I’m an unlikely fan. I could care less about organized sports. I’m not a cyclist. I despise the lycra getups.
Still, just a few days before the grand finale, I find myself interested, ok maybe slightly crazy about, this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Meaning “tour” in Italian, the Giro began in 1909 as a way to showcase the diverse landscape of Italy and sell a few newspapers for the original organizer, La Gazzetta dello Sport. Since that time, the race has grown into one of the world’s most competitive and celebrated grand tours (arguably #2 only to the Tour de France.)
The route changes every year always traveling through Italy’s most charming villages and cities, some well-known, many never heard of outside the country. The race features multiple mountain climbs in Northern Italy and this year’s mountain stage passed through the villages where we are spending two months, Vattaro and Vigola Vattaro, giving us the opportunity to feel the excitement first hand. It was quite a celebration as you can see from the lovely images provided by my friend, photographer Michael Giacomelli.
So in honor of the epic race, here’s my listicle about what makes the event so grand and my nudge for tuning in over the next two days.
5 Reasons to Catch Giro Fever:
- Taking the grand tour
The 21-day event weaves through one amazing village and stunning backdrop after another. Just from casual following, you’ll learn a great deal about Italy’s geography and features. You’ll also be able to see the passion and humor of the Italian people as they cheer from the sidelines, waving flags, wearing crazy costumes, and screaming like la dolce vita-living maniacs.
Everyone loves Florence, Venice, and Rome, and with good reason. But Italy has even more to offer. Through watching the Giro, you might see a spot, say the stunning sea vistas of Castiglione della Pescaia, the glamourous avenues of Torino, or the old world charm of Treviso that your eyes fall out of your head for and a seed will be planted for your next vacation.
- It’s tough stuff. The Giro is packed full of the classic stuff us Americans love. Watching a rider grind it out and push to his limits day after day (for 21 days!!) to find out what he’s made of. The crazy mountain climbs where one pedal push more seems impossible, the whirling descents around curving country roads where you’re sure a crash is imminent.Throw in the rider and the team dynamics and it is surprisingly drama-filled. The excitement builds every day to see who will survive and who will be in pink, the Maglia Rosa jersey. (This year, it looks pretty certain to be Spain’s Alberto Contador, but it ain’t over ‘til they cross the finish.)
- Seasoned versus hungry. One of the most appealing aspects of the sport is how, uhm, “old” you can be and still be on top. It’s not just a young person’s sport. In the Giro, the overall leader wears the pink every day, while the leader under 25 wears the white jersey, la Maglia Bianca. This year’s race pits decorated hero, 32-year-old Contador against the young, Italian hopeful, 24-year-old Fabio Aru. It’s a fun dynamic to watch play out during the race.
- Drink spritz in the afternoon
Get a bottle of Campari or Aperol, a bottle of prosecco, an orange, and get to spritzing. It’s the Italian tradition for afternoon aperitifs and a great way to enjoy the race. Inclined to a drinking game? Bottoms up every day they scream, “Contador!” or say “Allora,” the Italian version for “so.” Wait, that could get ugly fast. Remember the 21-day thing…pace yourself.
5. Take your cycling hobby to the next level.
Americans are cycling crazy right now. Every day there’s news of a new town introducing bike share programs (hooray for the latest: Birmingham.) There are almost as many MAMLS (middle aged males in lycra) on the streets as cars. And, cycling clubs for the serious to the social are all the rage. Digging in to the Giro, if only just below the surface, is a great way to connect with the sport’s history and appreciate the grace and tradition of the sport.
Tune in today for Stage 19, from Gravellona Toce to Cervinia, one of the longest race days at 236 km. Saturday brings another tough day from Saint Vincent to Sestriere with a big climb at Finestre. Then on Sunday, the parade from Torino to Milano will have all eyes out for the pink.