This is a reprint of an article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.
Now that the Classics have come to an end with the closing of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, attention turns to the Grand Tours. The first of the Grand Tours starts this weekend, with the opening of the Giro d’Italia. There are three Grand Tours- called as such because they are three week tours of their host countries. May is the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy), July is the Tour de France (Tour of France), and August is the Veulta a España (Tour of Spain). Each of these races has its own personality, but they all require the utmost in dedication and preparation. Whole seasons are dictated and structured around Grand Tours. If one hopes to win, place on the podium, or even in the top ten, commitment must be 100%. There is no half-assing it at the Grand Tours! This is because Grand Tours are brutal to the max. Racing around 200 kilometres a day for 3 weeks, with only 2 rest days, is like running a marathon every day for 3 weeks. They offer different challenges than one day races, with the cyclists hoping to be a General Classification contenders or podium finishers having to race smart to make sure their bodies can survive 3 weeks of racing. As such, the tactics are subtler and attacks by favorites less frequent. In addition, an awesome team is needed that can protect and shepard their leader to the finish.
The Giro d’Italia was started by an Italian newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport. They were inspired by L’Auto, which had created the Tour de France five years earlier to boost sales. In 1909, the first race was held, with 127 riders on the start line. Only 49 riders finished 8 days later. Like most races of the era, it’s run was interrupted by World War I and II. Until 1914, winner was decided by how many stages they won, not by overall time.
Until 1950, only Italians stood on the top step of the podium and it wasn’t until 1919 that there was a non-Italian on the podium- Belgian Marcel Buysse. In 1925, Alfredo Binda started winning stages and races at such a rate, that in 1930, the organizers offered Binda 22,500 lire to not run the race! He returned in 1931, but had to abandoned due to a crash.
By the 1950’s, wasn’t being won just by Italians any more. In 1954,the the Swiss rider Hugo Koblet was the first non-Italian to win the race, and there wasn’t another run of Italian winners until 1997.
Not surprisingly, Italians have won this race 66 times, with Belgium WAY back in second with only 7. Andrew Hampsten is the only American to have won the Giro, in 1988.
1931 was the year the pink jersey made its first appearance for the overall leader. The color was modeled on the color of La Gazzetta dello Sport‘s newsprint color. Francesco Camusso was first winner to bring this jersey home.
The best young rider’s jersey is white, maglia bianca.
In the 1940s, there was a black jersey for the cyclist in last place. Another entry in the interesting fact file was Alfonsina Strada as a female rider in the 1924 Giro. She was disqualified form the GC when she crashed and finished outside the time limit, but she was one of the 30 riders to finish that year. This was because when the newspaper saw a spike in sales after her participation, they made her the highest-paid participant so she would finish the remaining 4 stages.
2011 version celebrating 150th anniversary of unification of Italy and promises to be a doozy. Many riders have expressed their fear that the route might be the death of them. Podium Cafe has a great breakdown of the race and also check out the US Pro Cycling News previews as well!