The Giro d’Italia, the Tour of Italy, is one of the top three cycling events in Europe. Along with the Tours of France and Spain, collectively often referred to as The Grand Tours, the Giro is now a worldwide attraction. The race is held at the end of May and beginning of June each year, making it the first of the three events.
Originally taken its inspiration from the French multi-stage race, the Tour of Italy, like its French counterpart, was inaugurated by a newspaper, mainly as a means of boosting its circulation. The now famous La Gazetta dello Sport organized the first Tour in 1909, just six years after the first French race. The Italian Tour began in Milan and consisted of eight stages, covering a distance of just under 2,500 kilometres. The accompanying ‘caravan’, so much a feature of modern editions of the tour, consisted of just eight vehicles!
The Giro also has its own distinctive ‘jerseys’, so that spectators can easily pick out the leading riders. The leader of the General Classification of the race, the equivalent of the French Yellow Jersey, wears instead the maglia rosa, or pink jersey. This colour was chosen because La Gazetta was, indeed still is, printed on distinctive pink paper. The maglia verde, green jersey, is worn by the King of the Mountains, the maglia ciclamino, mauve, by the leader of the sprinters, and the leading young rider can be recognised by his maglia blanca, white jersey.
In its early years the Giro was dominated by Italian riders, with Alfred Binda and Fausto Coppi each winning five events. However, some of cycling’s most famous names have won the event – many of them more than once. Spaniard Miguel Hindurain managed two Giro victories, Frenchman Bernard Hinault three and the Belgian Eddy Merckx managed five wins, including three in a row from 1972 until 1974. Merckx was disqualified in 1969 when found guilty of taking illegal drugs, which caused a major controversy at the time, even diplomatic incidents.
In recent years, Alberto Contador of Spain won the event in 2008, the first non Italian to win for twelve years. The win came the year after his victory in the Tour de France and the same year as his win in his home event, which made him only the fifth cyclist to capture all three of the Grand Tour races. Contador chose not to defend his title in 2009 so that he could concentrate on the Tour de France, although his great rival Lance Armstrong did make his Giro debut in a race which was won for the first time by the Russian, Denis Menchov. The 2009 edition of the race, one hundred years after the first, tried to recreate as many of the stages of the first race as possible. However, it was thought fitting that this centenary race should actually finish in the Italian capital of Rome instead of Milan, which it usually does.
Since the 1960s, the Giro has occasionally started in a country other than Italy, including Belgium, Greece, France, Monaco and Holland and it often passes through different countries for various stages – notably Switzerland but even Slovenia and Croatia in recent years. In 2010 the event began in Amsterdam with further stages in Utrecht and Middelburg before returning to Italy where it was won by Ivan Basso.
Visiting the Giro d’Italia, especially in the late spring, is an enticing prospect for cycling aficionados and there are a large number of tour operators who organise specialist visits. These will often give you the chance of riding sections of a stage in advance of the riders themselves and, of course, will always include accommodation.
Making private reservations is possible but it is best to learn the full itinerary of the Giro as early as you can. Hotels near the route will become fully booked very quickly – the cycling teams and the attendant media circus need a huge number of rooms – and so it is imperative to decide whether you are going to stay in a hotel, hostel, camp site or even the car well in advance of travelling.
Details of the itinerary are available on the official Giro website.