Foreign starts at the Giro d’Italia

GIRO 2016 STAGE 2 ANSA credit
A scene from stage two of the 2016 Giro in the Netherlands

Today the Giro exits the Netherlands after another successful foreign start, the third time the race has begun in the country. It was the twelfth edition of La Corsa Rosa to begin outside of the Peninsula.

In the early years the race always started in Milan, the home of the Gazzetta dello Sport – the newspaper which started the race in 1909. The only exception was in 1911, when Rome hosted the start and finish to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Italian unification. Since 1960, the start has moved around each year, occasionally outside of Italy.

So here’s a look at the past foreign starts of the Giro d’Italia, from the tentative move to San Marino, to more exotic climes like Belgium and Northern Ireland.

Massive crowds greeted the Giro in Apeldoorn

1965 – San Marino

Giro organisers didn’t stray far from Italy for the first start on foreign soil in the history of the race. In fact, calling it foreign soil is somewhat charitable, given that the peloton set off from the enclaved microstate of San Marino.

Situated near Rimini on the eastern coast of Italy, the 61km2 of San Marino doesn’t have enough roads to on which to stage an actual road stage, so the country only hosted the start of the race. 198km after starting the 48th edition of the Giro there, the peloton arrived in Perugia.

Molteni’s Michele Dancelli, who would go on to win La Flèche Wallonne the following year, took the win on the hilltop finish, beating Adriano Durante and Italo Zilioli to the line.

Michele Dancelli in pink in 1965 (bikeraceinfo)
Michele Dancelli in pink in 1965 (bikeraceinfo)

1966 – Monaco

1965’s start in San Marino must have been a success as the Giro’s second foreign start came the following year. The Principality of Monaco, located in the south of France, was the destination as Giro organisers got a little more adventurous, venturing 12km away from Italian borders for the race start.

The race’s French sojourn didn’t last long though, as the peloton were soon back in Italy, on the road to the Ligurian seaside town of Diano Marina. The Colle San Bartolomeo, situated close to the finish, meant that it was no stage for sprinters though, as double mountain classification winner (1961, 1963) Vito Taccone triumphed over Bruno Mealli and Dino Zandegù.

Vito Taccone in Monaco (Alchetron)
Vito Taccone in Monaco (Alchetron)

1973 – Verviers, Belgium

After six years of keeping the race in Italy, the Giro branched out in 1973. Long-time race director Vincenzo Torriani, having learnt that the Tour de France was planning to visit Great Britain (Plymouth hosted a stage in 1974), resolved to visit each founding member state of the EEC.

With Eddy Merckx having won the race three times at that point (in 1968, 1970 and 1972), his native Belgium hosted the Grande Partenza. The Walloon town of Verviers was the start point before heading on to the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, France and Switzerland before finally making it to Italy on stage five.

The opening day, a two-man prologue, set the tone for the rest of the race as Eddy Merckx and teammate Roger Swerts took the win over the short 5.2km run, pipping Brooklyn’s Roger De Vlaeminck and Patrick Sercu by two seconds. Merckx would remain in the leader’s pink jersey until the race’s end in Trieste, becoming on the third man ever to do so.

Merckx wearing pink in Verviers
Merckx wearing pink in Verviers

Merckx won the first road stage too, from Verviers through the Netherlands to Cologne in Germany, before De Vlaeminck took the win on stage two to Luxembourg. Fellow countryman Gustaf Van Roosbroeck triumphed on the next stage, from Luxembourg to Strabourg, while Merckx completed the early race domination on stage five from Geneva to Aosta in north-western Italy.

Only five stages would be won by Italians that year as Belgians took thirteen of the twenty-one stages. Merckx himself won three further stages, in the end taking the overall win by 7:42 from Felice Gimondi.

1974 – Vatican City

As it did in the 1960s, the Giro stayed out of Italy for the start for the second successive year in 1974. Like the first ever ‘foreign’ start though, the destination was another enclave, this time the Vatican City, the tiny city-state situated entirely within the Italian capital Rome.

Of course, the race didn’t stay there for long, with there being no room in the 110 acres of the Vatican for a prologue, never mind a full road stage. Like the previous year, another Belgian came out on top, this time neo-pro Wilfried Reybrouck. It was a surprise victory, by far the biggest of his short-lived pro career, as Reybrouck shocked the sprinters with an attack 400 metres from the finish in the coastal town of Formia.

1996 – Athens, Greece

The Vatican start was to be Torriani’s last as race director. He stayed on as race director until 1989 (his fortieth year in the position), but wouldn’t see the next foreign start, passing away weeks before the 1996 race.

