blog entries

'Alfonsina' by Ilona Kamps

For the Black Sheep the story of Alfonsina Strada has assumed near mythical proportions. First and foremost we're cycling fans and so anyone completing a Grand Tour is to be admired,  but to go back nearly 100 years and complete a Grand Tour on mostly dirt roads, riding steel bikes and covering brutally long distances is the stuff of legend and wonder. Throw in the small detail of being a women chasing your dream against of backdrop of, at best chauvanism, but at worst outright hostility against you competing, speaks of someone with rare passion, determination and tenacity.

This new book by Ilona Kamp works for me on three different levels.

Firstly, for those completely ignorant of the story, this is a fantastic book of evocative photography that is worth the money alone. Beautifully shot in black and white the several hundred images perfectly convey the marriage of cyling, landscape, camaraderie and endeavour that all cyclists understand. The very essence of 'being out there' is laid out for all to appreciate. The fact that the majority of images in this book are modern, but using vintage gear, underlines the fact that at it's core cycling as both sport and pastime is timeless.

Secondly for the English monoglot Alfonsina fan this could well enhance your understanding and appreciation of her in a small way. Google 'Alfonsina Strada' and you can find many, largely similar accounts of the 1924 Giro d'Italia in which she competed although many of them will subtly change the context of Alfonsina's entry into the Giro. I'm making a leap of faith here but my guess is that Ilona has done rather more research then many of us. Not reading Italian or Dutch I'd regulalry trawl the Internet looking to see if an English language version of Paolo Facchinetti's biography was available without any luck. So until I learn Italian this looks like being the best source out there. Not that this is in anyway a full biography but the essays and poems within it did add to my knowledge and appreciation.

Finally, and this is where I think this book works best, is as testament to the passion and dedication of Ilona herself. Most of us read an inspirational story, file it and move on but not Ilona. Clearly brim full of inspiration she took on the not inconsiderable task of capturing the essence of Alfonsina and has delivered in some style, travelling throughout Italy in search of imagery to encapsulate the spirit, grit and endeavour of ' the devil in a dress'. The results are a brilliant study in photo journalism that give a sense of history, shot with a modern lens and insight but managing to maintain a sympathetic view of the past.

I daresay Alfonsina and Ilona were cut from similar cloth.

Buy the book here