Just finished this great little book which retells the amazing 1914 Giro d'Italia, 'the hardest of all.' This version, the last before a break for the war, set the following records: Longest stage ever (Lucca-Roma, won by Costante Girardengo); lowest average speed (23.374 km/h); biggest gap to second place (1 hour, 55 minutes, 26 seconds); longest time to finish a stage (19 hours, 20 minutes from Bari to l'Aquila) and the fewest number of finishers (eight)!
The book has tales of intrigue (the flatting of eventual winner Alfonzo Calzolari's tires while his bike was on his back while walking up a climb), pure suffering (overall leader Giuseppe Azzini going into crisis mode on the Macerone climb only to be found the next day in a granary sick and near death), more intrigue (an anonymous letter supposedly from Bianchi to Stucchi's Alfonzo Calzolari saying that he would 'never win this Giro'), and even the occult (Calzolari's pre-race meeting with the local fortune teller who conveyed that he would win the race, but only after risking even his life, which I can't remember how, but seems to have been partly true).
After maneuvering to win the race on protest that three leaders had latched onto a car on the toughest of climbs, the Bianchi team literally fell apart as one after another crashed out or retired. After the race, the light blue and white constructor, the strongest team by far but having failed to register one finisher, fired the entire team!
My first complete book in Italian (even though thin), this was a rare gem that has sent me into yet another area of l'eroica... pre-war racing, unheard of distances and struggles, flip-flop wheels (not the faux fixies of today), horrible dirt roads, little to no support, etc. There were two categories in this race, the isolati and aspiranti, who were vagabonds of the race - no money, support, teammates, or even food. Just poor souls racing for the chance of a contract or even a meal!