Giro 100. Cima Coppi And La Neve.

Aldo Moser on the Passo dello Stelvio during the 1965 Giro d’Italia

Today is the Queen stage of this years Giro d’Italia. Running for 222 km from Rovetta to Bormio it includes three monster climbs, the Mortirollo, the Umbrailpass and between them the Stelvio where this years Cima Coppi prize will be awarded.

The Cima Coppi has been the name given to the highest point of the Giro since 1965 and the first rider to go over it is given the Cima Coppi prize. The list of winners over the years is pretty eclectic and includes the greatest Grand Tour riders from history such as Eddy Merckx, Laurent Fignon and Miguel Indurain. Others may regard getting the Cima Coppi prize as the high point of their careers. The French rider Yoann Le Boulanger crested the Colle dell’Angelo first in 2007 to add the award to his top stage wins at the Tour de L’Avenir and Tour de la Somme and Vladimir Miholjević of Croatia, first over the Gavia in 2004, perhaps only considers his national titles to have greater worth. The rider who has had most success with the prize in the sky is the Spanish climber José-Manuel Fuente who won three Cima Coppi’s in a row over three different summits (the Stelvio, Giau and the Tre Cime di Lavaredo) between 1972 and 1974.

There is one mountain which if it’s in the Giro route will be the Cima Coppi no mater where else the race goes. The Passo dello Stelvio, the first Cima Coppi in 1965, is the highest point that the race has ever reached at 2758 metres. It has been climbed ten times in the Giro since its debut in 1953 and that number would be higher if wasn’t for the weather. Because it is so high up the area can be effected by heavy snowfall, even during May when the Giro is run.

The very first time the Stelvio was used at the Giro there were patches of snow at the side of the road as Fausto Coppi was the first over the top. In 1965, the first year that the Cima Coppi was a thing the final 800 metres of the monster weren’t climbed due to an avalanche on the course. In 1988 and 2013 the stages which contained the Stelvio were cancelled altogether because of snow drifts. But it isn’t just the Stelvio which has been effected by snow. The Gavia, Colle dell’Agnello and even Blockhaus near the south of the country have suffered from heavy snowfall and avalanches which have forced the organisers to either cancel, shorten or re-route stages.

The weather can give race organisers a bit of a headache when trying to figure out whether or not to take any action but when the racing goes ahead it provides a fantastic spectacle. There are amazing pictures from over the years of riders seemingly coming through white tunnels which are huge banks of snow at the side of the road and video footage of riders suddenly appearing through a wall of falling snow. The riders might not enjoy it very much but in those moments they occupy legendary status and what they are doing becomes, for that moment, more important than the actual race and in the future more important than who crosses the line first

There have of course been winners and losers in the snow. Most recently, last year, the sight of Steven Kruijswijk in the maglia rosa somersaulting into a wall of snow will remain fresh in the memory for a while. That descent of the Colle dell’Agnello, the years Cima Coppi, is legendary but I had to double check, just a year later, to see if it was Vincenzo Nibali who won the stage that day.

One of the most memorable moments of the Giro d’Italia in the snow happened in 1988. It was the 16th stage and the stage finish was in Bormio, as it is today. As the stage started the 120 km day with ascents of the Aprica and Gavia Franco Chioccioli was in pink with most of his rivals for the GC, including Andrew Hampsten and Erik Breukink, within 2 minutes of him. There had been the chance of bad weather up to the start of the stage and the race director Vincenzo Torriani had even considered changes to the route. Riding through cold rain and wind the main contenders stayed together over the first climb, the Aprica. As they reached the foot of the Gavia the rain had turned to snow and the higher they got the more biblical, if there was snow in the bible, the conditions became. Pretty soon the road under the riders has turned to mud, back in 1988 the Gavia was only tarmacked on the switchbacks with the rest gravel. It soon became clear that it was going to be a day where mental and physical toughness would be vital but it also seemed that many of the riders were badly prepared for the conditions. Many of them were in short sleeves  and only some had appropriate hats and gloves. Looking back at the coverage puts a shiver down your spine.

The first rider over the top was the most under dressed of the lot Johan Van der Velde quickly followed by Breukink then Hampsten. Chioccioli was around 40 seconds back but still comfortably in pink. If it was difficult for the riders grinding through the snow up gradients of up to 15% it was soon to become even more tough, and dangerous, on the descent. Everything was frozen, the road, brakes, gears and hands. It was almost impossible to guide the bikes down into Bormio and Breukink, chasing the now stage leader Hampsten, spent most of the downhill with his feet out of the pedals for extra balance.

Halfway down it became a possibility that Hampsten could become the first American to pull on the Maglia Rosa. Chioccioli was losing buckets of time and suffering dreadfully. He desperately needed a warm hat and gloves but his team car was way behind following a teammate. Hampsten’s 7-Eleven team manager by contrast was playing a blinder. He’d had warm drinks and extra clothes for his riders to take at the top of the Gavia and that forethought was paying dividends for his man. The rider who suffered most was the rider first over the Gavia, Van der Velde (he would be the unofficial Cima Coppi winner after the planned ascent of the Stelvio was scrapped the next day due to the continuing bad weather). He had enough and got off his bike to wait for his team car and warm clothes before gingerly continuing down the mountain, even tackling the steepest sections on foot. He would lose 47 minutes at the end.

Just before Hampsten reached Bormio Breukink was about to catch him and approaching the finished rode straight passed him and went on to win the stage. But it was the American who really won the day. He took pink and held it for the rest of the race and it would be the images of him in the snow which would be remembered through history.

Tomorrow- The rider who performed best in blizzards.

Giro 100. The First Foreign Winner

Today’s stage is has the perfect terrain for an escape artist, slightly undulating with a couple of climbs at the end to gain an advantage then descend to the finish. The 6th stage of the 1950 Giro had a similar profile and would have passed through Valdengo, today’s start town.

Until 1950 the Giro d’Italia had always been won by Italians but as time passed it was inevitable a foreign rider would eventually win the Maglia Rosa. It would have been no surprise if he had come from France or Belgium but the emergence of two fine riders, Ferdinand Kübler and Hugo Koblet, meant the nationality would be a little more left field, and Swiss. Switzerland had produced a few decent cyclists in the first half of the century, Oscar Egg was perhaps the best with stage win in both the Giro and Tour to go along with his more famous World Hour Records. There was nothing ever to suggest though that two Swiss riders would dominate the top two stage races in the world for two years running. And it all started on that sixth stage of the 1950 Giro d’Italia.

