As one might image, as a certified USA Cycling Coach, I have more than a passing interest in the professional peloton, especially the Grand Tours, such as the Tour de France, Tour of Spain, and my favorite — the Tour of Italy or Giro d’ Italia. The later mentioned tour, the Giro, is the first of the Grand Tours to be held each year, and has won my affection because of its willingness to take chances and really challenge the riders. In the 2011 edition, a rider lost his life, confirming my assertion that cycling, professional or otherwise, is the most dangerous sport: period.
The Giro d’ Italia is a professional cycling race held each year in May – touring Italy’s countryside, cities, and towns over the course of 21 days or stages. Known in cycling as a Grand Tour, the Giro is one of only three races like it in the world – the Tour de’ France and Vuelta a Espana being the other two. Only the Tour de France garners more prestige than the Giro d’ Italia.
The first Giro d’ Italia was the idea of a sporting newspaper called the Gazzetta, beating out a rival paper wanting to hold its own cycling race. The first Giro d’ Italia was May 13, 1909 – the start of the race at 2:53 in that morning. Competing for the prize of 5,325 Lire were 127 cyclists of which only 49 completed the 2,448-kilometer course. The winner of the inaugural Giro d’ Italia was Luigi Ganna.
The History of the Pink Jersey
The Pink Leaders Jersey, or Maglia Rosa, singles out the overall leader of the Giro d’ Italia from his other competitors. Although colored jerseys are commonplace in professional cycling, many take on the color of yellow, made famous by the Tour de France. The Giro selected pink because the race’s sponsor, the Gazzetta was printed on pink newspaper. This tradition began in 1931 and has been symbolic with the Giro d’ Italia ever since. The first rider to dawn the leaders pink jersey was Learco Guerra, leader after the first stage of the 19th edition of the Giro.
The War Years
The Giro d’ Italia did not exist during the years fighting raged in both World Wars. In fact, according to Ultimate Italy’s website, not only did many riders lose these prime years of their careers, many did not return to race after the wars conclusion, due to either injury or death.
The Modern Era
According to the New York Times, it is hard to discuss the history of the Giro d’ Italia with mentioning the two greatest Italian cyclists to ride, and win in the Giro: Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. These two riders had a rivalry equal to any other in sports – especially among Italians. Damiano Cunego, an Italian rider won the Giro d’ Italia in 2004 – although he did not win the most stages. Fellow Italian Alessandro Petacchi, winning nine throughout the race, accomplished that feat. In the 2010 edition of the Giro, Italian Ivan Basso claimed overall victory, his second Giro victory in his career. Emerging Italian cycling superstar Vincenzo Nibali finished on the podium in third.
If you have never watched professional cycling, give the Giro d’ Italia a look this year. If nothing else, you will enjoy the amazing scenery as the peloton makes its way through the most beautiful parts of Italy. If you cannot watch every stage, 21 in all, focus in one the Queen Stage, considered the most difficult stage of any grand tour race.