Today the Giro reaches Messina, the home of the most talented Italian rider of recent times, Vincenzo Nibali. The current champion is one of only six riders to have won all three grand tours and was seen something of a saviour for Italian cycling at the start of the decade when there were fewer top riders and fewer top Italian teams. The decline in Italian teams in the World Tour reached its zenith the year after the demise of the Lampre squad meaning their number has reached zero. And now with ‘The Shark Of Messina’ reaching 32 Italian cycling fans are desperate for a new hero to emerge.
Fabio Aru, missing this years Giro due to injury, is the obvious heir to Nibali but after a disappointing 2016 he still has much to improve before becoming a reliable champion. As he gets older and reaches prime Grand Tour age perhaps he will be able to help Italy keep its proud tradition of winners at the Giro going.
Of the 99 Giri 69 have been won by 41 different Italians. It wasn’t until 1950 that the first foreign rider, Hugo Koblet of Switzerland, won. After that the Italians had to share the prize with an increasing number of countries such as Luxembourg, France, Belgium and Sweden. At the start of the 90’s the hosts had to go three years without a win but Ivan Gotti’s victory in 1997 saw the return of Italian domination.
This coincided with the era of Lance Armstrong. It was a time when the media, riders and many fans thought the Tour de France was the be all and end all. Most of the top riders saw the merit of basing their whole seasons around their appearance at the Tour leaving the top Italians to fight amongst themselves at the Giro whilst winning 11 in a row. Some of theses editions were more exciting than others. The winning margins were between 28 seconds and 9 minutes 18 and there may have been a reason for the more emphatic wins.
The list of winners in this period is a reflection of what was happening in the Tour and elsewhere in cycling at this time. Marco Pantani, Ivan Basso, Danilo Di luca and others have either had positive doping tests or been involved in doping investigations. The late 90’s and the 2000’s are always described as the EPO era and many who were exposed for blood doping have been excused as just being a product of the times. Taking drugs to win has always been a problem in cycling though and those caught during the ‘EPO era’ are really products of police investigations and a hungrier desire amongst some to end doping.
The fight against doping may still be going on but at least now the top riders are returning to the Giro. Hopefully the obsession with the Tour is over and more fans will be drawn to the Giro to witness a different type of Grand Tour racing.
A total of 12 different countries have now won the Giro. A greater international presence is great but seeing an Italian be in contention in his home race adds something special to the ‘Corsa Rosa’ so hopefully ‘The Shark Of Messina’ and his fellow countrymen can keep the Italian tradition there going.