The two had a few things in common apart from their nationality. They had both been national pursuit champion and their personalities were outgoing, friendly. Both also had a love for America, Kübler collected Stetson hats and was known as ‘The Cowboy’ and Koblet loved driving across the US, emulating his favourite American films. Their similarities didn’t go on though. Kübler and Koblet couldn’t have been any more different to look at on the bike. Kübler, older by six years, had a pointy nose and bony face while his riding style was clunky and sluggish. Koblet pedaled effortlessly over all terrain and always with perfect hair to complement his boyish good looks and playful smile. He always carried a comb and bottle of aftershave with him while racing and would use both before crossing the line while blowing kisses to any girls in his vicinity. He soon gained the nicknames ‘Le pédaleur de charme’ and ‘Beautiful Hugo’.

Going into the 1950 Giro Kübler was the slightly more experienced of the two. He had ridden two Tours de France winning three stages but never reaching the finish while Koblet was making his grand tour debut. The route probably suited the older rider too as it didn’t have time trials which were a speciality of Koblet’s. In any case, with the top three Italians Coppi, Bartali and Magni there no-one would have put them in the list of contenders. However as the riders started the 6th stage in Turin their countryman Fritz Schaer was in the pink jersey and the route headed north to finish in Locarno, Switzerland. Fate seemed to be on their side.

With over half of the stage to go Koblet attacked. Being a bit of an unknown the rest of the race let him go for a while but when they started to try and reel him back in they couldn’t as Koblet was now in time trial mode. It was a tactic they debutante would be renowned for in the future. He finished nearly 2 minutes ahead of the bunch and was up to third in the overall. Three days later on stage 8 Koblet showed that he wasn’t  just strong on the flats. He attacked on the days major climb, the Pian delle Fugazze, with a Legnano rider Pasquale Fornara and both managed to stay away till the finish in Vicenza with Koblet wining the two-up sprint. Not only had he won his second stage, he was now in pink.

Kübler by contrast had been ploughing along, mainly staying with the main group in the mountains, but was up to 9th overall and not to far behind the likes of Jean Robic and Bartali. The next stage, still in the mountains and with the Rolle, Pordoi and Gardena to go over, was the one which Bartali chose to make his move. His fierce rival Coppi had a terrible crash, breaking his pelvis, before the climbing began and was out of the race. He had a great opportunity to win another Giro and was first over the final climb, the Gardena pass. He reached the finish in Bolzano with only two other riders and nearly 3 minutes over the best of the rest. Those two riders though were the Swiss pair Kübler and Koblet. Koblet stayed in the Maglia Rosa and was 3 minutes 42 seconds ahead of 2nd place Bartali while Koblet had moved into 4th.

Over the next few stages Bartali kept attacking the race leader trying to shrink his lead but Koblet swatted everything away with ease. The 25 year old Swiss rider even increased his lead by winning bonus seconds at the top of most of the climbs that came his way and by the end of the 13th stage he now led Bartali by 7 minute 12 seconds. ‘Beautiful Hugo’ also now seemed to have to help of Coppi’s Bianchi teammates. After his crash and abandon they would have offered their services to anyone for a fast buck and it seemed Koblet had paid out rather than the notoriously tightfisted Bartali.

The proud Tuscan incensed that the Italian Bianchi gregarios had “accepted Swiss gold  over love of country” fought on but with only five stages left Koblet’s advantage was to large. At the race finish Koblet became the first foreigner to win the Giro d’Italia and had a healthy 5 minute 12 second gap over the second placed Bartali. Ferdi Kübler, finally showing some Grand Tour pedigree, only just missed out on the podium by 4 seconds.

That summer Kübler won the Tour de France to continue Swiss domination in Grand Tours and the following year Koblet took his title off him to make it two yellow jersey wins in a row for the small alpine country. At the Giro Kübler improved on his 4th place by finishing 3rd the following two years. Koblet on the other hand could never repeat his incredible performance. He did finish 2nd in 1953 and 1954 but it seemed that his playboy lifestyle was starting to effect his racing as his pedaling style became less effortless and more like Küblers.

Kübler raced on till he was 37 then enjoyed a long and happy retirement, passing away at the end of last year aged 97. As we have seen the two countrymen had many similarities as well as differences and unfortunately in the context of their lives after cycling the later is the case. Hugo Koblet retired in 1958 aged 33 and being quite reckless with his finances he soon ended up in debt and the stresses that this brought resulted in his marriage breaking up. It wasn’t long after this that he drove at over 100 kmh into a pear tree and died four days later aged only 39.

These two fine cyclists are sadly no longer with us but the time when they ruled the world should always be remembered.

Giro 100. The Cycling Capital Of The World

Biagio Cavanna and Fausto Coppi

Today’s stage starts in Castellania, the birthplace of Il Campionissimo (Champion of Champions) Fausto Coppi. He was born in September 1919 just a few months after Costante Girardengo, known as Campionissimo no.1, won his first Giro d’Italia. The fact that Girardengo comes from Novi Ligure only a few kilometers away makes this area highly significant in the history of Italian and world cycling. But perhaps both riders wouldn’t have been able to reach the heights they without a third character from this otherwise unassuming little area on the Piedmont and Liguria border.

Biagio Cavanna, born in Novi Ligure in 1893 was a boxer and track cyclist turned trainer and masseuse whose reputation reached legendary and even mythical status. Based in Novi Ligure throughout his life he built up stable of riders, champions and gregari alike mentoring them in all things from training to sleeping. Cavanna was a guru much like the Maharishi but instead of rich hippies going on a pilgrimage to seek his blessing and find themselves it was poor young men travelling from all over Italy, wanting to escape the drudgery of a lifetime working in the fields or factories, hoping Cavanna would accept them as  cyclists of merit. And just like the yogi claimed transcendental power it seemed like ‘The Wizard of Novi’ held magic in his hands as he got to work at his massage table.

Cavanna’s relationship with his riders was similar to the master-disciple relationship in a religious sect. He was an all or nothing type of trainer who demanded strict discipline and obedience. The riders would be woken up before five every morning for coffee and bread and then get sent off on a 200 km ride, partly timed and partly riding as a group. This happened no matter the weather, Cavanna’s philosophy was: ride each and every day. After the riders came back he would check their muscles to see if they had ridden all the way and hard enough, which they usually did as he was prone to fly into terrible fits of rage. Each evening all the riders and their master would sit together at a large table to eat and inevitably the conversation turned to cycling. They all literally lived and ate cycling. After the meal everyone was expected to have an early night and it would be a rare occurrence for a young rider to sneak out late at night to have some fun as Cavanna would have found about it from one of his spies in the small town and he was even known to knock on doors late in the evening to make sure everyone was tucked up in bed. He was so strict that even the focused Costante Girardengo, Cavanna’s first star pupil, who abstained from sex around races found his creeping around town checking up on what he was doing to be too much at times.

