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