Thursday, May 6, 2010

Foreign Riders at the Giro d'Italia

"Contador and Menchov won the last two editions of the Giro. One from Spain, one from Russia: both foreigners. Nevertheless, for a long time before that, the Giro d'Italia was an all-Italian domain. It was only at the 33rd edition in 1950 that Swiss rider Hugo Koblet, the first ever foreign winner, broke this tradition. Since then, another 27 Tours have now gone to foreign riders making it a fully-fledged and truly international event. Three quarters of the riders taking part nowadays are all foreign. In the early days, the names of the riders used to be linked to their hometowns: Gerbi from Asti, Cuniolo from Tortona, Ganna from Induno Olona, Girardengo from Novi Ligure, and Binda from Cittiglio. The Giro was a national race fought in terms of shared rivalries.

From 1909 — The 1909 Giro was the first one to see foreign riders. These were four Frenchmen - Petit-Breton, Trousselier, Pottier and Decaup - and one Austrian from Trieste, Heller. The two Tour winners, Petit-Breton and Trousselier, guaranteed a high standard of riding. The teams competing included the British cycle manufacturer Rudge Whitworth, who brought Galetti, Cuniolo, and Ernesto Azzini. Package trips were organised by the legendary London-based Thomas Cook, which offered 8 days from Milan to Naples for 205 lire. The first Germans took part in 1910: Arno Ritter from Berlino and Dresda-based Karl Dittenbrandt. On 20 May in Bologna, Gascon Dortignacq was the first foreigner to win a stage. This did not go down well and he was physically attacked. Judges declared that the guilty parties would be reported to the "Procura del Re" (Royal Prosecution Office).

Cardani and Maubert — 1911 saw the first South Americans. Luigi Cardani and Albert Maubert arrived in Genoa from Buenos Aires with newspapers hailing them as "the proud bearers of the title of Argentinian champions". It came as no surprise that they failed to make their mark on the race. Nevertheless, there was however a historic happening that year: a foreigner at the top of the leaderboard. On 31 May in Sulmona, the magnificent Petit-Breton led the GC with 37 points, ahead of Galetti at 40, and Rossignoli at 43. In the next stage from Sulmona to Bari however, he found himself in a breakaway group with 5 Bianchi riders and whilst he fought courageously against the five, he was annihilated.

Revival — In 1912 the Italo-Turkish war over Libya was underway and the French pulled out of the race, leaving not even one foreigner on the starting line. This happened again during the Fascist years from 1923 to 1927, in 1929 then again in the "Giro della Rinascita" (the revival tour) in 1946. Gradually, foreign riders returned to the Giro until their presence became the majority. In 1913, the first Swiss riders, Guyon and Morini, came. The year after, it was the first Belgian, Goffin, and London-born Frederick Grubb, Cavendish's grandfather. Two years earlier, Grubb had won silver at the Stockholm Games in the road race, a killer, 320km-long timetrial.

ONE PASSPORT: the truth — It was only in 1931 that the first Spanish riders took part: Mariano Canardo from Navarro (ancestor of Indurain), and Basque-born Ricardo Montero. One year later, on 15 May 1932 in Udine, Germany's Hermann Buse was the first foreigner to wear the pink jersey. He died thirteen years later in house-to-house fighting in Berlin, defending his city from the Red Army. In 1949, Italo-American Angelo Di Bacco was the first rider to represent North America but was promptly disqualified for towing. After this, the Giro was populated by Australians, Japanese, Colombians, Poles, Russians, Africans, Mexicans and Kazakhs. Foreign riders started making the headlines with Gaul, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Indurain and Contador. Then again, foreigner is almost an old-fashioned expression by now. It stems for the Latin "extraneus" meaning "not from our country", "outsider". This is a thing of the past for the Giro. As early as 1950 when Koblet won, Gianni Brera wrote an article claiming: "There are no foreigners in the sports world." The only passport you need at the Giro is the truth."

Source: Gazzetta dello Sport

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