It is said that Cavanna ‘discovered’ Girardengo but as he is a few months younger than him and Girardengo won his first Giro stage aged twenty this is unlikely, the two even raced together a few times. What is probably true though is that Cavanna, as Girardengo’s trainer, ensured his pupil a long and successful career.

‘The Novi Runt’ as the small Girardengo was known was the first superstar of Italian cycling. Huge numbers of fans would have gone to the roadsides of the the country just to try and catch a glimpse of him. He ‘only’ won two Giri, in 1919 and 1923, but the reasons for this was part of his appeal. Apart from the First World War interrupting his career he suffered regularly from bad crashes. Defending his title in 1920 he crashed badly in the first stage and eventually had to abandon. In 1921 and in the form of his life he won the first four stages before again crashing out and the year later while in second overall his team withdrew in protest about a lenient penalty given to one of his rivals. His story read like the script of a film, early promise and happiness followed by years of tragedy and heartache before eventual triumph, it is easy to see why he was so loved. ‘Gira’s ‘eventual triumph’ came in 1923 where he won his second Giro and eight of ten stages. Another reason for his popularity was the way he rode, from the front and on long breakaways. His first of six Milan-San Remo titles was won after a 180 km solo break which added to his legend. Girardengo was meant to retire after the 1925 Giro d’Italia which he was confident of winning but after a young Alfredo Binda usurped him he stuck around for another 10 years and eventually called it a day aged 43.

Not much is written about the exact involvement of Biagio Cavanna’s in Girardengo’s career. We know that he also worked with Alfredo Binda and Learco Guerra during the 20’s and early 30’s but to list all the riders that he helped is impossible. It is the time he was together with his star pupil that we know most about, a time by which Cavanna was completely blind.

In his decades at the centre of the cycling capital of the world there were two events within a relatively short period of time which had the biggest effect on Cavanna’s life. Towards the end of 1936 he had started losing his sight, a result of getting dust in his eyes at a six day race in Dortmund. After initially taking it badly he managed to turn his blindness to his advantage and improved his skills as the ‘Muscle Magician’. Shortly after, while wearing his now trademark black glasses, hat and white cane, he met the talented amateur Fausto Coppi who had come to let the master work his magic with his hands. The eighteen year old Coppi was nervous to be in the presence of such a legend but when Cavanna had finished his work he too was filled with excitement. “Listen to me,” he demanded. “My hands see more than my eyes. My ears hear what can’t be heard. Your lung capacity, heart strength and muscles indicate you can become a great champion. Believe me, I am not mistaken. Will you do as I say?” Coppi agreed at once and for almost twenty years the two were rarely far from each others sides.

Coppi’s first big race after signing a professional contract with Legnano was the 1940 Giro d’Italia. He was meant to be riding as a gregario for Gino Bartali but after his leader suffered badly in an early crash he was eventually handed the reigns by the team manager and after taking over the race lead in the eleventh stage he held on all the way to the finish to become the youngest ever winner of the Giro, a record which still stands.

The day after his Giro victory Mussolini declared war on France and Great Britain meaning Coppi, who was already doing his national service and needed special leave to compete in the Giro he had just won, was confined to barracks within days. In November 1942 Cavanna persuaded Coppi to go for the world hour record in the Milan Vigorelli velodrome. Part of the reason was to stave off getting sent to the front line but Coppi ended up setting a new record which stood till 1956 when Jacques Anquetil set a new mark. Coppi spent the second half of the war in North Africa and POW camps and had been deprived the opportunity to compete in five Giri, which would have drastically changed all record books.

After the war finished Cavanna started to build up a fine team of gregari who would be dedicated to Coppi. From their base in Novi Ligure they lived, trained and raced together. The dynamic amongst the group was almost cult like and Coppi knew he had a bunch of riders he could count on 100%.

In the 1946 Giro Coppi and Bartali who had now formed a fierce rivalry were 1st and 2nd respectively before trading places the next year. The 1948 edition saw Coppi and his team withdraw while he sat in 3rd position with two stages to go. This was in protest to the race leader Fiorenzo Magni apparently getting pushed up a mountain on the 17th stage. Returning the next year and with a point to prove Coppi produced his most Coppiesque display ever while firmly thrashing Bartali. There were two facets to Coppi’s riding which made him so successful, tactical genius and the ability to disappear off the front on his own for massive distances, and he used these both to great effect in ’49.

In the 11th stage to Bolzano which went over the Rolle, Pordoi and Gardena Coppi pounced during a moment of inattention from Bartali. Bartali suspected he had a slow puncture on the flats between the Rolle and the Pordoi but tried to keep things hush-hush and continue on for a while to give his team time to prepare for a quick wheel change. Word about this got to Coppi and as Bartali was taking some food he was off. Bartali tried chasing but needed to stop for his inevitable wheel change and panicking forgot to finish eating. The hunger knock which happened as a result of this limited his ability to pursue Coppi and by the stage finish he had lost almost 7 minutes.

Stage 17 was another mountain stage, 254 km with five climbs. Bartali’s fans were confident it was perfect terrain for their man to nullify Coppi’s advantage in the GC. In miserable wet conditions Coppi chased down an attack on the first climb, the Maddelena. By the top he was on his own and being pursued by Bartali who was chasing on his own. But Coppi still had 190 km and four more Alpine monsters to climb. He kept increasing his advantage as he crested the Vars and the Izoard, at the top of the Montgenèvre he had almost seven minutes on Bartali then eight through Sestriere. He flew over the finish line in Pinerolo 11 minutes 52 seconds before Bartali and more than doubled his lead over him in the overall. His margin over his great rival, if he could still be considered that, as the race finished was 23 minutes 47 seconds.

Coppi won a further two Giri in 1952 and 1953 to equal the record of five titles set by Alfredo Binda. He has 22 stage wins to his name after competing in thirteen editions. His last visit to the Giro was in 1958 where he finished a lowly 32nd, retirement was on the horizon. Biagio Cavanna now in his mid sixty’s was also beginning to wrap things up with his career, the demand for the two legends wasn’t as great as it used to be.

