Before reading "Dear Hugo," a novel by Herbie Sykes (Rapha, 2022), I'd come across the name of Hugo Koblet, an accomplished Swiss cyclist, through other books. However, that was the extent of my knowledge about the winner of the Giro d'Italia (1950) and Tour de France (1951).
Other titles by the British sports writer — who now makes his home in Italy — that I've read include "Balmamion," about the two-time Giro d'Italia champion Franco Balmamion; "The Giro 100," 100 tales from the corsa rosa, and "Coppi," inside the legend of the campionissimo.
This latest work by Sykes offers a very different approach to telling one's story. Holding firm to his rule of never trusting anything he reads or writes about cycling, "Dear Hugo" is a book of imagined correspondence. The author wants to say it's based on a true story, but he cannot; only going so far to report that it is based on a story which is commonly "believed" to be accurate.
The following is an example of the letter writing in "Dear Hugo," describing the champion cyclist, and which for me holds some validity after finishing the book: "Koblet was more than a cyclist, you see? He rode a bike but for me he was a poet, or a sort of artist. He wasn't interested in his career ... and he didn't feel like he had anything to prove. I suppose I mean that cycling was freedom for him. ... I think he was a dreamer and I mean that in a good way."
Strongly believing that this is a book worth picking up and turning its 128 pages, I'm not going to divulge more about its message and particular details on how it is told. Nonetheless, I will offer these words from its book jacket: "Rich, charismatic and achingly beautiful, the 'Pedaleur de Charme' had been a superstar of cycling's golden age. ... In 'Dear Hugo,' Herbie Sykes pieces together the wreckage of his life (being penniless and spiritually broken at the end). In so doing, he examines the burden of sporting genius, and the real-time consequences for its practitioners and public alike."
Keeping in mind as to the way "Dear Hugo" is written and presented, Sykes makes one last suggestion for his readers — when you get to the end of the book, "assume that the way it makes you feel is the truth about Hugo Koblet."
Let the Games begin ...
I got in another training time trial yesterday with the Maine Senior Games in Brunswick fast approaching. My legs felt heavy and I struggled at times, so at the end of my 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) test I was hoping for somewhere in the 37-minute range.
My latest result? It was 36:03, a whopping 53 seconds faster than my previous best. I kept gazing at my bike computer — thinking — surely it must be incorrect. Anyway, the big event will be here soon. In the meantime, stay safe!