On Friday, the world’s best professional cyclists will take to the start of the 100th Giro d’Italia, the annual, three-week celebration of Italian cycling, which brings the country, and now the world, together each May and imprints its stories on the memories of the people, as it has done from the day it was first ridden, in 1909.
The summer before that first Giro, a struggling, Italian sports paper, known for its pink pages, opened with the headline, “The Gazzetta dello Sport, pursuant with the glory of Italian Cycling, announces that next spring will see the first “Giro d’Italia,” one of the biggest, most ambitious races in international cycling.” The Giro was then, in fact, little more than a fantasy, inspired by France’s Tour, but it quickly lived up to its audacious billing. Thanks to the efforts of a few industrious individuals, it became a race with no rival, except, perhaps, for the Tour. Now, it’s a part of Italy’s patrimony, the glory of Italian cycling. It is the theatre where all of the country’s great champions—Girardengo, Binda, Bartali, Coppi…Nibali—have made their names.
Over the coming three weeks, the Giro’s next chapter will be written, the next champion crowned. From Sardinia on to the mainland, over the Mortirolo, Stelvio, Pordoi, Monte Grappa, and so many of the other roads that the race has made famous, to the finish in Milan, the most spectacular, most dramatic tour of the season will play out. The story of the Giro will live on.
And, though the essential plot will remain the same, the race itself will differ profoundly from its inaugural edition. For all of today’s peloton’s professionalism, its riders’ incredible feats of athleticism, the Giro’s original spirit of grand turismo has diminished. In 1909, stages were much longer, and riders often rode alone or in small groups. It was a different sort of racing, more focused on endurance and fortitude. As the Giro celebrates its 100th edition, that original spirit should be celebrated as well.
So, on Friday, Maserati Cycling’s Keir Plaice will set out to ride the route of the first stage of that first Giro, covering 400 kilometres of countryside from Milan to Bologna, in a salute to Italian cycling and the nation’s beautiful grand tour.