and application quite literally from rags to riches; when the great bike racers were the greatest of heroes to the Italian public. While there have been excellent riders, both Italian and otherwise, since the great days of Coppi and Bartali, things could never be the same; here, there really was a 'golden age' which shall not come again.
The excellence of this book consists in the ability of the writer to convey all this, complete with an academic's analysis of the historical and cultural trajectories behind the changes in the world of professional cycling in Italy. He even manages to make a plausible case for cycling being the one firm foundation upon which Italian unity was first based, as riders arose from various provinces and social strata to capture the attention of a whole nation.
All that being said, this is not a heavy nor an overly 'academic' volume; there are notes and references, but they do not intrude into the text. It is as exciting to read as any novel, and has the authenticity of the eye witness also, as John Foot has had first hand contact with some of the story's most notable characters.
Recommended to anyone interested in professional cycle sport - and in particular to the English-speaking fan, who for far too long has had to be satisfied with oblique references to the Giro and its stars gleaned from works on other races and issues.
Thank you John Foot.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceeds expectations.,
This review is from: Pedalare! Pedalare! A History of Italian Cycling (Paperback)The sub title "A history of Italian Cycling" is a bit of a misnomer as the author has skilfully woven in the cultural and historical details that supported the dynamism of Italian cycling for well over a century.
I found it hard to put down, the characters I knew of as being cycling names long before I turned a pedal came to life again. I was left feeling that I had become very much closer to the passions of the tiffosi that line the routes of the Giro'd'Italia and other classic cycle races than I thought possible.
This is a book very different to most other books covering cycling, to partially quote an advertising phrase, it reaches the parts others do not. Reading it was a very fullfilling experience.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent page-turner...,
This review is from: Pedalare! Pedalare! A History of Italian Cycling (Paperback)This is an excellent book in which John Foot tells the compelling story of Italian cycling, intertwined with discussion of Italian culture and politics.
The book is at its best when telling interesting and engaging anecdotes about the legendary cyclists and trainers. The author makes the cycling careers of Ganna, Coppi, Girardengo and Bartali much more personal when recounting their training plans, physical injuries and relationships with women, friends and rivals. We also hear of lesser known riders and the lengths they went to in order to endure a stage of the Tour de France or Giro D'Italia, whether it be hitching lifts on trains, sneaking in barns to warm up or enjoying free meals from keen locals. Alongside these well-researched and intimate anecdotes is discussion of important events such as the significance of ending a Giro D'Italia stage in post-war Trieste, and Bartali winning in the Tour de France at a time of strikes and unrest back home in Italy. The combination of light-natured and more serious is well-balanced by the writer.
Another positive is the readability of the book, helped by its structure and organisation. The book starts with the origins of cycling in a poor, young Italy and ends with cycling in a modernised, urban Italy. The great cyclists get a chapter each, something which makes the often intertwined lives of the great men easy to follow and understand.
Perhaps the only negative is that sometimes the book makes over-generalised statements about the importance of cycling in Italy, without any real qualification. Given the excellent research the author has evidently undertaken, it would have been helpful to support these statements with a reference.
Overall this is an excellent book, sure to be an engaging read for cycling enthusiasts, lovers of sport or those looking for an alternative take on Italian history, culture and politics.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars COMPULSORY READING,
This review is from: Pedalare! Pedalare! A History of Italian Cycling (Paperback)This is should be compulsory reading for all cycle racing fans. The book highlights the golden era of Coppi and Bartali from the late Thirties to the middle Fifties as well as covering Italian cycle racing, particularly the Giro, before and after. What makes this book different is that the author relates the racing to the politics of the time - the war and the immediate aftermath when divided loyalties had lasting effect. The role of the Catholic church and the political parties in this mix is explored.
The author blames the growing use of motor cars and scooters, television and doping scandals, which combined to remove the close links to the sport from a population that used the bicycle as the main form of transport, for the demise of cycle racing as Italy's number one sport. Sadly, the author sees no return to those days. I am old enough to have lived through the Coppi and Bartali era when their racing epics were well recorded in the continental cycling magazines we were then able to buy even in small Lincolnshire towns. My big regret is that I had a ticket for the Coppi track appearance at Herne Hill but chose instead to support a clubmate in a local 25.
