One of the three Grand Tours, the Giro d'Italia is arguably the most prestigious road race in professional cycling after the Tour de France.
Held in Italy and beyond in May over three weeks, the Giro as it is more commonly referred to, is seen as a precursor to the oldest and the most famous of the three Grand Tours, the Tour de France, which takes place in the heat of July.
Much like the Tour de France, the Giro was born out of a newspaper war; in this case between La Gazzetta dello Sport and Corriere della Sera. La Gazzetta, famous for the pink colour of its paper, inaugurated the first ever Giro in May 1909 and to this day the maglia rosa (the pink jersey) is awarded to the leader of the General Classification (GC) of the Giro.
Until Hugo Koblet of Switzerland rode to victory in 1950, only Italian riders triumphed in the Giro d'Italia. Alfredo Binda, the original Campionissimo, was so dominant in his prime, winning the race five times between 1925 and 1933, that the race organisers paid him 22500 lira not to compete. Binda's reign was superseded by the next great of Italian cycling, Gino Bartali, and his duels with the younger Fausto Coppi became the stuff of legend. Their rivalry and respect for one another ran deep, but history will record that Coppi won a total of five Giros, Bartali three.
The name of the great Fausto Coppi is, of course, synonymous with the Giro d'Italia and each year the highest mountain pass that the cyclists ride over is called the Cima Coppi in his honour. In the 2012 Giro this title will be held by the famous Passo dello Stelvio in the Dolomites, which will host the climax of the final day in the mountains. The one black mark against Coppi came in 1954 when Pope Pius XII refused to bless the Giro d'Italia due to Coppi's marital indiscretions. Despite this, Coppi still rode in the Giro, but many tifosi turned their back on him as he rode past to show their disgust, whilst other just spat at him, such was the unpopularity of his decision.
Despite the dominance of Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault in their respective heydays, the Giro does remain very much a domestic matter, with the Italian riders idolised and roared on by their fanatical fans, the tifosi. Out of the 94 times the Giro had been held since its inauguration in 1909, only 27 victories have been recorded by foreigners. The list of Italian winners - Francesco Moser, Felice Gimondi, Marco Pantani to name but a few, only occasionally punctuated with some famous names in World Cycling: Jacques Anquetil, Charly Gaul, Miguel Indurain and Laurent Fignon for example.
Lance Armstrong famously shunned the Giro, preferring to focus his attention on winning the Tour de France seven times and in the process, earning the eternal resentment of the tifosi and the Italian cycling press.
In 2011 Alberto Contador won the Giro, a race that is sadly remembered more for the tragic death of the Belgian Leopard-Trek rider, Wouter Weylandt. Contador, however, was later stripped of his title for doping offences and second placed Michele Scarponi of Italy was awarded the title.
The spectacular 2012 edition of the Giro was won by the Canadian Garmin-Barracuda cyclist Ryder Hesjedal on the final day individual time trial around the streets of Milan. He overcame the 31 second lead held by the Spanish rider Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) winning the title by a mere 16 seconds.
Ryder Hesjedal of Canada, wearing the maglia rosa, holds the Giro d'Italia trophy after his victory in Milan in May 2012. © Giro d'Italia
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