In December 1959 Coppi along with a host of top riders including Jacques Anquetil and Louison Bobet accepted an invitation from the President of Burkina Faso to go to the country, ride an exhibition race and shoot some game. Coppi contracted malaria which flared up after returning to Italy. Doctors were unable to bring it under control and Il Campionissimo died on the 2nd of January 1960 aged only 40. Biagio Cavanna was said to be heartbroken and passed away nearly two years later. Two legends of Italian cycling had gone and with it the legend of Novi Ligure.

I got most of the information for this article from John Foot’s brilliant book Pedalare! Pedalare!

Giro 100. Tappa, And The Toughest Giro.

Luigi Ganna and Carlo Durando on Sestriere in the 1914 Gito d’Italia.

Today’s stage of the Giro travels between Reggio Emilia and Tortona stretching for 162 km. The length is a little below the average of a typical stage in the race these days and and quite a bit shorter than this years longest stage which was yesterdays at 237 km. That distance though would be considered short in the first edition of the race. Since then the formula of the Giro, in terms of the number and length of stages, has been tinkered about with. In general there are now more but shorter stages. More is being done to make the days interesting and varied rather than planning the route in terms of getting from one city to the next. It took a while to get to what we are used to today, 21 stages of varying length but nothing much more than 250 km and about 3500 km in total.

The very first stage of the Giro d’Italia was a mammoth 397 km slog between Milan and Bologna and stages in excess of 300 km were the norm in the formative years of the race. The finishing time of that first ever stage was 14 hours 6 minutes and 15 seconds and the average speed was 28 km/hr which is not bad considering how uncomfortable it must have been on those early racing bikes going over rough roads for so long. It must have been disheartening for the riders to know that the next stage was going to be 376 km.

Fortunately there were at least one rest day between stages back in the early Giri. There were also only 8 stages in 1909 but the total distance of 2447 km meant an average stage length of 305 km. In 1911 the number of stages had gone up to 12 and so did the overall distance. At 3530 km it was as long as this years centenary edition which has 21 stages.

The longest ever stage was the third one of the 1914 edition which ran from Lucca to Rome. It measured a total of 430 km and was won by Costante Girardengo. The race that year is considered to be one of the toughest challenges in cycling history. The shortest stage of the eight that year was 329 km and the average stage length was 395 km. The shear length of the stages were not the only thing which made it difficult. All but one would be considered a high mountain day these days. (Stages weren’t classified as such until later in the race’s history). The first day eased the riders into the race gently by sending them over La Serra and Sestriere but it is the sixth stage between Bari and L’Aquila which was the toughest of them all. 428 km long and containing five tough climbs it took the stage winner Luigi Lucotti 19 hours and 20 minutes to complete with Eberardo Pavesi rounding out the top 10 a further 3 hours back. Many of the riders abandoned the Giro that day including the race leader Giuseppe Azzini who was found the next day sleeping in the barn of a country house, though he may just as easily been hiding. The next and penultimate stage only had eight riders complete it. It took almost 18 hours to complete but the first seven rolled in together with only 41 seconds separating them. They seemed to have thought enough is enough. The eighth and final day seemed to reinforce this idea as the eight remaining riders stuck together all day helping each other reach the finish rather than racing each other (1st and second were separated by nearly 2 hours but there was ‘only’ 7 minutes between 2nd and 3rd) and only 4 seconds separated the group after 429 km. The finishing time for the winner Alfonso Calzolari was just over 135 hours and the average speed 23.4 km/hr is perhaps unsurprisingly the slowest in Giro history.

The winner of the 1914 Giro d’Italia Alfonso Calzolari (on the left).

The photo of Calzolari at the end of the race shows a haunted looking man exuding relief rather than elation.


Giro 100. Alfonsina Strada.

After an undulating start to today’s stage with two categorised climbs the route heads north towards Bologna before swinging west to join the SS9 towards Modena. Instead of staying on the state highway though the course takes a detour through the town of Castelfranco Emilia before rejoining and finally ending in Reggio Emilia. The reason for this deviation in the one hundredth Giro is clear. Castelfranco Emilia is the birthplace of Alfonsina Strada who in 1924 became the only woman to ever ride the Giro d’Italia.

The 1924 race took place during a period of hostility between riders, teams and the organisers. Some of the stars of the day wanted appearance money from their teams simply to ride the Giro, as well as the usual prize money. The teams agreed but insisted that the money should come from the organisers of the race and not them. Not wanting to look soft and encourage future demands the organisers point blank refused all appeals for such payments. After getting their rebuff the top riders, and consequently their teams, decided they would boycott the race. They hopped to show the Giro that it wouldn’t be able to cope without them.

To deal with this problem the organisers decided they would open up registration to individual riders instead of teams saying they would pay for their food and accommodation during the Giro though the racers wouldn’t have any help from team cars. Some of the top riders not involved in the dispute didn’t fancy those conditions but this opened up the way for some lesser known riders to enter.

The route itself would be one of the toughest yet being one stage and 400 km longer than the previous year and including some roads down the heel of Italy’s boot which weren’t in the best of shape. This didn’t stop 90 riders from entering, which was how many the organisers had wanted. The race director had succeeded in getting the Giro running despite the rider strike but with the absence of top names his employers would have been hoping there would be enough excitement in the race to sell their paper.

There were many Giro debutantes and unknown names on the start list including the rider given the 72 number, Alfonsin Strada. This was actually, and apparently unknown to the organisers, Alfonsina Strada who had changed her name to look like a mans and gain entry into the race. It was claimed at the time her true identity wasn’t known until she took to the start line in Milan. Her presence caused quite a stir, this was the 1920’s and opinions on the issue of her racing the Giro were caught between Italy’s fascist leaders trying to promote a macho image of the country and the more conservative populace who had ideas of where a woman’s place should be. Since taking up cycling she’d had to endure abuse and apparent ‘banter’ for the simple reason of being a female on a bicycle. So it was incredibly brave of her to just register for the race and put herself in the spotlight where she would have to face peoples sexist agendas never mind want to actually ride the course. Thankfully for Strada the organisers, realising the publicity that her inclusion would generate, were more than happy to let her go ahead and race.