The author occasionally slips up on the technicalities of cycle racing but this is a only a minor quibble for a well researched and written book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a history of the Giro,
This review is from: Pedalare! Pedalare! A History of Italian Cycling (Paperback)Very enjoyable, especially if read whilst the Giro in on
A great history of cycling and it's relationship with the history of 20h century Italy
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pedalare! Pedalare!,
This review is from: Pedalare! Pedalare! A History of Italian Cycling (Paperback)Pedalare! Pedalare! is possibly the finest, most profound and certainly the best written book on cycling I have ever read. And I mean on cycling, not just Italian cycling, which would be faint praise indeed.
The history of Italian cycling is not just about Coppi and Bartali and nor is it a list of Giri winners. So, for example, Pedalare! has the space and breadth to devote a 20 page chapter on the myths surrounding Bartali's Tour victory in 1948. Magni has a 24 page chapter and so on.
Nor does the author gloss the drugs issue. Quite the reverse and he debates when cycling "died". Was it in 1984 when Moser blood-doped his way to the 1 hour record or as late as 1999 with Pantani?
Most sports books are written by sports journalists and it shows. Pedalare! has been written by a historian and that shows as well. Context is everything: How the Giro came about. How the great cyclists became cyclists to escape grinding poverty. And why Vespas and Fiat 500s destroyed everyday cycling in Italy.
Few books on cycling are worth reading, fewer still are worth buying but Pedalare! Pedalare! is to buy, read, lend to others, retrieve and then read again.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pedalare, Pedalare: A History of Italian Cycling by John Foot,
This review is from: Pedalare! Pedalare! (Kindle Edition)On any weekend from early Spring to late autumn, the busy strade statali leading out of any north Italian town are busy with groups of amateur cyclists - men mainly - heading up for a rigorous but sociable day's exercise in the foothills of the Alps. To read John Foot's latest book, `Pedalare, Pedalare: a history of Italian cycling' the Sunday cyclists are the last of a dying breed.
John Foot's last book was called `Calcio - a history of Italian football'. It came out in 2006 - just as the biggest corruption scandal in the history of the Italian game broke over Serie A - and months before the Azzuri bloody-mindedly, and against all odds, won the World Cup in Germany. Updated, it told a Boy's Own story of a bunch of unlikely heroes snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
His new book has a similar sub-title and tells the story of another sport dear to his heart. But there's a sadness about `Pedalare' that was absent from the earlier book. It reads like an elegy to an age of lost innocence, and a sport destroyed by changes in society - as well as its own addiction to performance-enhancing drugs. The only glimpse of a brighter future comes not from the shaven-legged stars of the Tour de France or the Giro d'Italia, but from a grass- roots bid by workaday cyclists to retake Italy's polluted city centres from the omnipotent motor car.
`Calcio' was thematic in its analysis of Italian football. `Pedalare' has much more of a narrative feel. It reads like the story of a sport in which the sport itself is one of the main characters. While the story of Italian football feels like a work in progress - reflecting the sense that for all its problems, it probably does still have a future-- there's an almost overwhelming completeness about cycling's fall from grace.
That's not to say that the story is dull or simply depressing. Far from it. Italian cycling isn't short on anecdotes and colourful characters. They include Enrico Toti, the one-legged cyclist who fought and died for his country during the First World War - in the process becoming an Italian nationalist icon; and the hilarious story of Luigi Malabrocca who made his name - and a small fortune -- by consistently winning the prize awarded for coming last in the Giro d'Italia in the 1940s.
But there are giants too. Partly, perhaps, because of what's happened since, the heroes - and the heroics - of the golden age are the stuff of legend. Football has long superseded cycling as Italians' sport of choice. But you don't see footballers biting hard on a piece of inner tube to overcome the pain of a broken collar bone - as Fiorenzo Magni did during the 1956 Giro. Few wear a grimace of pain etched indelibly into their face -- as did the early cycling hero, Ottavia Bottecchia. And few footballers die in the course of their day's work or its aftermath.
There are too many deaths to tell in this story: the young Italian rider, Fabio Casartelli, killed in an accident during the 1995 Tour de France (this year's death during the Giro of Belgium's Wouter Weylandt happened after the book went to press); Marco Pantani, dead from a massive cocaine overdose in 2004, less than six years after he'd won both the Giro and the Tour; and the unexpected, almost absurd death - from malaria -- of the man who stands unrivalled as the individual hero of John Foot's cycling world, the greatest Italian cyclist of them all, Fausto Coppi.
At the heart of `Pedalare' is the contest that Foot describes as the "the greatest individual sporting rivalry the world has ever seen" and "the rivalry to end all rivalries" - between Coppi and Gino Bartali. It is a jaw-droppingly bold claim.
