Saddle failed to please reviewer
The Eagle of the Canavese – Franco Balmamion and the Giro d’Italia
by Herbie Sykes, hardback £17.95, softback £13.95
Many sporting biographies ensure their success by focusing on the heroes of the day. Their subject’s appeal lies with the international acclaim that their recent achievements created through the media coverage and the subsequent influence it had on the public’s imagination.
Here, by contrast, is a book written about a rider whose epic achievements earned him the title ‘The Eagle of The Canavese’ yet who has remained largely unknown to the cycling public. Furthermore, this is the first book that the author, Herbie Sykes, has undertaken on cycling.
Sykes’ book sets out to discover how it was that Franco Balmamion, a young man of only 22, could have won successive Giri d’Italia in 1962 and 1963, defeating the then greatest stars in Europe and yet remain a virtual unknown within his own country?
In his quest for the heart of the story Herbie Sykes has immersed himself in all things Italian, from football to food and drink. He has entered the life of the very person he writes about, as you would expect from a biography, in a way that his subject clearly appreciated.
This relationship has enabled Sykes to give the reader a very Italian flavour to his story and you are left in no doubt as to the author’s sincerity, candour and affection for his subject. It is this admiration that flows through the entire book and holds it all together like the plot of a murder mystery, delivering a view of Italian history, its culture and psychology.
The detailed description of Italy’s past helps to explain how and why cycling came to be its national pastime and how, during tough times, every boy aspired to become a professional rider.
There’s an impressive roll call of races covered in Balmamion’s earlier years with their huge distances, mostly covered on strade bianche, and the subsequent physical and mental hardships endured by him and his compatriots make emotional reading.
The characters that played a part in his career are gradually introduced as the book recounts his life and in particular the two Giro victories. There is a genuine desire to give greater eminence and substance to Balmamion’s career and victories. The language of the book has captured the passion, frustration and the cruelty of this sport.
At times the intensity of that passion and virtual rage that he obviously feels towards the injustices rendered to certain characters and episodes of this era simply stun you. There is so much more to this than the story of just one man.
In some respects the original quest is left unanswered, but no matter, it leaves you wondering how many more ‘silent champions’ are out there who have been forgotten throughout cycling’s long history.