New race director Carmine Castellano took the race to Greece, perhaps the oddest start location yet considering the country’s hardly-substantial relationship to road cycling. There was a method behind the madness though – 1996 was the centenary year of both the Gazzetta dello Sport and the Olympics.

There were three stages in Greece, the first of which was run in chaotic conditions in Athens, with bad roads, cars in the road and flooding causing a multitude of crashes. Saeco’s Silvio Martinelli won the stage, while the following day’s 235km were ridden at slow speed in protest at the conditions.

Swedish neo-pro Glenn Magnusson took a surprise sprint win on stage two, the first of three career Giro stage wins. The next day saw Polti’s Giovanni Lombardi won the sprint to Ioannina before a presumably grateful peloton travelled back to Italy.

There would be another challenge for the peloton to overcome before reaching Italy though. Florence police, having gotten wind of a Tuscan pharmacy selling vast quantities of EPO to cyclists, travelled down to Brindisi in southern Italy ready to surprise the teams as they departed the ferry from Greece.

However, the carabinieri’s plans were leaked via a CONI official – every team knew of the planned raid – and so team cars were loaded with drugs before going the long way around, driving over 2000km through the Balkans in order to avoid the police. Other teams on the ferry dumped their stashes overboard.

Alex Zülle was the first man in pink in 1998

1998 – Nice, France

Two years later came a shorter trip outside Italian borders, this time to the south of France. A 7km prologue around the city saw Festina’s Alex Zülle edge out Cantina Tollo’s Sergey Honchar by a single second. Stage one ran from Nice to Cuneo in Piemonte, a sprint finish won by Mariano Piccoli of Brescialat-Liquigas.

2002 – Groningen, Netherlands

Fourteen years ago saw the Giro’s first Dutch start and, as was the case in 1973, the opening stages visited a number of countries. The city of Groningen played host to a twisting 6.5km prologue, won surprisingly by Phonak’s Juan Carlos Dominguez.

Next came a trip to Münster in Germany where Acqua e Sapone’s Mario Cipollini triumphed, having suffered a puncture in his tiger skinsuit the day earlier. Stage two travelled from Cologne to Ans in Belgium and finished with the Côte de Saint Nicholas/Ans one-two cribbed from Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Mapei’s Stefano Garzelli won, but was later kicked out of the race having tested positive for a masking agent.

Cipollini came out on top on stage three to Esch-sur-Alzette in Luxembourg, on a day which took in a lap of the Spa Francorchamps racing circuit. He looked all set to take another win on the final day abroad, but Lotto-Adecco’s Robbie McEwen derailed the Cipo train to take the first Grand Tour victory of his career.

Cipollini kicks his
Cipollini taking out his frustration on his bike in Groningen

2006 – Seraing, Belgium

After a thirty-three year break the Giro started in Belgium for the second time, as Angelo Zomegnan’s reign as race director got underway. A short 6km time trial in Seraing was the opener as reigning champion Paolo Savoldelli of Discovery put in a dominant performance to beat FDJ’s Brad McGee by eleven seconds.

Rather than travel to nearby countries as it had in the past, the Giro stayed in Belgium for the next three stages, two of which came down to bunch sprints won by Davitamon-Lotto’s Robbie McEwen. In between the Australian’s wins came a hilltop finish at Namur which saw points jersey favourite Alessandro Petacchi crash out and break his kneecap. Gerolsteiner’s Stefan Schumacher was the victor on a wet day.

Savoldelli and McEwen, winners in Belgium
Savoldelli and McEwen, winners in Belgium

2010 – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Six years ago was the last time the race visited the Netherlands. Like this year, it started with a time trial. Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky’s new signing, won the day, beating out BMC’s Brent Bookwalter and Cadel Evans to take pink.

Then came a stage to Utrecht, a straightforward sprint win for Garmin-Transitions’ Tyler Farrar, but one which would see Wiggins lose the race lead thanks to a mass crash 7km from the finish. More crashes marred the final stage in the Netherlands, from Amsterdam to Middelburg. QuickStep’s Wouter Weylandt won the sprint from a split peloton, and was later angrily accosted by André Greipel for a perceived lack of work.

Earlier in the year, Zomegnan had publicly courted the American city Washington DC, with the city’s mayor expressing an interest in hosting the race. A ridiculous idea, it came to nothing and Zomegnan was gone by the time the Giro next started abroad.