Such was the competition between the two men for a brief period after the Second World War that their names became entwined in cycling folklore: for a while, says Foot, they were no longer two individuals; instead, they merged into a new word, a shared identity, "CoppieBartali", literally "Coppi-and-Bartali".
The rivalry is sanctified to this day in a photo from the 1952 Tour de France. It shows the two locked in combat on the classic climb up the Galibier, Coppi in front, Bartali just behind. One man is passing a bottle to the other. To this day, the discussion continues: who was passing the bottle to whom?
For all that, they had very different personalities. Bartali, a Tuscan, was a devout Catholic. He had a boxer's nose - the result of a riding accident - and he loved a cigarette, a drink, and a chat. During the war he used his bike to courier counterfeit identity papers across central Italy - helping to save the lives of hundreds of Jews.
But it's clearly Fausto Coppi that's won John Foot's heart. If Bartali was pious (he was even known as "Bartali the pious"), Coppi's decision to leave his wife for a married woman - the White Woman - scandalised the country. While Bartali was adopted as the poster boy of the centre-right and Catholic Christian Democrats, Coppi was identified with the Left. One of Italy's greatest-ever sports writers, Giorgio Bocca - a fan - described him as reflective, shy and modest... but at times cold and vengeful". He was also physically vulnerable - suffering a succession of accidents and injuries. He was, says Foot, made to cycle - as graceful on the saddle as he was ungainly off it. His early death confirmed the legend his life had already created.
The real challenge for John Foot was to sustain his story after his twin heroes have left the stage following Coppi's death in 1960 and Bartali's retirement.
He does so by holding a cyclist's mirror up to Italian society. In the early 20th century, he argues, cycling helped create modern Italy. The Giro even helped reinforce Italian unity - controversially when the 1946 race visited Trieste in the wake of the Second World War.
Cycling also reflected changes in society. Early on, bikes were affordable; they provided cheap transport for the newly-urbanised working class, especially in the north and centre of Italy. Spectators could identify with their heroes: both used bicycles - to earn a living, to travel to work, or both.
The arrival of the internal combustion engine changed all that. Italians fell in love with the car. And that love affair changed everything. Cities became dominated by the car; roads were designed with drivers in mind, not cyclists - quite the reverse: today's leisure cyclists take their lives in their hands every time they set off for that Sunday ride up into the hills.
TV, too, changed Italians' view of cycling. Technically, it revolutionised the way fans could follow the progress of the Giro, the Tour or Spain's Vuelta - with cameras feeding live footage from helicopters and motorbikes, combined with instant analysis from roadside pundits. But it also broke the immediacy of the bond between cyclist and spectator.
It is, though, the curse of doping that turns John Foot's story from heroic adventure to tragedy. There's nothing new to doping. Fausto Coppi was - writes Foot - open about his use of drugs, with detractors (there were a few) claiming that he was "bombato" - high on amphetamine-based concoctions - for much of his career. Coppi's coach Biagio Cavanna -- "the guru" of Italian cycling in its heyday - was as well-known for his preparation of miraculous potions as he was for his merciless training regime. And cycling is undeniably brutal in what it demands of the human body. As the five-time winner of the Tour de France, Jacques Anquetil, famously put it: "You cannot compete in the Tour on mineral water alone."
The Giro had been hit by scandal before - most notably when "The Cannibal" - Eddie Merckx -failed a drugs test in 1969 - a moment which Foot describes as marking the end of cycling's age of innocence. But there seems to have been a step change in the 1980s, with the introduction of new bike technology and medical know-how to break records and push men past their natural limits. It allowed an Italian cyclist, Francesco Moser, to smash the world one-hour record. What the millions watching on TV didn't know was that Moser had changed his blood in order to achieve his goal.
The die was cast. By the end of the next decade, cycling was well on the road to ruin, Marco Pantani the most high profile victim of the sport's demand for ever higher sporting standards, while it lost its grip on any ethical yardstick. Pantani - the most exhilarating mountain climber of his generation -- failed a drugs test as he looked sure to win the 1999 Giro. He always protested his innocence - but was destroyed as a cyclist and as a man. There was a dramatic inevitability about his lonely death in Rimini just five years later.
But Pantani wasn't alone. He was, rather, a symbol of what had gone wrong. John Foot lists the top cyclists who've been exposed as drugs cheats. It makes sobering reading.
