Giro d’Italia returns to Cervinia

After being missed for three years, the Giro d’Italia returns plowing down the Valley of the Matterhorn. History, anecdotes and curiosities.

After three years, the Giro d’Italia comes back to cross Cervinia and Aosta Valley. This edition is particularly special and meaningful. For the first time, in fact, our most important and famous cycling course will celebrate its 101st edition starting from outside the boarders of the old continent. Kilometer 0 is marked in Jerusalem – the first three stops are in the Israeli territory. To understand this choice, we must go back in time, to the 1940s. Gino Bartali had won the Giro and the Tour, it was an unmeasurable success for Italy, where football and other sports hadn’t rewarded much that year. People looked up to cycling as if it was a folkloric novel hero. Gino Bartali, however, was not only pedaling for the sport itself: inside of his tubular barrel he hid documents that would have saved hundreds of Jews from Nazi deportation. It was for this reason that Bartali, in 2013, was awarded the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” by the Israeli government. This year, the cycling course will in Israel, in honor of the country’s 70th anniversary. We owe this fact also to Bartali who used to say to his son “You do good, you don’t say it” and who will be given the honorary citizenship of Jerusalem two days before the beginning of the Giro.

Giro d'italia

The Giro…of Italy amongst stops and time

One intense race which has always been regarded as the most thrilling one of all. It is followed not only by cycling enthusiasts, but also by many sports enthusiasts, in general, for 21 stops. From Sicily, they race up along Calabria, Molise and Abruzzo, where the athletes – after leaving Penne – pass the ruins of Hotel Rigopiano, locos of the tragic avalanche episode which killed 29 people. Then Umbria, Marche, Emilia and Veneto. Here the dolomite stops from Friuli Venezia Giulia are crossed, and at these stops four mountain prizes are given to the cyclists. Following that, after the last day of rest in Trento, the group starts again at the volt of Rovereto, Riva del Garda and Iseo, to finally arrive at the snowy Prato and Bardonecchia. The second to last stop is ours: Breuil – Cervinia. The Giro finishes in Rome, with the final catwalk in the historic center. In total, 3,546.2 km have been traveled for the edition with 44,000 meters level differences, 2 timed stops, 7 low difficulty level, 6 medium difficulty level and 6 high difficulty level stops, and a total of 8 uphill finish stops. What an incredible race.


Brief history of Giro d’Italia

1909: Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi weren’t even born yet, Giolitti was in power that year. There were around 33milion Italians in the territory. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti had just published the “Manifesto del Futurismo” and Marconi, just a bit later, would have won the Nobel Prize for physics, while Belfast would have still been building the Titanic.  There were around 600,000 bicycles in Italy, they weighed about fifteen kg, and they were all made of iron and had fixed-gears – they cost 100 lire (a worker would get in average two lire per diem). The Gazzetta dello Sport was already running, created in 1896 from the fusion of the two magazines: “Il Ciclista” and “La tripletta” – which means three seated bicycle. The magazine came out thrice a week and cost 50 cents. At the time football wasn’t that famous, people followed boxing and cycling much more. On the 24th of August 1908 the Gazzetta dello Sport announced, for the first time, its intention to organize a Giro d’Italia (which means Tour of Italy). This tour was reserved to cyclists, but the article was very vague, it talked about a 25,000 lire prize but the cycling track wasn’t well explained, and neither were the rules and most importantly no names of who would sponsor the event. Some months later, after they found funding, the track was defined, they had decided on eight stops starting and finishing in Milan, however the contestants were still missing. Three teams and individuals (whom had to pay everything for themselves) had signed up and between the 12th and the 13th of March they began the first Giro d’Italia in history – 127 cyclists, of which only 49 remained, started the tour. Some were there just for the pleasure of it, others were there for the jackpot. Additionally, all those who would finish the race would have gotten a 300 lire prize. The anecdotes of that first, primitive tour cannot be told. There were those who came cycling from Rome to begin the race in Milan, those who by getting the resting stop wrong (each team had their own) got hit by the other team, those who were so thirsty they stopped at the canals to refill their flasks. Someone along a level difference stage tried cheating by catching…a train! Ganna was the cyclist who won the first prize of the Giro – the only heroic images of him were drawn by Achille Beltrame and shown in “la Domenica del Corriere” – and to the finish line when journalists were asking those typical questions right after a victory he simply replied: “My ass is burning”. From there on the Giro grew, gained popularity, consent and attention. It slowly became an event. In 1933 the “maglia rosa” was introduced (which is worn by the top cyclists), in 1934 – simultaneously to the upcoming Giro – the radio announced Italy’s victory in the Football World Cup. The 1940s and 50s represent the sportive dualism, which divided enthusiasts and sportsmen between Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi. They became popular heroes among the collective and were regarded as real star forerunners of sports – just like Felice Gimondi and Eddy Merckx in the 1960s and 70s were, although in Italy more people followed and adored other sport heroes, mainly football. After this period, however, more Italian champions arose: Pantani, Cipollini, Basso.

