Showing posts with label Gazzetta dello Sport. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gazzetta dello Sport. Show all posts

12 November 2021

Giro di Lombardia - historic cycle race

2021 edition was 115th since inception

The finish of the 1911 Giro di Lombardia in Milan, won by Henri Pélissier of France
The finish of the 1911 Giro di Lombardia in
Milan, won by Henri Pélissier of France
The Giro di Lombardia cycle race - now known simply as Il Lombardia - was contested for the first time on this day in 1905.

The last of the cycling calendar’s five ‘Monuments’ - the races considered to be the oldest, hardest and most prestigious of the one-day events in the men's road cycling programme - the Giro di Lombardia is has also been called the Autumn Classic or la classica delle foglie morte - the classic of the dead (falling) leaves.

It is a particular favourite with cyclists who excel on hill climbs, its changing route normally featuring five or six notable ascents, of which the Madonna del Ghisallo, the site of a church that has become a sacred place in the cycling world, is a permanent fixture.

The race was the idea of journalist Tullio Morgagni, well known as the founder of the Giro d’Italia, although the Giro di Lombardia predated the former by three years.

The editor of the Milan newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, Morgagni came up with the idea to give Piero Albini, a Milanese rider, an opportunity to avenge his defeat by rival Giovanni Cuniolo in an event called the Italian King’s Cup.

Alfredo Binda, who won the race between 1925 and 1931
Alfredo Binda, who won the
race between 1925 and 1931
For the first two years of its life, the race was simply called Milano-Milano, reflecting the fact that it started and ended in the regional capital. It was renamed the Giro di Lombardia in 1907, the same year that Morgagni launched the Milan-San Remo race that would also become one of the Monuments.

Although the course varied and climbs were gradually introduced, it was not until 1961, when the decision was taken to move the finish to Como, 50km (31 miles) north of Milan, that the race began to take on the characteristics that define it today.

The long and flat run-in to the finish in Milan was replaced with a lakeside finish preceded by a steep descent, the finish line just 6km (3.7 miles) from the pinnacle of the final climb.  The race ended in Como from 1961 to 1984, ran from Como to Milan until 1989 and subsequent courses have seen the race finish in Monza, Bergamo, Lecco and Como, with Varese, Cantù and, between 2004 and 2006, Mendrisio in Switzerland added to the starting points.

Since 2014, the race has followed a course between Bergamo and Como, with the start alternating between one and the other.

The race distance varies depending on the route. The first edition, won by Giovanni Gerbi, covered 230.5km (143 miles); of 55 starters, 12 completed the course. The latest staging, in October this year and won by Tadej Pogačar of Slovenia - pipping Italy's Fausto Masnada on the finish line - was over 239km (149 miles); 25 teams of seven riders each participated.

Vincenzo Nibali is the most recent Italian winner of Il Lombardia, finishing first in 2015 and 2017
Vincenzo Nibali is the most recent Italian winner
of Il Lombardia, finishing first in 2015 and 2017
Of the climbs, the Madonna del Ghisallo ascent, which starts near Bellagio on the shore of Lago di Como, rises to 754m (2,474 ft). Somewhat higher is the Zambla Alta climb in the Orobic Alps, some 40km (25 miles) north of Bergamo, which rises to 1,257m (4,124 ft).

Not surprisingly, Italian riders have dominated the event over the years, winning the race 69 times, followed by Belgium and France with 12 victories each. Between 1920 and 1951 there was an unbroken run of Italian successes, including four wins each for Alfredo Binda and Fausto Coppi. The latter’s fifth triumph in 1954 makes him the Lombardia’s most successful rider of all time. 

Tom Simpson (1965) remains the only Great Britain rider to win the race, although the Republic of Ireland’s Sean Kelly was a three-times winner in the 1980s and 90s. The Italian dominance began to wane around 1960, and although there was a renaissance in the early part of this century, since 2009 only Vincenzo Nibali (2015 and 2017) has taken first place for the home nation.