Born Alfonsina Morini in 1891 into a family of two girls and eight boys she quickly developed into an athletic and competitive character. She developed a love for the bicycle at a young age, often borrowing her fathers, and saw it as a way of escaping a male dominated world. Desperate to avoid the life of a seamstress that her mother had planned for her she was delighted when her father bought her a bike of her own. Soon after at the age of thirteen she started entering and winning bike races. in 1915 she married another rider and racer, Luigi Strada, and he was happy to support her in her desire to race for a living. On her bike she was hugely successful. She set an unofficial hour record in 1911 and even completed the Giro di Lombardia in 1917 and 1918, finishing in the final group of seven riders but only 23 minutes behind the winner in her second appearance there. She was ready and capable of competing in the Giro, she wasn’t just there as a side show or circus act.

Strada started well in the race, she lost chunks of time, sometimes more than 2 hours, to the stage winner each day but was by no means the worst rider and was finishing way above the time cut. By the end of the fourth stage into Naples where she finished 56th almost 30 of the original 90 riders had already abandoned. After Naples the route headed to its southern most point, Taranto, before turning north again along the east of the country with stage finishes in Foggia and L’Aquila. The race was now over the half way point and Strada was still there. She was mountains of time behind the leader Giuseppe Enrici but this was a Giro of massive time gaps. The GC battle had been an exciting one between Enrici and Federico Gay and only 1minute 8seconds separated them but Angelo Gabrielli in third was over a hour in arrears.

Stage 8 to Perugia was a pivotal point in the battle between Enrici and Gay as well as for Alfonsina Strada herself. The weather conditions were terrible with strong winds and heavy, stinging rain. The road conditions were terrible too, most south of the Po river and the rich North were, and the rain turned them into torrents and made them impossible to pass through by bike in many places. Strada suffered from a number of crashes and flat tires but showed her strength and determination to carry on even repairing her handlebars with a broom handle after they broke at one point. Unfortunately she finished well behind the time cut and this was perhaps due to the stage winner Enrici being so strong on the day. His battle for the overall with Gay had been won as he added 39 minutes to his advantage on Gay who was 10th in the stage.

The race director had wanted to keep Strada in the race to reward her courage but the race jury were keen to apply the rules so her Giro was over, officially at least. The organisers asked her to continue, she had been great publicity for the race and newspaper, but kept her off the classification. Determined Strada of course agreed. The number of fans who came to get a glimpse of her and cheer her on grew as the race continued and at the end of the 10th stage when she crossed the line in tears after suffering another bad crash the crowd lifted her off her bike and cheered her name.

She made it all the way to the finish cycling all 3610 km of the route. She had lost 38 hours to Enrici. Only 30 of the 90 riders who started out the race reached the finish with Telesforo Benaglia in last spot 21 hours behind the winner Giuseppe Enrici.

Giro 100. Gino Bartali.

If you look at the race guide for today’s stage it will tell you it starts in Firenze (Florence) and in brackets is the name Ponte A Ema. Ponte A Ema is a small town just beyond Florence’s green belt to the south east. It is the location of the stages kilometer zero and has been chosen as the start for one reason, Ponte A Ema’s most famous son, Gino Bartali.

Bartali was the third in the line of the great Italian riders who dominated the Giro for periods. First there was Costante Girardengo, then Alfredo Binda and after that the Tuscan with the boxers nose, Gino Bartali.

His first Giro was in 1935 when he was aged 21 and strangely enough that edition included both Girardengo and Binda. Girardengo now aged 42 had once planned to retire after winning the 1925 Giro. Unfortunately he didn’t win the race in ’25 and chose to plough on to try and win his third Giro. He was now a shadow of his former self. The thirty three year old Binda was still a fine rider but had also seen better days.

Bartali finished a credible 7th but perhaps more significantly he won a tough stage 6 and the mountains classification. He returned the next year where his main rival was the time trial specialist Giuseppe Olmo. Olmo who had beat the world hour record at the at the Vigorelli Velodrome in Milan the previous October took time off Bartali in the races two time trials but Bartali was imperious in the mountains. On stage nine to L’Aquila, where he got his maiden stage win the year before, he went on a legendary solo win and finished over 6 minutes ahead of his nearest rival. The manner of his ride shocked his rivals who knew they would now be chasing greatness. He ended the race 2 minutes 36 seconds ahead of Olmo and retained the mountains classification.

1937 saw his most crushing victory so far and showed he was now the complete rider. He won his first time trial stage (His Legnano team also won the team time trial) and another three mountain stages. He now had a trio of wins in the mountains class and his second Giro was won by over 8 minutes. He seemed destined to win an unprecedented number of Giri but Italy’s fascist regime and world events ensured that this was never to be the case.

Bartali wasn’t allowed to defend his title in 1938 as his countries leaders, wanting the country to increase its international prestige, ordered him to focus solely on the Tour de France. Without much choice in the matter Bartali obliged and duly won the race.

He returned in 1939 and took part in a brilliant duel with Giovanni Valetti who had won the race the previous year in Bartali’s absence. Bartali went into the Maglia Rosa on the second stage before it was passed to Cino Cinelli (who founded the famous bike component company in 1948), Secondo Magni and then Valetti on stage 9b. Bartali won it back on stage 15 after putting nearly 8 minutes into Valetti over the Passo Rolle before the days finish in Trento. With only two more stages Valetti was seemingly out of contention in 4th place and 3 minutes 49 seconds behind the leader. The next day though was one one of Bartali’s most eventful in his 20 year career.

The 155 km run from Trento to Sondrio had two major climbs, the Tonale and the Aprica, and was played out in freezing cold weather with snow up to 20cm in places. The Tonale was the first challenge of the day and Bartali was over it first and had 5 minutes on Valetti but soon after had a puncture. Valetti and his team made Olimpio Bizzi passed him and started creating a decent gap. Bartali giving a desperate chase had another flat then crashed, damaging his wheel and had to wait longer than usual for his team car which had been held up down the road. Valetti finished on his own 5 minutes 32 seconds ahead of Bizzi and Bartali rolled in 11th an additional 1 minute 16 later. Valetti was back in the lead and with all the contenders finishing together the next day he had retained his title.

There was more to that 16th stage that met the eye though. It seemed Valetti’s Frejus team car driver had been taking part in some underhand play. He had seemingly purposefully skidded and blocked the road when Bartali’s car was trying to get to their man as he was trying to change a tire with freezing hands on the Tonale. That same Frejus car had earlier crashed into Valetti’s wheel, buckling it so the judges could agree to a wheel change meaning Valetti didn’t have to waste time changing a puncture. There has been some talk since that what was allowed to occur that day was down to fact that Valetti was a member of the Young Fascists while Bartali who refused to join the party belonged to Catholic Action (one of his nicknames was ‘Gino The Pious’), an organisation which was a thorn in the side of the regime.