At the end of `Pedalare, Pedalare', John Foot returns to the site of some of Italian cycling's greatest moments - the old Vigorelli velodrome in Milan. Crumbling, unloved and unused (except for a brief spell as a temporary place of prayer for the city's burgeoning Muslim population), it becomes a symbol for a lost age of (relative) innocence, where what you saw was what you got - and it didn't take a holy fool to believe in dreams and heroes.
5.0 out of 5 stars Most interesting,
This review is from: Pedalare! Pedalare! (Kindle Edition)An excellent book providing good insight into the history of the Giro and Italy generally. Good use of anecdotal information about the cyclists which added interest and brought the book to life.
5.0 out of 5 stars Cycling, Italy, History - Bellisimo!,
This review is from: Pedalare! Pedalare! A History of Italian Cycling (Paperback)Blimey, some of the reviews on here are almost as long as the book!
I'll keep mine short. I too was bought this book as a birthday present, and I loved it.
OK there is some repetition, but I found it a fascinating read. A great insight into the history of the country with the growth (and possible demise - the jury's out) of cycling in Italy.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Italian cycling for the academic,
This review is from: Pedalare! Pedalare! A History of Italian Cycling (Paperback)The author was found in 2007 at Renzo Zanazzi's bar in Milan, and the church of the Madonna del Ghisallo, the shrine of cyclists, near Como, from where he rode off chronologically into the sunset around Italy to describe the lives and performances of past heroes at the Italian Giri, the French Tours, and in other classical races elsewhere. He does mention the formation of cyclist battalions in the Great War, and the work of the national maimed hero, Enrico Toti, the use of riders by Italian Socialists in the early days of the Twentieth century as a means to prevent the arrival of black leg labour in labour disputes, as well as the absurd comment heard these days said by the Italian social anthropologist Cesare Lombroso that the bicycle was a cause and an instrument of the criminal mind giving a wider horizon to a history of the bicycle; the book, however, is to all effects is a history of Italian cycling.
Despite its chronological history it should be viewed as a history about the golden years of Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi from 1938-60, how the sport was first before and then secondly developed in the post Coppi epoch up to the present. Cycling in Italy was synonymous with the summer sport, the Giro, and, from its first edition in 1909, its organizers, the Gazzetta dello Sport, the Milanese pink sporting daily, which awarded the pink jersey to the champion rider. The correspondents' function was to excite the interest of its readers with as much useful or useless details about the competitors rivalry, the course -which only they followed (or claimed to) in the rural countryside, and even with the advent of radio, were able to mould historical myths of the age, the simple down to earth peasant stock protagonists, and if the reports came from abroad as in the Tour de France it became an attempt to establish, in victory, national pride, glory and consensus for the Fascist regime in the 1920s twice won by Bottecchia, once in 1938 by Bartali, year also of the Italian victory in Paris in the soccer World Cup, and again after World War Two for the new Italian democratic Republic, again by Bartali and twice by Coppi during the 1940s and 50s, Gimondi in the 1960s, and, lastly, Pantani in 1998. This was not just as Foot states in order to rectify the bad feeling exhibited from the Italian stab in the back when Mussolini attacked France in June 1940 just when the French were surrendering to Nazi Germany, but because, as the author does not note, there was always a marked centuries long hostility between the two Latin nations, and because while in the last 200 years the poor Italians still recall they had to emigrate in search of work the French always looked down on these useful economic migrants in disdain.
The oddest myth was Bartali's victory at the Tour in July 1948: deemed by the Catholic press a "miracle", a "calming influence" on the revolutionary tensions appearing in the industrial Italian cities after the Communist leader, Togliatti, had been shot, the failure of the revolt later leading to a myth in the 1970s, not mentioned, that the children of the revolutionaries, the Red Brigades, were finally formed to the obtain the social-political promises denied to them by the leaders of the left during the Resistance. It gave the impression that aside from the extremists, and the Fascists who took the country to War, Italians were still "brava gente" (good honest people) at heart, and were able to hold down the criminal elements peacefully on or off their bikes.
Amazingly, there was one occasion in 1924, when one woman, signora Alfonsina Strada, originally from Milan but lived in Emilia, was permitted to take part in the Giro. She was so good that even Mussolini wanted to meet her. Unfortunately, as two-thirds of the remaining male competitors failed to complete the course, and she did, this new experiment could not be repeated. More than male pride was hurt and to admit to her brave conquering, successful efforts, to see her racing with her hair cut short, wearing shorts showing off her legs on a "man's" bike, appeared somewhat too disturbing, embarrassing, and clearly not very good for a strong male dominating Italy, and certainly in their minds not acceptable with respect to the traditional image of the passive, subservient female. This feeling was still felt as late as the early 1960s in the more advanced North when girls set up their women soccer teams. I recall it was not unknown that certain regular and skilful players of the teams unexpectedly failing to turn up for games, and later one was to hear the reason because their fiancés had demanded respect, and placed firm ultimatums: either football (and their freedom) or split (no family and no bambini).
