It doesn’t seem to matter what the occasion might be, Italian culture can enrich everything from bicycle tours and races to local community festas all around the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. Take for instance two bicycle races, Il Giro di San Francisco and Giro d’Italia. (Giro is the Italian word for “Tour”.)
Bicycle racing and touring is a time-honored tradition in Italy with many premier events through the tranquil and picturesque countryside, including the 99th Il Giro d’Italia which took place in May and June of 2016. Il Giro is a staged bicycle tour some cycling experts believe has the prestige and pedigree rivaled only by the Tour de France. Il Giro is almost as old as the Tour de France and is often considered more challenging. Both combine the energy of thousands of fans along with a tour route through breathtakingly beautiful landscapes spectacularly illustrated by course through Cortina D’Ampezzo, located in the Veneto region of Northern Italy.
The 2016 tour began in the Netherlands and continued throughout Italy. The scenery for stage 19 of the race featured Cima Coppi. This is the name given to the highest point in the course, a term that was first introduced for the 1965 race, named in honor of Fausto Coppi who won five editions of the Giro d’Italia and three mountain classification titles during his career. Colle Dell’Agnello (hills of the lamb) was considered the highest point of the 2016 race and this year’s leader at the summit was Michele Scarpoini of Italy.
Il Giro d’Italia was first organized in 1909 to increase sales of the newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, and has been held annually since, except when it was stopped during the two world wars. The first edition of the race was won by Italian Luigi Ganna who received 5,325 lira as a winner’s prize, with the last rider in the general classification receiving 300 lira. During the years 1910 through 1953, winners of Il Giro d’Italia were exclusively of Italian descent with Italians winning most of the races through 1968.
Cycling scholars point to the “golden age” of Italian cycling as the period from the end of the 1930s to the 1950s, the time when two exceptional cyclists, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi, were prominent in the sport. This period coincides with a difficult time in Italian history during WWII and also the more positive, post-war period, a time when the bicycle became an important transportation vehicle and also the most popular sport.
Moving across the globe to San Francisco, the City does appear to be experiencing resurgence in cycling both as transportation and sport. San Francisco did its part on Labor Day, September 5, 2016, the day that marked decades-old, 42nd annual running of the City’s Il Giro. Il Giro di San Francisco began life as the “San Francisco Gran Prix”. The race has been a long-standing tradition over the past three decades. It was started by George Pagni of the San Francisco Columbus Day Celebration Committee in 1975. The race moved to Lake Merced in 1976-77 before being renamed “Il Giro”.
The race has moved to several different locations over the years including down San Francisco’s iconic, serpentine, brick Lombard Street. In 1979 and 1980, the race took place in the North Beach District during which both races were won by Greg LeMond who went on to win three Tours de France.
In 1981, Il Giro moved to its present course which begins at Levi Strauss Plaza at Battery and Union Streets. The different categories of races run from morning to afternoon as the course runs along Battery, Front, Vallejo and Sansome Streets, totaling approximately .8 relatively flat miles, considered particularly flat for San Francisco’s usually exuberant topography.
The race is under the direction of Robert A. Leibold of Velo Promo, and in 2016 was organized by Crystal Geyser and Metromint Cycling. The 2017 Il Giro promises to be another energizing event for the San Francisco community so mark your calendars for next year’s Il Giro by staying updated and checking the Metromint website at http://www.metromintcycling.com/?giro_di_sf.