Drama continued to follow Bartali in his career. Starting the 1940 Giro Bartali was 25 and about to enter his peak years as a cyclist. He was again favourite for the win alongside Valetti for but disaster struck on the second stage. On the descent of the Passo della Scoffera he hit a dog and came down badly. He continued to the finish, losing more than 5 minutes, and was advised by his doctors to abandon due to the severity of his injuries. As the race progressed and Bartali’s badly injured knee didn’t seem to be healing it became more and more likely that his role as team leader would be passed to a 20 year old in his first year as a professional called Fausto Coppi. On the 11th stage the Legnano manager Ebererdo Pavessi made the call and told Coppi to attack. Coppi listened and escaped up the road in the snowy, foggy weather seemingly flying up the mountains with ease to a stage victory. The conditions and manner in which he won that day would be repeated many times but would always be breathtaking. He took pink and with it the leadership of Bartali’s team. Gino and Fausto’s long and bitter rivalry had begun.

Bartali had had enough and wanted to quit but with the Dolomites coming Pavessi still wasn’t convinced Coppi at such a young age could hang on to the lead. He needed all the help he could get and his boss managed to convince Bartali to play the role of dutiful lieutenant. Bartali saved Coppi on a few occasions, pacing him back after the youngster had stopped with stomach problems or flat tires. With Bartali’s help Coppi held the lead all the way to Rome with Bartali in 9th 46 minutes behind.

In the years to come the two practically despised each other. Did their relationship start well then sour? Bartali had seem to be the younger riders perfect helper but after the race he sneered at this notion and declared he did his duty only for the team. And whats more he stated that he would have won if he didn’t need to keep coming to the aid of a weaker rider. Racing fans would have loved to see this rivalry progress in the coming years but the Second World War put paid to that. But what is one persons loss is another gain.

While Coppi spent half the war in North Africa with the Italian Army and later in a POW camp Bartali was thought to be the lucky one and was left free to carry on training in Italy waiting for the wars end. This was at least thought to be the case until it emerged he had been an important figure in the resistance movement. The whole story didn’t emerge until 2010 when the diaries belonging to a Jewish accountant called Giorgio Nissim were found by his sons. He was a member of DELASEM, an organisation which helped Italian Jews escape persecution during the war and his memoirs revealed Bartali to be among a number of cyclist who crossed the country with forged papers and photographs down their seat tubes, destined for Jews wanting to escape Italy overrun by Nazis and Mussolini’s men. As well as this Bartali had hidden a Jewish family in his cellar and led others to the Swiss Alps to escape over the border. Little was known about this brave episode of his life until recently because he was so reluctant to talk about it seeing it simply as his duty. All he is said to have told his son Andrea on the matter was “One does these things and then that’s that”.

After the war the Giro returned in 1946 and Bartali beat his now ex-team mate Coppi  by 47 seconds to exact what he would have seen as some kind of revenge. However by the next edition Coppi had fully recovered from his experience in the war and Bartali now 33 had his best years behind him. He would still manage three more second places, two of those were behind Coppi, and the 1954 Giro which was his 14th and final one was the only one where he finished outside the top 10 (he has 39 and still managed to finish 13th). Of those 14 Giri he finished all of them, he finished 1st in the mountains competition in the first seven and won 12 stages. His tally of three titles is behind that of Merckx and Coppi but perhaps could have been more but for that period where he was on his bike but racing to save lives.



Giro 100. Time Trials And Automobiles.

Learco Guerra at the end of the 1934 Giro

Today we see the first time trial in this years Giro. The first time trial of any Giro was held in the 1933 edition. The introduction of the race against the clock would have a huge influence on who could contend for the title. Before you had to be an excellent climber and have a strong team in the rolling stages but now a new skill was needed. Specialists in time trialing could make up deficits lost in the mountains and pure climbers would see their chances of winning the Giro erode in the race against the truth. The 1933 race was also the first edition where the mountains competition was run, perhaps the organisers set it up as some kind of consolation for the climbers.

The ’33 race is seen as the first modern Giro and has many similarities to what we are used to in Grand Tours today. The type of rider who would win the Giro from 1933 on would be similar to the GC riders who could be victorious this year. The Giro itself was nearly what we are used to seeing these days too. It was up to 17 stages where before it was between 9 and 13 and it also had the races first publicity caravan. One difference was the mountain stages were at the start of the race followed by the flat stages and time trial.

The time trial was run on the 13th stage between Bologna and Ferrara and was 62 km long. It was won by over a minute by Alfredo Binda who was a rare breed of rider that can climb like an angel but also has the horsepower to win against the clock. In the end the time trial didn’t make much difference. Binda was at the top of his game that year and won the race by over 12 minutes. It wasn’t till the next year that it became obvious how important time trials were.

The 1934 Giro d’Italia had two time trials and one rider knew how to use them to his advantage to win a Giro he wouldn’t have before there introduction. The 1934 race ended up being a close run affair between the greatest TT’er of the age, Learco Guerra, and Francesco Camusso regarded as one of the finest Italian climbers ever. Going into the 13th stage which went over the Futa and Raticosa Guerra had a 2 minute 27 second advantage over Camusso and 2 minutes 2 seconds came form the first time trial on stage 4. At the bottom of the first climb, the Passo della Futa, Camusso realised that Guerra was struggling and went on the attack with a group of riders including Giuseppe Olmo and his team mate Giovanni Cazzulani. They soon built a decent lead and it was Olmo who eventually crossed the line first  in Bologna. The two Gloria team mates Camussa and Cazzulani were more interested in what Guerra’s finishing time would be though and they found out 5 minutes 22 seconds later meaning they were now first and second in the General Classification.

It later emerged that Guerra was having such a bad day that he had climbed into his team car and quit. The car eventually caught up with that of the race director who convinced Guerra to continue, Binda had already abandoned on stage 6 after a crash with a police motorcycle so this wasn’t what he and the race needed. The only thing was, the car didn’t drive back to where he got in and he was soon able to join the chasing riders. Guerra undoubtedly gained an advantage but wasn’t penalised in any way.

The next stage, the second time trial, came after a rest day all of which was of huge benefit to Guerra. He would have 50 km to reduce his 2 minute 55 second gap to the Maglia Rosa. Guerra lived up to his nickname ‘The Human Stopwatch’ as he powered through the course while the climber Camussa looked out of his depth in comparison. Guerra took the stage and Camussa, doing well to finish 5th, lost 3 minutes 46 seconds. Guerra moved back into 1st by 51 seconds and consolidated his lead in the next three stages to win his first and only Giro d’Italia.

