IN THE PINK — GIRO D’ITALIA
Like most of the big races, the Giro d’Italia started as a vehicle to increase sales of a newspaper. In 1909 the famous pink pages of La Gazzetta dello Sport gave the world the second Grand Tour and almost the most iconic coloured leaders jersey in cycling.
As a country Italy has a history of beauty, romance, frustrations and shambolic organisation—something the Giro has mirrored throughout the years. After initial successes the race has almost collapsed several times, mirroring the young country’s struggles through wars, poverty, political turmoil and mass emigration. From the glorious battles of Coppi and Bartali both sides of the second world war to the ebb and flow of domination through the decades.
Each of the Grand Tours has a winners list dominated by riders from that country but none as extreme as the Giro. With 70% of wins coming from home riders compared to 46% in the Vuelta a España and a miserly 38% in the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia has always been a truly Italian affair. Hugo Koblet broke the domination in 1950, the Swiss champion becoming the first non-Italian to ever win the Giro in it’s 33rd edition. That year Hugo Koblet took two stages with his Swiss team mate Fritz Schär taking a third — all other stages went to home riders.
"Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket." Gino Bartali
The Italian riders who have dominated have their own stories and legend, something foreigners — even Merckx — cannot compete with. The glamour and adoration of Coppi, the intrigue and controversy of Pantani, the unrivalled sprint dominance and arrogance of Cipollini. Like Italy these riders were larger than life and certainly imperfect.
The Giro has always appeared to be in the shadow of the Tour, worldwide the popularity of the two races is almost polar. Cycling fans love the Giro but the world watches the Tour. There has been talk of stages occurring outside of Europe — Japan, USA, Dubai — to gain that international interest, the interest that other sports have that keeps them afloat financially. How likely that is with a race so traditional and intrinsically Italian is anyone’s guess. So far the race has begun in seven foreign countries, nine if you include San Marino and Vatican City. Since 2010 there has been a foreign start every other year, with this year Holland enjoying a sunny and crowd filled opening.
Apeldoorn saw thousands of fans turn out to see the race off, the UK’s cycling scene is burgeoning with the success of Team Sky and France is getting it’s mojo back with riders like Pinot, Bardet and Demare. With cycling’s audience growing ever wider there are more and more fans devouring the history and the spectacle of the great races, visiting Italy to take in stages and riding the famous climbs themselves. Maybe the Giro will find greater success not in going abroad or with a return to Italian dominance but by, in fact, sharing victories around the world and letting us all enjoy a piece of this gloriously closed pink shop.
It may be the second Grand Tour, but it’s the first every year and it’s always a treat — whether we’re watching the riders scale inhuman snowy mountains or time trial through Tuscan sunshine there’s little greater sight than the Maglia Rosa parading up and down Italy’s narrow country in search of a new legend.