The race has been billed as Il Lombardia since 2012 and the 2021 edition was the 115th. Of all the classics, it has suffered the fewest cancellations. It continued throughout World War One and was suspended for only two years in World War Two, in 1943 and 1944. The 2020 staging took place two months earlier than usual, in August, after the cycling calendar was redrawn because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Church of the Madonna del Ghisallo has become a shrine for cyclists
The Church of the Madonna del Ghisallo
has become a shrine for cyclists
Travel tip:

The Madonna del Ghisallo takes its name from an apparition of the Virgin Mary that the medieval Count Ghisallo claimed saved him when he was being attacked by bandits. The Madonna became the patroness of cyclists at the suggestion of a local priest after the hill upon which a shrine to the Madonna was built was included in the Giro di Lombardia and later the Giro d'Italia.  The Church of the Madonna del Ghisallo honours cyclists who have died in competition and an adjoining museum contains many bikes and shirts worn by riders down the years.

The imposing walls of  Bergamo's Città Alta were built by the Republic of Venice
The imposing walls of Bergamo's Città Alta
were built by the Republic of Venice
Travel tip:

The city of Bergamo, which has alternated as the starting and finishing point for Il Lombardia in recent years, has a rich history and boasts some beautiful architecture. The walled Città Alta - the upper town - is a well preserved network of cobbled streets and mediaeval buildings, at the centre of which is Piazza Vecchia, one of Italy’s most beautiful squares. The elegant but more modern Città Bassa - the lower town - is connected to the upper part by a funicular railway. The impressive walls of the Città Alta were built in the 16th century when Bergamo belonged to the Republic of Venice, in order to protect the city from the Milanese and the French. 

Also on this day:

1892: The birth of World War One pilot Giulio Lega

1920: The signing of the Treaty of Rapallo, solving a territorial dispute at Italy’s northeastern border

1948: The death of composer Umberto Giordano

2011: The resignation of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi


11 August 2018

Alfredo Binda - cyclist

Five times Giro winner who was paid not to take part

Alfredo Binda is presented with a  bouquet after the 1933 Giro
Alfredo Binda is presented with a
bouquet after the 1933 Giro.
The five-times Giro d’Italia cycle race winner Alfredo Binda, who once  famously accepted a substantial cash payment from the race organisers not to take part, was born on this day in 1902 in the village of Cittiglio, just outside Varese in Lombardy.

The payment was offered because Binda was such a good rider - some say the greatest of all time - that the Gazzetta dello Sport, the daily sports newspaper that invented the race, feared for the future of the event - and their own sales - because of Binda’s dominance.

He had been the overall winner of the coveted pink jersey in 1925, 1927, 1928 and 1929, on one occasion winning 12 of the 15 stages, on another racking up nine stage victories in a row.

Binda, who was perceived as a rather cold and detached competitor, was never particularly popular outside his own circle of fans and his habit of ruthlessly seeing off one hyped-up new challenger after another did nothing to win him new fans.

By 1929 it became clear to the Gazzetta’s bosses that interest in the race was waning, sales of the famous pink paper were falling and advertisers were less willing to part with their cash.

Although in today’s market, football is the driver of the Gazzetta’s popularity, at that time the Giro was its lifeblood. There were fears that another Binda procession in 1930 could mean that the race would have to be discontinued, even that the paper might be forced to close.

Binda struggled to win over Italian fans. who did not care for his cold and ruthless nature
Binda struggled to win over Italian fans. who
did not care for his cold and ruthless nature
As a result, the Gazzetta approached Binda and made him an unprecedented offer, rumoured to be in the region of 22,000 lira, in cash, NOT to take part in the 1930 Giro.  The story is that Binda did not need long to think about the offer, calculating that it was enough to buy a property in Milan, possibly two, that he could keep as investments and guarantee him a future income.

Instead, he took part in that year's Tour de France, winning two stages.  He returned to the Giro in later years, however, winning for the fifth time in 1933.

Binda’s early career was in France, where he had moved as a teenager, working for an uncle as an apprentice plasterer. He and his brother Primo spent all their free time cycling.