Middelburg saw the late Wouter Weylandt take a stage win
Middelburg saw the late Wouter Weylandt take a stage win

2012 – Herning, Denmark

Michele Acquarone was the man in charge in 2012, taking the Giro to its northernmost start yet in Denmark. 21-year-old American Taylor Phinney of BMC took the opening stage, an 8.7km time trial around Bjarne Riis’ hometown of Herning.

Sky’s Mark Cavendish, who had won the World Championships in the country the year before, won stage two, navigating a crash-marred finale to beat Orica-GreenEdge’s Matt Goss. The Australian would take stage three, though only after Lampre’s Roberto Ferrari moved across Mark Cavendish in the sprint, taking out the Manxman as well as race leader Phinney.

Denmark hosted the start of the 2012 Giro, with Taylor Phinney donning the maglia rosa

2014 – Belfast, Northern Ireland

Acquarone’s spell in charge of the race didn’t last long – he was sacked in late 2013, blamed for the missing €13m from RCS accounts. Now settled into the two year pattern, new race director Mauro Vegni took the Giro to Belfast for the 2014 opening – the farthest from Italy the race has ever started.

Orica-GreenEdge took advantage of an early start on dry roads to win the opening team time trial around the Northern Irish capital, putting Canadian strongman Svein Tuft in pink. Day two, another wet one, saw Giant-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel take victory in a mass sprint, while the German doubled up on stage three, edging out Sky’s Ben Swift at the line in Dublin.

A wet Northern Ireland hosted the 2014 start
A wet Northern Ireland hosted the 2014 start

Scheldeprijs: Clash of the sprint titans


Kittel Cavendish Greipel Scheldeprijs 2016 sprint COR VOS
The big three faced off for the first time this season at Scheldeprijs (Cor Vos)

Not everybody love Scheldeprijs. It’s a flat windy race, stuck mid-week between two races of much greater prestige, a time when most fans are either basking in the afterglow of De Ronde or looking ahead to Paris-Roubaix.

The race is 200km long and part of the Flanders Classics organisation group, but it stands apart from its stablemate – races like Gent-Wevelgem and the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. Scheldeprijs lacks the hills and the cobbles that make those races selective.

In recent years the race’s main obstacle has seemingly been the pile-ups that decimate the field as riders fight for places before the finish in the town of Schoten, north-east of Antwerp. Things were changed this year, with an alternate route designed to prevent a repeat of last year’s mass crash in the final kilometre.

Other than that, it’s the lack of obstacles that make the race notable. Aside from adverse weather conditions and the usual bad luck of ill-timed mechanicals or crashes, Scheldeprijs is almost always destined to end in a sprint – in fact the race is informally known as the ‘Sprinter’s World Championships’.

And today it did. Whether it was down to the redesign, good luck, or just a more careful peloton, there were no major crashes on the run-in, so we saw a clean sprint. A clean sprint featuring the generation’s top three sprinters – Mark Cavendish, André Greipel, and Marcel Kittel.

Cavendish Greipel 2011 Tour de France Lavaur COR VOS
Ex-teammates Cavendish and Greipel embrace after the Brit wins in Lavaur at the 2011 Tour (Cor Vos)

Six years may separate them, but Cavendish and Greipel came to prominence at the same time, battling to be top dog at HTC-Columbia between 2008 and 2010. Cavendish, armed with his low-profile aero style, came out on top, taking 15 Tour de France stage wins as the German was consigned to “shitty small races” (Cav’s words, not mine).

During that time Greipel won the Tour Down Under twice, along with four stages of the Vuelta a España and two at the Giro d’Italia. 2011’s move to Omega Pharma-Lotto saw him ride the Tour, finally. He won a stage, but Cavendish was better, taking three and later winning gold to Greipel’s bronze at the World Championships in Copenhagen.

Meanwhile, ProContinental team Argos-Shimano were nurturing their own sprinting talent. Kittel, another big tall German (both are 10cm taller than Cavendish), was busy winning a variety of Europe Tour races, also tasting victory at his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta.

At the 2012 Tour it was a draw as both Greipel and Cavendish won three stages, while Kittel left the race after five stages due to illness. The next two years would see him usurp the title of ‘World’s Best Sprinter’ though.

In 2013 he took four stages including Paris, a stage which Cavendish had claimed ownership of, having won it four years in a row before. The Brit won two stages that year, Greipel just one.

Kittel Greipel Cavendish Tour de France 2013 2 COR VOS
Kittel beats his rivals to the line in Paris at the 2013 Tour (Cor Vos)

2014 saw Kittel win another four, including Paris once again. Cav crashed out early and Greipel took another solitary win. It was also the final year of his Scheldeprijs three-peat, though none of those races saw the all of the ‘big three’ take the start.

