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14 May 2016

Of bikes and books

Yesterday’s stage could have been dedicated to the history of printing. Dante’s Divine Comedy, the first book ever printed in the Italian language, was published at the finish town, Foligno, in 1472. The start town, Sulmone, was the birthplace of Ovid, the last of the Latin love elegists, whose Metamorphoses, a vast collection of tales on the themes of mutability, violence, artistry, and power – not a word, admittedly, about professional cycling – was translated into English and published in 1480 by William Caxton, who pioneered the new technology of printing in England.

From a technological point of view, books and bicycles have plenty in common. The late and lamented Umberto Eco considered them both miracles of eternal technology, like the wheel, the knife, the spoon, the hammer or the pot.

“The knife was invented very early, the bicycle very late. But whatever modifications designers may make, the essence of the knife will always remain the same. There my be machines to replace the hammer, but certain things will always need something that looks like the first hammer ever to appear on the face of the earth. You can invent sophisticated gear systems, but the bike stays what it is: two wheels, a saddle, and pedals. Otherwise it is called a motorbike, which is something else entirely.”

 Passing up the opportunity to pontificate on hidden motors (about which Eco has little to say) and conspiracy theories (about which he wrote a great deal), one further thought on reading and sport. They say it is possible to read the match reports of world class chess players and psychoanalyse them on that basis. Plenty has been written about Che Guevara, a near-international level player, on the basis of records of his chess matches. In the hands of a world-class cyclist like Tom Dumoulin, the bike is not just the most efficient human-powered land vehicle, but a mechanism that allows the rider to read his own physical condition as clearly as if it was printed in a book. The bike becomes the book of his body. Here is Dumoulin after yesterday’s stage:

 Q: Why exactly did you not go away to a train altitude before the Giro?

A: I made that choice because … it’s a good question, actually, because actually it’s about home time. I don’t want to be a cyclist who is away from home all year, and so, given that, after the Giro, I’ll be going to altitude to prepare for the Olympic Games in Rio, I decided not to go before the Giro. Also, the idea I had was that I would not be going for the General Classification here, so it would not be necessary. Now my shape turns out to be pretty good, so maybe I’ll be riding for GC anyway.