First organized to increase sales of a newspaper, the Giro d’Italia is Italy’s signature cycling race and Italians have pretty much dominated since its inception in 1909.
Bicycle Sportive hit the Italian Alps during the final week of the 2015 Giro to see if young Fabio Aru could preserve his country’s glory.
Milan was the jumping off point for the five-day trip with an easy going group of Canadians on the hunt for spectacular rides, challenging climbs and an up close race experience. Italian cuisine and a bit of prosecco were also on the menu.
Day 1 – To Aosta
It didn’t take long to build our bikes and get out for a light spin in the Aosta Valley. For hundreds of years, this alpine valley has provided a strategic gateway to France and Switzerland. You could feel the history as we rode past centuries-old castles and through cobblestone villages.
Day 2 – Colle del Piccolo San Bernardo
This pass has been used for almost 3,000 years to cross the Alps. Today, we rode 1,600 m of vertical to France and returned to the spa for some relaxing massages and a dip in the pools.
Day 3 – Cervinia, Stage 19 Giro d’Italia mountain top finish.
We put on our red and white kit and packed some Canadian flags. If Ryder Hesjedal was to put on a show, we needed to be ready. We rode up ahead of the peloton. It was a 30 km ride with about 1,500 m of climbing to reach Cervinia. When we reached the top and took our place along the finish line, we glanced at the big screen to see Ryder laying down the gauntlet.
Hesjedal and Aru were breaking away. The 24 year old Aru made a move of his own and the Tifosi exploded when he took off with two kilometers to the finish. The stage win went to Aruuuuuuuu!!! Hesjedal came across the line second about 30 seconds behind and Alberto Contador retained a 4:37 lead on Aru for the pink jersey.
It was a mammoth 236 km stage for them with the final finisher crossing the line an hour behind Aru.
Day 4 – Stage 20, Cima Coppi and mountain top finish in Sestriere.
This was the big one. Half the group started in Prgelato and rode up to Sestiere. The other half ascended the monstrous Colle delle Finestre.
‘Finestre’ is Italian for window, and at 2,176 m, this pass provides a ‘window on the world.’
By The Numbers: 17.8 kilometers, 9% average gradient (14% in places), 1,683 meters vertical and 45 switchbacks and the final 7 kilometers are on dirt.
It’s also the ‘Cima Coppi’; the highest point this Giro will reach.
The way up was crowded with lots of people of all ages riding all sorts of different bikes to the top.
It took us a long time to reach the top – about two hours. When we finally got there, the crowd was packed. Excitement was in the air – and so were the clouds. A few raindrops fell and we had to act fast. We downed some Cokes and Panini’s from a pop up deli and went on our way. It was a race against time to make it down the back of the colle and then up to the finish in Sestriere. The weather held off and we felt like forerunners as we rode the final 15 kilometers on freshly paved roads that were closed to traffic with cheering fans the entire way. They were basically using us as a dress rehearsal for the real riders who’d be coming through within the next 60 minutes.
The top was a buzz with sponsors, vendors, team buses and fans.
Ryder was incredible. He seemed to attack every time the road went up. Unfortunately, he was again denied the stage win, but his efforts brought him from outside of the top ten to fifth in less than a week. Even without a stage win, watching the Canadian made us proud.
Contador retained the maglia rosa and will win the General Classification. Aru will finish second.
For us it was back to Torino for our own celebratory dinner and prosecco!
Contador and the grupetto had an easy ride from Torino to Milan the next day. They’d earned it. Out of the 198 riders that started the race 20 days prior, 35 had withdrawn.
For us, it was time to catch our breath. We climbed, we laughed, we cheered, we ate and we drank. Like Contador, Aru and Hesjedal, we left it all in the Alps – except for the memories.