Of course we all know what happened last season. It was Kittel’s annus horribilis, as he was plagued by a virus which saw him take only one win all year. Cavendish took Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and a host of stages at the smaller races he had once derided Greipel for having to ride.

Meanwhile Greipel, at the age of 32, took advantage to win four Tour stages to Cavendish’s one. The tables had finally turned.

While Kittel may have won this race three times, he had never before faced off against his two great sprint rivals here before. That has been something of an oddity, but you can file it alongside the fact that the trio only have one Tour de France green jersey between them.

Back to today though, and it was Kittel who triumphed, taking a record fourth win at the race. He sprinted from the front, and was unassailable. Cavendish, hidden behind him, was able to draw alongside him but couldn’t move ahead. Meanwhile Greipel came in behind the duo, unable to get near either of them. On the line Kittel took it by just half a wheel.

Today’s race was the first time that the calendars of the three men have lined up so far this season. The next, should all go to plan, will be in July. The last meeting of the year, most probably, will be at the actual World Championships, in pan-flat Qatar.

In 2016 it’s round one to Kittel, just.

The sprint, in their own words

Cavendish – “I was a little bit late to go actually. When I saw 150 metres to go I thought there was still 50 more metres so I thought I better go now.”

Greipel – “Because of the tailwind in the final road to the finish line I’d planned to take the initiative.”

Kittel – “I started my sprint with around 200 meters to go. I made a small mistake, sprinting in a gear which was too big at first, so I had to shift up. It wasn’t easy, but I gave my all.”

Cavendish – “When I came alongside Kittel I thought I had the better of him. He was just able to pull that little bit more out; it was something I used to be able to do but not anymore. I’ve lost by closer this year – it is how it is.”

Kittel – “I saw Cavendish come around and tried to shift down again, but it didn’t work. Suddenly my legs got really soft and I just tried to hold it as good as possible to the finish. I managed to keep my advantage.”

Greipel – “But then [when it came to the sprint] it became clear that I can’t compete with Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel at the moment. I know I can sprint better than I did but today is today and the best rider won.”

Kittel Cavendish Greipel Scheldeprijs 2016 podium COR VOS
On the podium earlier today (Cor Vos)

Edinburgh – Blyth: a look back

Etixx-QuickStep's new sprint star Gaviria (Sweetspot)
Etixx-QuickStep’s new sprint star Gaviria (Sweetspot)

Etixx-QuickStep’s stagiaire Fernando Gaviria made it two wins from four stages for the Belgian team, showing a great sense of timing to overhaul stage favourite André Greipel on a damp day in Blyth.

It was the Colombian’s fifth win of the season, the third since joining Etixx-QuickStep. Another two came at January’s Tour de San Luis, beating the man who helped him win today, Mark Cavendish.

“Cav put me into position ahead of him,” he said. “And when the sprint began I simply went for it and gave everything I had to win.”

The manner of Gaviria’s victory was impressive, as he came from a long way back in the sprint. Team Sky and Lotto-Soudal had done the lion’s share of the work in the final ten kilometres, with Etixx-QuickStep less prominent on the run-in as they had had Matteo Trentin in the main break of the day.

BMC's Danilo Wyss leads the breakaway (Sweetspot)
BMC’s Danilo Wyss leads the breakaway (Sweetspot)

Four-time Tour de France stage winner André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) was the first to hit the front, and it looked as though Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) would be his only competition.

Gaviria had other ideas though, and hopped into Boasson Hagen’s slipstream before speeding past on the outside to ease to victory.

After the stage, Etixx-QuickStep DS Brian Holm had high praise for his team’s new sprint star. “In the Czech Tour he was great. He was like Cav eight years ago,” he said. “He also has a twist of Sagan inside him. He’s fast, fearless and can climb a bit too.”