Apart from 1940, ’47, ’48, ’50 and ’62 there have been time trials in every Giro since the first one in 1933. They have been of varying lengths but the longest one was a mammoth 81 km in the 1951 race and was won by Fausto Coppi. The first team time trial was in 1937 and the 1973 edition held a two-man time trial as a prologue, though the times didn’t count towards the General Classification. Some editions have only included one TT but some have had three individual and one team time trials. These editions were most common during the Francesco Moser years.



Should the race have been neutralised? Views on stage 9 of the Giro.



Yesterday after a race which alternated between dull and fairly dull the 100th Giro d’Italia finally ignited. However even after some great performances from Nairo Quintana, Tom Dumoulin and Thibault Pinot the main talking point was an incident which happened just before the main action on Blockhaus was about to start.

A police motorbikes, of all things, had inexplicably stopped on the road causing one of the riders in the speeding peloton, presumably only seeing it at the last moment, to clip it, swerve, then go hurtling into the middle of the bunch. The resulting crash caused a number of riders considered to be in with a shout of a good GC result to lose large amounts of time and put them out of contention. The episode left a sour taste in many peoples mouths as they would like to see races decided by riders racing bikes not cops on motorcycles. There were also questions raised over what, if anything, should have happened immediately after the incident.

The most important point to come out of this, and something everyone can agree with, is that it shouldn’t have happened. The motorbike should not have been stationary on the course. If the rider needed to stop they should have found somewhere safe to do so. It is yet another example that the UCI aren’t dealing with a problem that has been causing riders serious injury and to so tragically lose their lives. Throughout the Giro and most other races there seem to be to many motos on the course and they are STILL far to close to the riders. There needs to be a clear set of rules written and applied.

The contention which arose from the crash was over the question of whether the race should have been neutralised immediately after so many riders went down and who should have stopped things if so. The question was asked because there are no written rules governing a situation like this either.

Here are the arguments in favour of the race getting stopped by the race commissaire:

  • There was no breakaway at the time things happened so it would presumably have been easier for things to restart without anyone gaining or losing time.
  • There were three GC contenders that went down so the sporting integrity of the race was at stake.
  • The accident was caused by an outside influence, it wasn’t a racing incident.

On the first point I don’t think the decision of the commissaire should be influenced by how easy it will be to enforce.

On the second, where do you stop? If an A-list GC rider goes down or B-list or further down the pecking order? More importantly it’s not down to the commissaire to decide on who is a race favourite and who is not. Every rider should be treated equally and fairly. And when it comes to fairness, what is good for one rider is bad for another. If the race had been stopped for Yates, Landa and Thomas then Movistar would have felt themselves to have been penalised. They were in the middle of executing their plan to propel Quintana to the stage victory. If they had to stop the plan would be trashed. If everyone doesn’t benefit from a neutralisation then you might as well race on.

The third argument holds some weight but I believe because the race was on and everyone was so close to the finish then things should have continued. If it was further out then I think yes it could have been stopped but that just wasn’t the case yesterday.

So should Movistar have slowed things down?

The crash yesterday reminds me of two incidents at the 2011 Tour de France. During stage 7 Bradley Wiggins crashed out and the race carried on regardless and two days later Alexandre Vinokourov and Jurgen van den Broeck both had to abandon after a mass crash but the peloton eased the pace so everyone could sort themselves out. What was the difference between the two? Both incidents had GC favourites go down. In stage 7 there were only 40 km left and the sprinters teams were still trying to chase down the break and the crash on stage 9 happened with half the stage to go.

Did Movistar fail to do the gentlemanly thing? Yesterday the crash was so close to the end that Movistar decided to keep on going, they were in charge of the race with the best rider of the day. Bike riding is tough and they weren’t effected by bad luck on the day but that could be because they were making their own good luck.

Would they have stopped if the pink jersey or Nibali had gone down? Perhaps so, they might not see the three GC men who were delayed as good enough reasons to spoil their day.

Of the three who went down I think it is Yates who lost out the most. He was in good form and could perhaps have had a top 5 finish. He is still young though and now has a good opportunity to add a stage to his palmares.

Landa has seemed slightly out of sorts so far but now, if he recovers, can take it easy for a few days and also go for a stage in the final week.

Geraint Thomas though could have lost out the most. Had the crash not have occurred he might have come to realise that Grand Tour racing is not his thing and gone back to what he is best at, one day classics. Now the question of “what if?” may be inside his head and he might give the three week tours one more year, by which point his Roubaix boat may have sailed.

There was one final question that needed to be asked at the end of the stage. Should the interview have been neutralised? Definitely, yes.


Giro 100. Blockhaus And Merckx. New Stars Are Born.

The Giro d’Italia, now in its centenary edition is one of the most respected and important races in the world. Back in 1909 when 115 riders lined up in Milan to start the first edition the organisers would have still been wondering and worrying if the event was going to be a success. It wouldn’t have taken long for them to realise that they were on to a winner. Huge crowds gathered at the stage finishes and perhaps more importantly sales of the Gazzetta della Sport increased as the captivated country were desperate to find out what was happening in the race. The future and fame of the Giro was guaranteed. This month it is exactly 50 years since another two now icons of the cycling world were introduced to the Grand Tour scene.

The route of the 1967 Giro included a summit finish up a climb never before used in the race. Blockhaus sounds more like the name of a Kraftwerk album than a climb in the middle of Italy. Only a handful of riders from the area would have been familiar with it and many starting the 12th stage in Caserta may have wondered if they needed to go down an autobahn to reach it. What they encountered after nearly 200 km in the saddle was a 30 km slog with an average gradient of 6.5% with hardly any leveling out to help them gather their senses. And the further they got from the bottom the more exposed to the elements they became as the trees thinned out.