A gifted time trialist and climber, he began racing in September 1921, aged 19. He rode from his home in Nice to Milan in order to compete in the 1924 Tour of Lombardy, where he believed he might win the 500 lire prize on offer for the King of the Mountains. He did win it, in fact, finishing fourth in the race, and was offered a contract with the Legnano professional team.

Yet he could not endear himself to the cycling public, in which respect he was not helped by what happened in the 1925 Giro d'Italia, his first.

Binda's popularity increased after he won the World Championships in Rome
Binda's popularity increased after he
won the World Championships in Rome
The race was to be the last of the legendary champion Costante Girardengo and virtually the whole of Italy was willing him to come out on top. So when Binda, the 23-year-old debutant in the 22-day 3,520km (2,188 miles) event, turned up and won, it dashed a nation’s dreams.

In the event Girardengo continued racing, and he and Binda developed an abrasive rivalry.

In 1929, Girardengo introduced his protégé, Learco Guerra, as the latest "anti-Binda". Not only was Guerra, an expansive and open personality, popular with the public and the press, he also was favoured by the Italian Fascist Party. Binda was not cowed, however, and every defeat of Guerra only increased the antipathy towards him.

Not until 1932, when Binda won a third World Championship in front of a patriotic crowd in Rome, did the public start to warm to him.  World Champion in 1927, 1930 and 1932, he was the first to achieve three victories.

Afterwards, he could not be accused of giving nothing back to the sport.  Under his guidance as manager of the Italian national team, Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali and Gastone Nencini all became Tour de France champions.

Binda died in his home village of Cittiglio in July 1996, aged 83.

Visitors to Cittiglio want to visit the village's three waterfalls
Visitors to Cittiglio want to visit the
village's three waterfalls
Travel tip:

Alfredo Binda’s home village of Cittiglio is in the province of Varese and forms part of the mountain community Valli del Verbano, about 60km (37 miles) northwest of Milan and 15km (9 miles) from Varese.  Formerly the seat of the noble Luini or Luvini family, it has a well-preserved centre and the parish church of San Giulio has some interesting architectural features but most visitors to the area are drawn to the Cascate di Cittiglio, a series of three waterfalls set in woodland behind the town formed by the San Giulio stream, at heights between 474m and 324m above sea level.

The fifth of the Sacro Monte di Varese's chapels
The fifth of the Sacro Monte di Varese's chapels
Travel tip:

The city of Varese is in an area in the foothills of the Alps that owes its terrain to the activities of ancient glaciers that created 10 lakes in the immediate vicinity, including Lago di Varese, which this elegant provincial capital overlooks.  Most visitors to the city arrive there because of the Sacro Monte di Varese (the Sacred Hill of Varese), which features a picturesque walk passing 14 monuments and chapels, eventually reaching the monastery of Santa Maria del Monte.  But the town itself and the handsome villas and palaces in the centre and the surrounding countryside are interesting in their own right, reflecting the prosperity of the area. The grand Palazzo Estense is one, now the city's Municipio - the town hall.

More reading:

The forgotten champion Gastone Nencini

The cycling star who was a secret war hero

The tragedy of Marco Pantani

Also on this day:

1492: The controversial Rodrigo Borgia becomes Pope Alexander VI

1967: The birth of football coach Massimiliano Allegri


14 February 2018

Valentina Vezzali – fencer

Police officer is Italy’s most successful female athlete

Valentina Vezzali won nine Olympic medals, including six golds, making her one of fencing's all-time greats
Valentina Vezzali won nine Olympic medals, including six
golds, making her one of fencing's all-time greats
The fencer Valentina Vezzali, whose three Olympic and six World Championship individual gold medals make her Italy’s most decorated female athlete of all time, was born on this day in 1974 in the town of Iesi in Marche.

The 44-year-old police officer, who also sits in the Italian Chamber of Deputies as a representative for Marche, retired from competition after the 2016 World Championships.

Her haul of six Olympics golds in total – three individual and three from the team event – has not been bettered by any Italian athlete, male or female.

