By all accounts riding the 1914 Giro d’Italia was a very terrible business. It seems to be unanimously agreed that this particular event was the “Hardest Ever Grand Tour”™. It was certainly a sobering lesson in sporting brutally, the likes of which will never be seen again. The rate of attrition is pretty much unsurpassed with only 8 of the 81 starters completing the 3,162 km route that was divided into just eight fantastically long stages. Five of those were over 420km and, at 430km, Stage 3 was the longest ever Grand Tour stage. Add in appalling weather, awful road surfaces and the mountainous Alps and you have a stone-cold recipe for suffering.
Thankfully, reading about Tim Moore’s wonderfully ridiculous undertaking (Gironimo! Riding The Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy. Vintage. RRP £14.99) to follow the 1914 Giro route on a period bicycle in period attire is decidedly less terrible. I can’t guarantee that the exercise will be entirely pain-free (my sides are still split from some of Mr Moore’s most successful comic recollections) but having someone else suffer in order to provide you – the reader – with some highly amusing anecdotes (and a fair bit of history) is a good deal easier than getting up at midnight to ride 400km in a howling storm.
This is, of course, familiar territory for Tim – who not only takes us to his bosom in the book but quite often inside his woollen shorts as well – and follows on, with a respectable decade long gap, from his riding of the Tour de France route in the early Noughties. If Tim knows one thing – and his self-depecration would probably only allow him one – it is how to make suffering on a bike into a thing of great beauty, or hilarity, or, more usually, both..
This quest for the most terrible of Giri follows ‘Our Tim’ (as we soon come to feel for him) as he first bumbles through the sourcing of a (un)suitable steed. He eventually rolls out on an ancient Hirondelle that I was fortunate to be able to test ride around a campsite in June last year. I was fortunate in the sense that the campsite was flat and I didn’t need to call upon the non-existent services of the brakes, which are made from wine bottle corks. Tim was less fortunate in the fact that he had to ride up to Sestriere and then down the other side in the first couple of days of his epic undertaking. Miraculously Tim not only completes the vast route but also somehow manage to survive the many life-threatening incidents which unfold in front of his (unable to stop) wooden wheels.
The less-than-considerate Italian driving that Tim regularly encounters elicits the choicest words from Moore’s often broad vocabulary but tunnels, midges, basin laundry, ‘flyblown’ dogs and the occasional lack of available prosecco corks are also the bane of Tim’s life, and therefore the boon of ours.. It’s not a total whinge-fest though – there are moments of unadulterated joy and unfettered freedom that make the whole trip worthwhile – even for Tim who is doing all the suffering..
I often dream about undertaking a mad cycling adventure – taking off on some hair-brained journey that will challenge the mind as much as body. Something exotic that will put willpower and bowel control under equal duress. But then I remember that Tim exists and that he will do much better job of the suffering, and that he will also write a really funny book about it afterwards, and I feel much better.