Corsa Rosa: A History of the Giro D'Italia
by Brendan Gallagher
published by: Bloomsbury, rrp £14.99, in the UK
reviewed by Dave Land
The Giro D’Italia might have been the World’s Biggest Annual Sporting Event. But it isn’t. I don’t know if there is an official list for these things, but I wonder where the Giro would appear? Given that it is considered, by those in the know, to be better in all respects than Le Tour de France, it is only an accident of timing, perhaps, that means it constantly plays second-fiddle.
One of those in the know is Brendan Gallagher. A high-profile sports journalist (I follow him on Twitter – makes him quite high profile in my book), Gallagher is clearly enamoured with the Italian race, and it shows on every page. The interesting perspective of a journalist, rather than, say, a sports history writer, is the ability to make older rivalries feel real, and, more genuinely, to tackle the doping issues of cycling head on.
I enjoyed Gallagher’s ability to declare his love of Italy and the Giro, whilst not sugar-coating the cheating, the animosity and the doping of past, and recent years. He exonerates Nibali’s win of 2016, with some reasonable logic, whilst not committing himself to a full defence of the erstwhile Astana rider.
Publisher: Bloomsbury (20 April 2017)
It can put some people off, the litany of cheating in cycling race history, but it needs to be said, and Gallagher, more than most, brings a deft touch to explaining what happened, and it’s actual effects. “It was a sorry tale” he says, after clearly describing the multiple doping offences related to the 2009 edition of the race. 2010 wasn’t much better, with Ivan Basso returning to win after a two-year ban. However, from 2010, it does seem that the tide starts to turn, despite Contador’s best efforts. And for Gallagher, the stench has since then calmed down to more of a whiff.
Corsa Rosa is a fast-paced rush through the entire back catalogue of the race. (For more on the 1914 edition, see Tim Moore's 'Gironimo') Gallagher is a sharp-eyed guide, whilst referencing every single edition, he is adept at picking out those races that are particular eventful, or have meaning outside of a single issue – the feud between Bartali and Coppi for example – and that flow outside of the Giro across other races – Hinault’s love/hate affair with the race - whilst not losing site of his stated goal.
It is an exhilarating read, and it stands up well against the oft-told and re-told stories of the Tour de France. Gallagher makes a clear case for the Giro as just as worthy of our attention as La Grand Boucle. In fact, he’s absolutely right, case dismissed.