Today’s stage finishes in Cagliari on the south coast of Sardinia. The last rider to cross the line there first in a stage of the Giro d’Italia was Alessandro Petacchi in 2007. But as he was found to have high levels of salbutamol in his system later on in the race his results were annulled*. So the last rider to cross the line first in Cagliari and still be the official winner is Mario Cipollini.
It was 1991 and the victory was the 24 year old’s 4th Giro stage win, it was evident that he was hungry and able to win plenty more. Confident as the youngster was though he might not have thought at some point he would be gunning for Alfredo Binda’s record number of stage wins at the Giro. The benchmark of 41 had stood firm since 1933. Learco Guerra came closest to it with 31 stages by the end of the 30’s and Eddy Merckx had “only” managed 24 through the 60’s and 70’s.
But Cipollini had arrived in a different time than Binda, Guerra and Merckx. The era of epic performances in black and white was over, the colour television age had arrived and ‘Super Mario’ knew how to benefit from this time both on and off the bike. Cippo forged himself a flamboyant image and is as well known for the tiger print and muscle skin suits he wore during time trials than he is for his wins. As the years pass he is getting known for wearing less and less as he wastes no opportunity to show off his impressive physique. One of his many nicknames is the “Italian Stallion” and according to his Wikipedia page he is rumoured to be a womaniser. All of this made him incredibly marketable and very rich but he also needed to be winning to keep his legend alive.
Later on today the 100th running of the Giro d’Italia will start in Alghero on the island of Sardinia. As this is the centenary edition the race director Mauro Vegni wanted as many regions of Italy to be visited as possible. Sardinian cycling fans must be delighted as it will be only the 4th time that the race has come to the island. The first visit in 1961, which was the year the Giro was celebrating 100 years of Italian unification, saw a short short stage beginning and ending in Cagliari. It was another 30 years however till the riders returned. At least this time the islanders saw four stages (over three days) when Olbia staged the start of the race and there wasn’t as long a wait till the next sighting of the Maglia Rosa in 2007.
The fact that the Giro has only visited one of it’s regions four times seems odd, especially when you consider that the race has started in the Netherlands three time. This reason for this is mainly down to the North-South economic divide in Italy which shows increasing poverty levels as you head from the top of the boot, down towards the toe and over to the islands.
The Giro d’Italia was set up and run by the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper which was located in Milan which meant many of the early editions started and ended in Milan. And as the race was created to publicise and increase sales of the newspaper much of the racing was at the top of the country. There has always been more money in the industrial North so the population would be more likely to buy newspapers.