stage result
1 Fernando Gaviria Rendon (Col) Etixx – Quick Step 5:13:08
2 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto – Soudal
3 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) MTN – Qhubeka
4 Owain Doull (GBr) Team WIGGINS
5 Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto – Soudal
6 Jonas Van Genechten (Bel) IAM Cycling
7 Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky
8 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN – Qhubeka
9 Floris Gerts (Ned) BMC Racing Team
10 Graham Briggs (GBr) JLT Condor
general classification
1 Juan Jose Lobato Del Valle (Esp) Movistar Team 18:50:12
2 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) MTN – Qhubeka 0:00:06
3 Floris Gerts (Ned) BMC Racing Team 0:00:12
4 Wouter Poels (Ned) Team Sky 0:00:13
5 Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Team Cannondale – Garmin
mountains classification
1 Thomas Stewart (GBr) Madison Genesis 25  pts
2 Ian Bibby (GBr) NFTO 23
3 Kristian House (GBr) JLT Condor 20
points classification
1 Owain Doull (GBr) Team WIGGINS 44  pts
2 Juan Jose Lobato Del Valle (Esp) Movistar Team 40
3 Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky 39
sprints classification
1 Peter Williams (GBr) One Pro Cycling 9  pts
2 Pim Ligthart (Ned) Lotto – Soudal 8
3 Aidis Kruopis (Ltu) An Post – Chainreaction 8

Beaumaris – Wrexham: a look back

tob15 s1 sweetspot (2)

Team Sky’s Elia Viviani took the opening stage of the 2015 Tour of Britain, sprinting to victory in one of the closest finishes the race has ever seen. Home favourite Mark Cavendish of Etixx-QuickStep was the runner-up, losing out in the photo finish.

“With 100m to go I thought it was too late,” said Viviani. “I thought Cav would start earlier but then he went to the middle of the road and I saw a small space and I thought ‘ok, I’ll go that way and we will see’.”

“It took a few metres after the line to realise I had won. I only understood that I had when I saw Cav say ‘Oh no’. We were close, eh?”

tob15 s1 sweetspot (3) viviani

The win comes as a much-needed boost for the Italian, who admitted that he had been disappointed by his results in the Vattenfall Cyclassics and the GP Plouay late last month.

“I didn’t get the result I wanted there, but I’m really happy with this. It’s a good test for my condition, and good for the Worlds too because that’s a big focus for the end of my season.”

Viviani benefitted from a day’s worth of work from his team, with Brit Andy Fenn notably putting in big stints at the front of the peloton.

“He did great work and has really good condition,” said Viviani. “The six-man teams are strange for us, and with Wout Poels and Pete Kennaugh looking to GC, we needed to use Ben Swift and Andy for the sprint today.”

Earlier in the day a four-man break was established almost as soon as the peloton left the town of Beaumaris, with Peter Williams (One Pro Cycling), Conor Dunne (An Post-Chainreaction), Tom Stewart (Madison-Genesis) and Kristian House (JLT-Condor) out front for most of the day’s 178km.

tob15 s1 sweetspot (6)

House’s efforts saw him take the first Skoda King of the Mountains jersey of the race with a late attack over the final climb of the day at Bwlch. Dunne leads the Yodel Sprint classification.

With the might of Etixx-QuickStep and Sky riding at the front of the peloton for much of the day, there was no chance that the escapees would be allowed to contest the finish among themselves.

That didn’t stop House trying though, and his repeated attacks saw him secure a lump of local cheese and the Rouleur Combativity Award. Nevertheless, he and his breakmates were brought back with 1.5km to go.

The technical final kilometres saw Cavendish’s Etixx-QuickStep train then came to the fore, with Colombian Fernando Gaviria and Mark Renshaw leading out the Manxman, but in the end it was to no avail. Lotto-Soudal’s Andre Greipel rounded out the podium, while Team Wiggins’ Owain Doull put in a strong showing to finish fourth.

tob15 s1 sweetspot (5)

All photos provided by SweetSpot.

stage result
1 Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky 4:26:29
2 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Etixx – Quick-Step
3 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal
4 Owain Doull (GBr) Team Wiggins
5 Juan Jose Lobato Del Valle (Spa) Movistar Team
6 Pim Ligthart (Ned) Lotto Soudal
7 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Etixx – Quick-Step
8 Tyler Farrar (USA) MTN – Qhubeka
9 Alberto Bettiol (Ita) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team
10 Graham Briggs (GBr) JLT Condor
general classification
1 Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky 4:26:19
2 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Etixx Quick Step 0:00:04
3 Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal 0:00:06
4 Owain Doull (GBr) Team Wiggins 0:00:10
5 Juan José Lobato (Spa) Movistar Team
1 Kristian House (GBr) JLT-Condor 20
2 Thomas Stewart (GBr) Madison-Genesis 19
3 Peter Williams (GBr) One Pro Cycling 17
sprint classification
1 Conor Dunne (Irl) An Post-ChainReaction 7
2 Peter Williams (GBr) One Pro Cycling 6
3 Kristian House (GBr) JLT-Condor 3
points classification
1 Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky 15
2 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Etixx Quick Step 14
3 Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal 13