Today’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.