Friday Feature: Giro d’Italia starts on foreign soil

This year the Giro d’Italia started over 1,000 kilometres north of its traditional home. The preliminaries, team presentation and the first three stages were held in bike-friendly Denmark. It’s been adjudged a huge success and builds on the bike euphoria engendered by last year’s very successful Road World Championships just outside Copenhagen.

So, it got me wondering. The Giro often has incursions into neighbouring countries but how many times has the Giro started outside of Italy? Read on and find out.

For nearly half a century, the Giro pretty much started and finished in Milan, home to the headquarters of the race’s founders and organisers, the delightfully pink-paged La Gazzetta dello Sport. After 1960, both the point of departure and arrival frequently changed, only to be restored in 1990. To commemorate its 100th birthday in 2009, the Giro finished in Rome, just as it had in 1911 and 1950. The magnificent 2010 edition of the race concluded in Verona – site of Wednesday’s team time-trial – as it had in 1981 and 1984.

While the Giro naturally takes place mainly within the country’s borders, there have been many instances of stages of the race starting or finishing in countries which Italy borders, such as San Marino, France, Monaco, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. In addition, there have been a total of ten starts outside of Italy, the first of which was in 1965.

1965: San Marino

Vittorio Adorni (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

Vittorio Adorni (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

I know San Marino’s slap bang in the middle of Italy but it does have its own government and stamps.

This edition of the race totalled 4,151km over 22 stages and, after starting in San Marino, headed south to Reggio Calabria then popped over the Straits of Messina for four stages in Sicily. Thereafter, the riders flew to Milan and the race traced a clockwise route down to the Italian Riviera, back up to the Alps and then across to the Dolomites before finishing in Florence.

The race, contested by largely Italian teams, was won by Vittorio Adorni (Salvarini) in 121:08:11, ahead of Italo Zilioli (Sanson) and Felice Gimondi (Salvarini). Adorni is now a co-opted member of the UCI Management Committee, where he’s renowned for his diplomacy which is often called upon to defuse certain sticky situations.

1966: Monaco

Gianni Motta (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Gianni Motta (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The race’s start in Monaco celebrated Monte Carlo’s centennial before heading immediately across the border for the Italian Riviera and La Dolce Vita. Then the parcours headed south, specifically to Naples, before sweeping back up north into Lombardy and across to the Dolomites.

Jacques Anquetil (Ford France) had taken the start, one assumed to record his third Giro win. However, rumour has it that Anquetil rode the Giro for the money and there was more on offer from the Italian teams for throwing a stage than there was for winning it. Anquetil’s team mate, Brit Vin Denson, told tales of bungled wheel changes and countless other cock-ups which resulted in Gianni Motta (Molteni) winning this Giro in 111:10:48, ahead of Italo Zilioli (Sanson) again, with Anquetil in third place. Motta now manufactures and sells a range of Italian bicycles in Belgium.

1973: Belgium, Verviers

There's only one Eddy Merckx, one Eddy Merckx (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Eddy Merckx (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

This was the fourth of Eddy Merckx’s (Molteni) five Giro wins and he completed the 3,801km, over 20 stages, in 106:54:41 ahead of Felice Gimondi (Bianchi) and Giovanni Battaglin (Jolly Ceramica). Battaglin, great-uncle of youngster Enrico Battaglin (Colnago CSF), went on to win both the Giro and Vuelta in 1981.

Gimondi famously won the Tour de France at his first attempt but spent most of what might have been a more glittering career in Merckx’s shadow. He first won the Giro d’Italia in 1967 and again in 1969, after Merckx’s disqualification. He won once more in 1976 after Merckx had ceased to be the force he once was. Gimondi also won the Vuelta in 1968, becoming one of the five riders who have won all three Grand Tours.

These days Gimondi works with Bianchi looking after one of their mountain bike squads.

1974: Vatican

Again this start was within Italy’s borders and, presumably, was held with the blessing of the Pope who might or might not have been a closet cycling fan. The first stage headed out of the Holy city and turned firstly south before looping back up to the hillier north.

This was Merckx’s fifth Giro win. He completed the 22 stages and 4,001km in 113:08:13 to finish ahead of Gianbattista Baronchelli (SCIC) – a neo pro riding his maiden Giro – and Gimondi.

