22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
, 25 May 2011
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.
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