Two other Italian fencers from different eras – Edoardo Mangiarotti and Nedo Nadi – also finished their careers with six golds. Fencing has far and away been Italy’s most successful Olympic discipline, accruing 49 gold medals and 125 medals in total, more than twice the number for any other sport.

Alongside the German shooter Ralf Schumann, the Slovak slalom canoeist Michal Martikán and the Japanese judo player Ryoko Tani, Vezzali is one of only four athletes in the history of the Summer Olympics to have won five medals in the same individual event.

Valentina Vezzali sits in the Italian Chamber of Deputies
Valentina Vezzali sits in the
Italian Chamber of Deputies
She is married to the former professional footballer Domenico Giugliano, with whom she has two sons, 12-year-old Pietro and four-year-old Andrea, who was born in May 2013. A few months earlier, Valentina having won her final Olympic gold in the team event at London 2012, where she was also the Italian flag bearer at the opening ceremony.

Born into a family originally from Emilia-Romagna – her father was from Correggio and her mother from Quattro Castella – she grew up in Iesi in the province of Ancona and took up fencing when she was just six years old.

By the time she made her Olympic debut at the Atlanta Games of 1996, Vezzali had already achieved an impressive collection of medals, including a string of golds in junior European and World Championships and her first senior gold, in the team event at the 1995 World Championships.

Her Olympic success story began immediately with team gold and individual silver in Atlanta.  She achieved double gold at the Sydney Games of 2000, defending her individual title successfully in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, which made her the only fencer in Olympic history to win individual gold at three consecutive Games.

In addition her nine Olympic medals won, including a silver and two bronze, at the World Championships Vezzali won 15 gold medals (6 individual and 9 teams), five silver and four bronze, plus 13 European championship golds, four silver and four bronze.

Vezzali with her team gold medal at the  2014 World Championships
Vezzali with her team gold medal at the
2014 World Championships
Vezzali won fencing’s World Cup 11 times, running up a record 67 match victories. She also numbered two golds at the Mediterranean Games, four at the Universiade and 20 Italian titles (11 individual and 9 teams).  The Italian sports newspaper, Gazzetta dello Sport, made her their Italian sportswoman of the year on six occasions.

Since joining the Polizia di Stato – the municipal police force - in which she has risen to the rank of superintendent, Vezzali has competed for the Fiamme Oro, the police sports team.

She had hoped to compete in a sixth Olympics in Rio di Janeiro in 2016 but failed to qualify for the individual competition, while the Games on this occasion did not include a team event.

A celebrity in Italy – she participated in the 2009 series of Ballando con le Stelle (Dancing with the Stars), the Italian version of the hit UK show Strictly Come Dancing – she launched her political career with the 2013 general election, winning a seat in the Chamber of Deputies.

Campaigning on issues that included sport and physical education, health and nutrition and women’s rights, she was elected under the banner of Scelta Civica (Civic Choice), the centrist party founded by former prime minister Mario Monti, although she has since distanced herself from the party over their decision to support Silvio Berlusconi’s more right-leaning Forza Italia at this year’s elections.

The Palazzo Pianetti is one of a number of impressive palaces in Iesi
The Palazzo Pianetti in Iesi
Travel tip:

Situated about 20km (12 miles) inland from the Adriatic coast, Vezzali’s home town of Iesi is impressive for the massive walls that surround its medieval centre, which is built on Roman foundations on a ridge overlooking the valley of the Esino river. The centre of the town is the attractive Piazza Federico II, where a regular market is held, and there are a number of interesting palaces, towers and churches, including a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral.

A porticoed street in Correggio
A porticoed street in Correggio
Travel tip:

The small town of Correggio, where Vezzali’s family originated, can be found in the Po valley, about 20km (12 miles) northeast of Reggio Emilia.  An interesting town full of history, it is thought to have developed around an 11th century castle. Although the original walls were demolished as the town expanded, much of the medieval centre remains. The town was the home of the Renaissance artist Antonio Allegri, also known as Correggio, to whom a monument was created by the sculptor Vincenzo Vela in Piazza Quirino.