The Giro d’Italia: The annual orgy of sporting rivalry

If cycling is a religion in Italy then the Giro d’Italia represents all the saints days rolled into one with the added pressure of a Christmas Day family lunch. The 100th Giro d’Italia takes place in May 2017 and the organisers have gone out of the way to make sure this year’s race reflects its rich and sometimes controversial history.

“Hey boss, I gotta idea”

The first ever Giro d’Italia washeld in 1909 and has been staged every year since, pausing only for two world wars (which is why 2017 is the centenary). Its beginnings were a little inauspicious, since it was started not purely as a sporting endeavour but as a somewhat cynical means of selling newspapers. The then editor of La Gazzettadello Sportnoticed how the Tour de France triggered an increase in sales for L’Auto and this gave him the inspiration for an Italian cycling tour. The paper’s owners eventually agreed and the inaugural Giro d’Italia was announced in La Gazzetta on 7 August 1908, with the race taking place in May 1909.

 

The first race had eight stages, covered 2,448km and had 127 riders – all Italian. In contrast 2017’s Giro has 21 stages, covers 3,612km over 16 regions, takes 3 weeks to complete and has hundreds of riders – from all over the world. The Giro has grown in status to become one of the three “Grand Tours” alongside the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espaňa.

The future collides with the past

The Giro has had its share of defining moments. For its first few decades it was dominated by Italian riders but even then you can hardly describe it as a uniting force – just the opposite in fact. Italians will grasp at any opportunity to organise themselves into opposing camps and never more so when two of its countrymen are at loggerheads: Bartaliversus Coppi in the 1940s and Moser versusSaronni in the late 1970s, for example. The Giro has also had more than its fair share of stories and personalities:-

  • Alfredo Binda, who won so easily and often that the exasperated organisers eventually paid him not to compete
  • AlfonsinaStrada, who in 1924 became the only woman ever to ride in the Giro
  • FiorenzoMagni, who in 1956 continued to ride with a broken collarbone, tying an inner tube to his handlebars that he pulled with his teeth to steady the bike uphill
  • Michel Pollentier, who in 1978 was discovered with a condom full of urine under his armpit for use in eventual doping tests
  •  Giovanni Arrigoni, a sponsor arrested in 1983 for bribing waiters to put laxatives in an opposing team’s food
  • Marco Pantani, who in 1997 tossed away his bandana and diamond nose stud in a final sprint for the finish, claiming they were weighing him down

The Daily Telegraph sums up the Giro in three words: Unpredictable, unforgiving, unforgettable. The race certainly has all the stunning climbs, sweeping vistas and sporting prowess that makes it one of the most prestigious races in the world. If the first week is anything to go by, it's certainly proving interesting.