One rider who was seemingly unfazed by such a monster was the 22 year old man-machine Eddy Merckx. He had been making a name for himself as a brilliant classics rider and although still such a young age he had already won Gent-Wevelgem and La Flèche Wallonne as well as Milan-San Remo twice. The 1967 Giro was to be his first Grand Tour and on the 12th stage, lying 7th overall, he was showing that he could compete in the big mountains deep into the second week. With a little over 2 km of Blockhaus left Italo Zilioli attacked out of the leading group and only Merckx was able to respond. As a tired looking bunch containing former Giro winners Jacques Anquetil, Gianni Motta and Franco Balmamion neared the end a sprightly looking Merckx was about to cross the finishing line. It was his first Grand Tour stage, he had beaten Anquetil into 4th place, this was the changing of the guard. Merckx showed his versatility two days later by winning a flat stage and ended up 9th overall only suffering badly in one stage on the penultimate day. This was a successful start to Merckx’s roller-coaster relationship with the Giro d’Italia.

The climbs debut was also considered a triumph. It was included in the very next edition where it was the final assent on the penultimate stage making it the last place where the contenders could win the Maglia Rosa. The stage was won by Franco Bodrero but eventually awarded to Franco Bitossi after a doping test of Bodrero’s from the 4th stage showed up positive. Merckx also returned for the 1968 Giro and aged 23 he won the points competition, the mountains jersey and the overall. However like Blockhaus he would soon be linked to the doping scandal that was being exposed in cycling.

After the death of Tom Simpson in 1967 the cycling authorities knew they finally had to do something about the use of drugs in the sport. The 1968 Giro was that first one which showed any effort to catch out the cheats but as anti-doping was in its infancy the process was a bit of a mess. Testing was sporadic and primitive, and confusion led to accusations of cover-ups. The fact that, for some bizarre reason, the positive tests (10 in total) weren’t revealed till after the race finished didn’t help the public’s trust in the process.

Things were tightened up a little the next year. Every day the stage winner and runner up as well as the GC leader and two random riders were tested. Eddy Merckx back at the race, now the defending champion, led the race at the end of the 16th stage to Savona. He had already been tested 9 times and passed with flying colours, so to speak. The next morning the cycling world woke up to a huge shock. Merckx’s sample from the previous afternoon had contained Fencamfamina, a banned amphetamine. Merckx felt distraught and most people soon had an opinion of whether that came from injustice or the embarrassment of being caught. He took part in a television interview, crying in his bed, and soon found out he would be disqualified from the race and banned for one month. Merckx protested his innocence and his Faema team left the Giro in protest. Conspiracy theories started suggesting his water had been spiked or samples were swapped to give the Italian rider Felice Gimondi the victory. Newspapers and television programmes starting discussing the case and doping in general asking how big the problem was. The issue was out in the open for the first time but then came the omerta.

Merckx suggested he would never ride the Giro again but soon recovered his mental state and was back the next year. He beat Gimondi, who had benefited most from Merckx’s disqualification in ’69 by winning the Maglia Rosa, into second place.

For three years after 1969 Merckx was at his peak and pretty much unbeatable. In 1972 he was going for his third Giro but early on in the race he showed a rare moment of weakness. José Manuel Fuente was one of his main rivals and his KAS team were incredibly strong (they had 5 riders in the final top 10). Stage 4 was split into two parts and the first was only 48 km but most of that was up one mountain, Blockhaus. The Spanish KAS team annihilated Merckx’s Molteni squad before ripping shreds out of Merckx himself. Fuente put 2 minutes 36 seconds into Merckx and took the race lead. Of course, Merckx recovered later on in the race and easily won but Blockhaus had shown that he was human after all.  Blockhaus is now a feared climb for many riders and has earned the nickname ‘The Severe Judge of the Abruzzo’.

I got most of the information for this article from John Foot’s brilliant book Pedalare! Pedalare! and Mountain High by Daniel Friebe

Giro 100. Binda Beats Girardengo in Bari.


Alfredo_Binda_3.jpgToday’s stage starts in Molfetta just on the outskirts of Bari, the city which saw the first victory of one of the all time greats of Italian and World cycling. The 5th stage of the 1925 Giro was won by a 23 year old Giro debutante named Alfredo Binda, beating the first great campionissimo Costante Girardengo into second place. The race that year was meant to be Girardengo’s swansong and as he was hugely popular most Italy were desperate for Girardengo to win his third and final Giri. As it was, Binda had gained the race lead in the previous stage and held the advantage till Milan beating Girardengo into second place by 4 minutes 58 seconds.

This started Binda’s divisive relationship with the countries cycling fans. His win was hugely unpopular in Italy, not only had the great champion been beaten but some fans thought he was getting usurped by an outsider as they considered Binda to be un-Italian. He was born in the town of Cittiglio in the north of the country but due to the poverty that effected his family he had been forced to move to Nice at a young age to live with an uncle. This was out of necessity to survive but it meant that he spoke with a mix of a rural dialect from his place of birth and French.

His fortunes and popularity would soon increase though. Binda’s increasing number of wins, and his sharp style, soon helped to gather up a strong fan base for the rider and before long Italian cycling fans were sharply divided between Bindianis and anyone who could challenge him. Girardengo, disappointed by his defeat in ’25 postponed his retirement and tried to get his revenge but his best days were behind him. After Girardengo retired his fans hoped Domenico Piemontesi would better their adversary. He was a good stage hunter but the closest he got to overall victory was in 1929 when he finished 2nd to Binda who had won eight of fourteen stages. Girardengo, now a coach and manager, thought he had found a rider to rival Binda called Learco Guerra. The Guerra-Binda rivalry was intense, both for the riders and their fans. Guerra had socialist sympathies and Binda was a paid up member of the fascist party (One of Binda’s nicknames was ‘The Dictator’ apparently due to the way he won everything) and although both men had come from poverty Binda was now always well turned out and elegant while Guerra was more rough and ready. They made it easy for the public to choose sides. In the end Learco Guerra got the better of him on occasion but Binda’s overall dominance continued.

His 1925 victory was followed up with a second place the next year. This was mainly due to an incident in the first stage where Binda had to throw himself on the ground after his brakes failed. The rules of the time barred him from getting any outside medical assistance so Binda waited till he felt able to continue, which was forty-five minutes later. He lost by just over 15 minutes at the end and bagged 6 stages.

He won the next three Giri in a row and 26 of their 41 stages. He was so prolific and dominant that the race was becoming boring and predictable. The organisers started to get worried that the future of the race could suffer if interest in it started to wain. Their solution to this perceived problem was to just give him the winners check before the race had even started. They paid Binda not to enter the race.

Binda won his final Giro in 1933 to make it five in total, a record that would only be equalled by Merckx and Coppi and his record of 41 stage wins stood till 2003 when Mario Cipollini surpassed him. He retired from racing relatively young aged 34 to take up management and restarted his rivalry with another team manager, Learco Guerra.