1996: Greece, Athens

This race honoured La Gazzetta’s 100th birthday in the birthplace of the Olympics. Pavel Tonkov (Ceramica Panaria) beat Enrico Zaina (Carrera) and 1998 Vuelta winner Abraham Olano (Mapei) in a time of 105:20:23 for the 22 stages totalling 3,990km. Tonkov finished second in the two subsequent editions. Married to a Spaniard, he now manages a hotel in Cordoba.

1998: France, Nice

Nice was the birthplace of Giuseppe Garibaldi, chief engineer of Italy’s unification – and yes, the biscuits were named after him. The Giro started with a 6km team time trial before heading back into Italy the following day, with 159km from Nice to Cuneo. The late Marco Pantani won the overall and the mountains classification, over 22 stages totalling 3,811km, in a time of 98:48:32. He finished ahead of Tonkov and Giuseppe Guerini (Polti) and went on to win the Tour de France two months later. Sadly, Il Pirata came to an untimely end in a hotel room in Rimini in February 2004.

2002: Netherlands, Groningen

Il Falco, Paolo Savoldelli, so-called because of his descending skills, triumphed on this Giro which wended its way from Holland through Germany and France, arriving in Italy for its fifth stage. He finished the 20 stages totalling 3,354km in 89:22:42 ahead of Tyler Hamilton (CSC Tiscali) and Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio). Nowadays Savoldelli provides expert analysis and commentary on cycling for the Italian television station RAI.

2006: Belgium, Seraing

Ivan Basso (image courtesy of Liquigas)

Ivan Basso (image courtesy of Liquigas)

This start in the Wallonia region of south-east Belgium paid homage to the thousands of Italians who moved here after the Second World War to work in the coal mines.

Approximately 300,000 Belgians of Italian origin live in this area. In particular, the four Belgian stages commemorated 136 Italian miners who died in the 1956 Bois du Cazier mining disaster.

It was this race where Ivan Basso (CSC) put in what third-placed finisher and former winner Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) called an ‘extra-terrestrial’ performance to win in 91:33:36 for the 3,526km ahead of runner-up Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak).

Basso is attempting to win his third Giro d’Italia in this year’s edition of the race.

2010: Netherlands, Amsterdam

This was former Giro organiser Angelo Zomegnan’s finest race which, after three stages in the Netherlands, returned home and provided spectators with a thrilling, edge-of-the-seat contest won once again by Basso, who completed the 3,485km in 87:44:01, finishing ahead of David Arroyo (Caisse d’Epargne) and teammate Vincenzo Nibali. Zomegnan’s downfall was in trying to go one better the following year. He’s since been replaced.

2012: Denmark, Herning

This was the most northern start of any Grand Tour and was the latest in a line of cycling-related links to the country. The Road World Championships were held last year in Denmark, as were the world championships for BMX racing and paracycling.

Why, oh why?

Now you may be wondering why countries are keen to host Grand Tour starts. It’s simple. The television images and other media exposure boost both visibility and tourism. The Giro d’Italia organisers promised that they would reward this year’s race hosts:

At RCS Sport we are impressed by the commitment and professional approach that the Danish authorities have displayed while creating and presenting the project to host the Giro d’Italia in their country. In return, RCS Sport will put maximum effort in providing value and visibility to the grand opening in Denmark to more than 300 million fans of the Giro all over the world.

It’s hard to put a value on this sort of exposure – it’s worth rather a lot of Kroner, Euros or whatever. That’s right, the race’s organisers don’t do it for altruistic reasons, though I think they were keen to build on the magnificent reception the race enjoyed two years earlier in Amsterdam.

Of course, it’s not purely a question of money. If it were, all the Grand Tours would be starting in the Middle East. There were rumours that the Giro would start in Washington but those plans have been put on hold for two reasons: one logistical – too far away – and the other practical. It was the city’s previous mayor, Adrian Fenty, who was a long-time fan of the sport and had been a big part of the push to host cycling’s second-biggest race there.

So there you have it. In a nutshell, mutuality of interests drives holding Grand Tour starts outside of their traditional host country.

Link: Official website

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