Giro d’Italia 2017 is set to take place May 5th through the 28th, beginning in Sardinia’s Alghero and ending, as is tradition, in Milan’s Piazza Duomo.
Even if you’re not a cycling enthusiast, you have probably heard about this multiple-stage bicycle race held in Italy every May, which, along with the Tour de France and Vuelta a España (collectively known as Grand Tours), represents the world’s most prestigious road bicycle race.
Also known as Corsa Rosa (Pink Race, because the race leader wears a pink shirt), Giro d’Italia was established in 1909, an idea of Tullio Morgagni, a journalist with the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. At the time, cycling was already a popular sport, with the first races disputed in 1869.
History of the Giro d’Italia
The unofficial date of birth of the Giro d’Italia must be traced to the year before 1909, and precisely to August 5, 1908: that was when Morgagni sent a telegram to his newspaper director, Eugenio Camillo Costamagna, to urge him to return from vacation. A competitor newspaper, Corriere della Sera, was planning to organize a bicycle race that would involve the best racers of the moment, similar to the Tour de France. Gazzetta dello Sport couldn’t let this happen; they also had had the same idea, it just hadn’t been implemented yet.
Thus, a race was quickly organized. The first Giro d’Italia left from Piazza Loreto in Milan on May 13, 1909 around 3 am. Overall, the first Giro consisted of eight stages, held three times a week (the days of publication of the Gazzetta at the time), between May 13 and May 30, for a total of 2,448 km covered, with the best cyclists of the time participating; among them, Giovanni Gerbi, Giovanni Rossignoli, Luigi Ganna (who ended up winning), Carlo Galetti, Eberardo Pavesi, John Cuniolo and Frenchman Lucien Petit-Breton. Of the 127 racers at the start, only 49 finished the race.
Since then, except for interruptions during World War I and II, the Giro d’Italia has been disputed every year in May over the course of three weeks. While the starting point varies every year, the arrival is always in Milan, the headquarters of Gazzetta dell Sport.
In 1931, it was decided that the race leader needed to display a symbol that would make him instantly recognizable amid the dense pack of racers; thus, the iconic maglia rosa, pink jersey, was introduced. Why pink? Because it’s the color of the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, the organizer of the race.
The golden age of the Giro was between 1931 and 1950, when such cycling greats as Fausto Coppi (il Campionissimo, champion of champions, who won five times) and historic rival Gino Bartali (nicknamed Ginettaccio, he won three times) competed and inflamed fans, splitting Italy between supporters of one or the other.
Between 1956 and 1978, the race lead was taken by foreigners, especially the Belgian Eddy Merckx, who won the Giro five times in seven years and earned the nickname of The Cannibal, because, it was said, he wouldn’t let anyone else win.
The 1990s saw the emergence of Marco Pantani, who became a real sports idol in Italy, winning the Giro d’Italia in 1998 (the same year, he won the Tour de France, the last cyclist, and one of only seven, to win the Giro and the Tour in the same year). Nicknamed ‘il pirata’ (the pirate), because of his shaved head and the bandana and earrings he always wore, he is considered one of the best climbers of his era. In 1999, while leading the race, Pantani was expelled due to irregular hematocrit values. He was accused of EPO use, which is thought to have led him into a depression from which he never fully recovered. He died of acute cocaine poisoning in 2004.
The latest years of the race have been dominated by the Spaniard Alberto Contador (one of only six riders to have won all three Grand Tours of road cycling), and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (like Contador, he has won all three Grand Tours). Since its beginnings, Nibali has been nicknamed Lo Squalo (the shark) for his technique which consists of always rushing to the attack, as well as for his Sicilian origins. Nibali is the current Giro d’Italia title holder, having won the 2016 race (he previously won the 2013 edition).
Giro d’Italia 2017 : The Course
2017 marks a special year for the Giro d’Italia as it celebrates its 100th edition. Giro d’Italia 2017 will run from Friday, May 5th to Sunday, May 28th, from the island of Sardinia to the heel of Italy’s boot to the Alps.
After leaving Sardinia, where the first three stages will be disputed, it will move to another island, Sicily. The Sicilian leg’s highlight will be the climb up the Etna volcano. The next day, the race will end in Nibali’s hometown of Messina. Giro d’Italia 2017 will continue through the heel, traversing Puglia’s Valle d’Itria, then proceed north through Umbria’s Sagrantino wine country. Two stage starts will be Tuscany’s Ponte a Ema and Piedmont’s Castellania, birthplaces of Italian cycling greats Bartali and Coppi, respectively. The Apennines traverse will be followed by the Alps, with the climb of the famous Stelvio Pass. Then it’s the majestic Dolomites, which will involve some brutal climbs (stage 18 feature five ascents!). Like every year, Giro d’Italia 2017 will conclude in Milan.
Visit the Giro d’Italia website for updates on the race.
Good luck to all the riders!