With the retirement of Bartali, and the death of Coppi - which in turn was brought on by another myth, the entry of his scandalous married fancy woman, Giulia Occhini, "the White Lady", demonstrating in public the hypocrisy of adultery prevalent in modern Italian married life (and causing the myth that the divorce reform in the 1970s was derived from the single case of the sporting celebrity), new rivalries between future cyclists had to be built up. Except for the years 1968-76 the Belgian Eddie Merckx, known as the "Cannibal" (as he ate up all the opposition) who raced for Italian teams, and Felice Gimondi, and for a few years at the end of the 1970s until the early 80s between two Italians, Francesco Moser and Giuseppe Saronni, there was limited rivalry, and no one who could claim to wear the laurel of the new Coppi. Foot emphasized that the end of that age underlined a change of Italian society, into a more unified national organ with the expansion of TV; ensuring every viewer saw the same images, and killing off stories and possible myths by journalists; secondly, the move to Lambrettas and private car ownership on properly designed new public asphalt roads and motorways, leading in turn to an interest in motor racing and Formula One away from the older, slower cycle sport. The other change was the teams were being sponsored by firms producing the new consumerist society. They used enthusiasts at the sporting events to help promote and sell their wide range of products, and not to help the sport.
From 1968 there had emerged a further unpleasant phenomena: the use of doping, as 10 competitors at the Giro were tested positive. Foot claims his present history should have concluded in the mid 1980s as the use and abuse became so normal that winning races merely showed which doctors available were the best to turn to. It left all with the suspicion that not only those who were discovered were unclean, many others must have been purposely overlooked or had done something more devious. Such suspicion went back to the death at the Tour, in 1967, of the Scotsman, Tom Simpson, but no one is now prepared to go back and tarnish the myth of the clean drug-free past. Worse there is a lack of confidence in the institutions applying the regulations and judgements as no past titles have been stripped as has since occurred in athletics, of champions (Giro winners Basso in 2006, Di Luca in 2007 and runner-up Riccò in 2008 all were tested positive) being instantly rehabilitated with no severe ostracism employed. And why? Because it would kill the Giro, the fund raising organizer, and all the livelihood of the correspondents. The Gazzetta has to produce new histories to keep up interests, and with mixed reports and every family having its own memory that outlet comes from the past: for instance, how Ottavio Bottecchia, died in Friuli in 1927: whether it was the Fascists, a group of anarchists, angry French fans, a jealous husband, or the Mafia who had him killed (during the Great War Bottecchia was a top Italian sniper), or if simply he felt ill, fell off his bike and cracked his skull. Doping and ways to get around the issue, did manage to get the comics to find something ridiculous to say which anyone can understand as funny and was not deemed to be offensive - see page 258.
This book is written in a very academic form. It is directed for readers interested in Italy, and in particular in sociology of sport as often John Foot had to work into his analysis something of well-known authors and critics, such as Dino Buzzati, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Gabriele D' Annunzio, and Vasco Pratolini, typical of academia. He compared the change in Italy from provincial rural traditional peasant society to a more urbanised one with two Italian classic films: Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thieves (1948)The Bicycle Thieves [DVD]  and Dino Risi's Il Sorpasso Il Sorpasso(The Overtaking) with Vittorio Gassman (1962). The question is why provide an example in English to a readership who may not be so informed of Italian cinema, and not a similar example in British society they may be more familiar with. For readers interested in Italy this book is splendid and a needed addition; but for those general readers interested just in sport the absence of a list of winners even of the Giro is something annoying. It is not intended as being a technical tome, but when he says that in the 1920s the bikes had only one gear, and the cyclists had to rely on their own legs, what would be more technical and incomprehensible if the scholar then went on to say that in the late 1950s more gears were added to the bikes and most champs permanently made full use of a favourite gear, moving up when hitting the hair bends up the steep mountains? For these readers, I fear Foot's Pedalare! Pedalare! this is not the book for you. You must free wheel towards other destinations.
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Pedalare! Pedalare! A History of Italian Cycling by John Foot (Paperback - 3 May 2011)
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