Gironimo: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy
By Tim Moore
It’s rare when my library has a new book in the tiny sports section; even rarer when that book is about cycling. I eagerly checked it out, then finished it in less than a week. I loved it. Cycling, travel, a bit of history. The perfect combination for my literary taste.
Basically, middle-aged British guy Tim Moore is searching for a mid-life challenge, and settles on riding the route of the 1914 Giro d Italia, which he determines was the most difficult bike race in history. Four hundred kilometer stages through the Alps, terrible weather, bikes with only two gears, and other factors combined to decimate the field of riders. Only eight finished.
The book traces his journey from searching for and building a period-correct bike (and goofy wool kit) to completing the course (albeit over 50 hours behind the race winner), with lots of misadventures in between. It’s a bike tour book, but unlike other bike tour books, fits into a broader context. There is history behind the route, and Moore intersperses his travails with an account of the race as it unfolded in 1914. I enjoyed that.
Moore’s writing is hilarious; I actually laughed out loud multiple times. There are some British expressions that I didn’t understand (what’s a “lay-by”?). In contrast to a writer like Bill Bryson, who I increasingly find to dispense amusing if predictable humor without too much muscle beneath it, Moore flashes moments of poignant reflection (sometimes undercut by a self-deprecating jab). I’d quote some here, but like an idiot I’ve already returned the book to the library. So you’ll just have to trust me.
Ultimately, the book made me appreciate the heroic/insane accomplishments of riders a century ago, and has recalibrated my definition of a difficult day on the bike. If they could race through the Alps at midnight in a rainstorm on creaking steel bikes with wine corks for brakes (seriously, I’m not joking), fueled only by red wine and amphetamines, and a middle-aged out of shape man can retrace their path, surely I can do whatever ride I’m moaning about.
Seems like creating a video like this would be complicated, right?
You just go to Relive.cc and connect your Strava account. Yes, they are probably selling your workout data to the Russians, but in exchange you get cool 3D flyover videos of your adventures, delivered directly to your inbox minutes later. If you’ve ever wanted to see your rides look like a stage on the Tour de France telecast, this is the app for you. It will make you feel more pro than one of those stickers with your name and country’s flag on your top tube. More pro than shaved legs and $4,000 carbon wheels.
Besides giving all of us Strava folks something else to analyze for far too long after our workouts, and adding more motivation to do so-called “epic” adventures, this could be a great way for race promoters to display their courses online so racers can get intimidated or overconfident before registering.
This isn’t a paid endorsement. I just really like it. Maybe the fascination will wear off (I’ve only done two rides since discovering it).
But can we all take a moment to reflect on how insane technology is these days? Something like this, hell, something like Strava or a Garmin Edge or the Internet alone, was inconceivable less than 30 years ago. Think about that. Blows my mind.
This is the third installment of the Therebouts series, which follows pro cyclists Lachlan and Gus Morton on their cycling adventures. The first film traced a journey through the Australian outback as they rediscovered their love for cycling after years of competitive racing had taken its toll on their relationship to the sport. In the second film, the brothers (with friends Taylor Phinney and Cam Wurf) rode across the Rockies from Boulder to Moab. In this film, which was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, they head to the cycling-mad, oft-misunderstood nation of Colombia. I enjoyed the first two movies, and was looking forward to this one. Earlier this week–with plans for my own Colombia trip in the works-I finally sat down to watch it. Here are some impressions, observations, and takeaways.
So. Much. Climbing.
Literally all of the climbing. The mountains there look beautiful and terrifying. It’s no wonder that Nairo Quintana and a host of other World Tour climbers have emerged from there–the mountains are endless. Nothing is flat. Gus and Lachlan, who choose to not be informed about their route until the morning of, are repeatedly bewildered by the sheer amount of elevation gain they encounter. Gregg Bleakney, an American expat who directed the film and planned their routes, seems to get a sadomasochistic pleasure from watching the boys suffer up steep grades on gravel roads behind careening trucks and swerving cars. In the most brutal and hilarious moment in the film, he describes to Gus and Lachlan Alto de Letras, the longest climb in the world. Then he informs them that they will be doing Old Letras, an even longer climb, the last 20 miles of which is on rutted dirt roads. They laugh and shake their heads in complete bewilderment. In a beautifully shot sequence, they complete the ride the following day, with no shortage of rain-spattered difficulty along the way. The scene functions as the emotional climax of the film: it is where the themes that run throughout Therebouts–exploration of self and world, hard riding, seeking out and overcoming challenges, finding joy in ridiculous efforts, brotherly love–are most clearly distilled.
The Youth Shall Inherit the Earth
The first film was introspective, about each brother renegotiating his relationship to the bike. In the second film, the narrative scope expanded to include friends and the connections between them, especially in adversity. It grows even wider in this film to look at a culture more broadly; with Gus and Lachlan more comfortable with their roles in the cycling world, they can look outward. This gaze settles on cycling culture in Colombia. One day, the brothers join a local youth team, where the kids attack relentlessly, trying to show up (or show off for) the gringo pros. The implication is that there are thousands more, all dreaming the same dream. Passerby take their photos with the brothers upon finding out they are pro cyclists, even if they can’t recognize or name them. There are murals of Quintana on the walls in small town squares. At the end of the film, the brothers reflect on Colombia as a still somewhat unheralded cycling hotbed whose influence in the sport is poised to explode.
Again, Lachlan effortlessly (at least it seems that way–it probably isn’t) pulls of the cyclist-thrift store-hipster look. Bib shorts, t shirts, weird floral print hats, bright colors that don’t match but somehow look okay together, a pirate mustache. It’s not as extreme as in the other films, but the vibe is still there. I’ll admit, I like it.
It’s hard for films about outdoor adventure not to all kind of follow the same arc, if you can even call it that. Arrival, exploration, interactions with locals, big challenge, maybe some despair, eventual triumph or acceptance of failure. Lessons learned, newfound reflections on life. This one largely does. It’s not groundbreaking, artistically speaking. But that’s okay. It’s a well-shot, crisply edited depiction of interesting people doing interesting things in an interesting landscape, and another chapter in the brothers’ attempt to balance their dual orientations towards cycling. That’s enough to make it worth watching.