Giro d'Italia 2018

The track, slowly became more articulated, longer, with variable and higher altitudes. The Giro began inserting foreign stops as well. In 1965 San Marino, then Monaco, the Vatican State, and Belgium. After the television was invented, the Giro became a national event followed by millions of fans.  What had started out as an epic adventure, slowly transformed into a media-covered event, with more sweat, mud, risks, falls, and town and business celebrations. And illegal parties. In 2002, for the first time in history, the hotel hosting the athletes became the scene of a massive investigation on doping. But the strong, vigorous, willful Giro, like the muscles and hearts of the first contestants in 1909, remained the strongest, most intense and followed race. Because what reunites us all is the challenge, effort, and the sweat ascending and attention descending. At the end, the winner, makes us become a collective whether you’re a cycling enthusiast or not. And when we see the tour in the streets – protected by preceding motorcycles and followed by a car tail – we, instinctively –  childishly – are overtook by a chill down our spines. Maybe we don’t know those names, nor which teams are passing, nor who has the “maglia rosa”. Maybe we don’t love cycling. Nonetheless, in that moment, something explodes in our hearts and flows outwards through our voices as we give a “Keep going, guys!”

The Giro in Aosta valley and Cervinia

Between Charly Gaul and Ivan Basso, many great champions left a historical mark in the Valdosta stops of the Giro d’Italia. Although the Dolomites stage is less celebrated, the ascends of the Aosta Valley are fascinating, feared and difficult, extremely difficult. In fact, in this region contestants don’t cross that often. It’s believed that in the uphill track of Aosta Valley the results and individual winner of the race are frequently determined. This is what happened in 1969 and 1997, where the Racconigi – Cervinia stop had determined the results of the race. Until that point the win had been strictly in the hands of Russian contestant Pavel Tonkov. But, on the uphill route of Saint Panthaleon, the young “climber” from Bergamo, Ivan Gotti, began giving his all and moved up closer to Tonkov, who couldn’t react. On the final uphill track towards Cervinia, Gotti gained even more territory. This shifted the results of the Giro. Gotti conquered the “maglia rosa” and defended it until the end. The last time Cervinia determined the race was in 2012. This stop had been won, surprisingly – considering the harsh and high-altitude environment of the mountains – by a runner from Costa Rica, Andrey Amador. The score gained in that stop had determined his victory over Canadian contestant Hesjedal and Spanish contestant Rodriguez – which had been leading the race until that point. In just seconds Amador surpassed the Canadian and won the race. The last time the Giro passed through Cervinia was in 2015. This year, the Alpine stop offers almost 4000 meters of level difference, entirely concentrated in the last 90 km of the race where there will be 3 uphill tracks of almost 20 km each. The track has brought cyclists from Susa toward Turin and to the ripples of the Canavese and have ended at the Dora Riparia Valley. The contestants have climbed towards the Aosta Valley after descending the Col. Tsecore (16 km with more than a 12% slope in the last four km), the Col de St. Panthaleon (16.5 km with 7.2% slope), and lastly have pushed up to Cervinia – 19 km with a 5% slope. The last kilometers are all uphill, and the steepest track is the one crossing Valtournenche, with a final straight track of 450 meters, and two tunnels to cross.

We hope that this year too, the stop in Cervinia will not only be a grand and sports and popular celebrated one, but also will show contestants and fans the beauty of this place – with its unique views – and perhaps this stop can again be the determining factor of the tour…surprising us again in a sporting point of view, as well!