The route may have been slightly different (Piancavallo rather than today’s destination, Pian delle Fugazze), but exactly twenty years ago the race began at the same starting point in Schio, and on that occasion it went on to precede an unforgettable event: Marco Pantani’s thrilling victory in the Giro d’Italia; a feat that, unfortunately, he never managed to repeat.
Pantani had fallen, picked himself up and relied on his grit and self-belief to achieve his triumph, then just a few weeks later he bagged the double by winning the Tour de France. And the cyclist known as “the Pirate” knew all about relying on his self-belief, his resolve and ability, having burst onto the elite cycling scene when he won the 1992 Giro d’Italia Dilettanti, the event now known as the Giro d’Italia Under 23 Enel. That particular success had been achieved following a rollercoaster ride of ecstatic highs and troubling lows that at first seemed to undermine his promising debut, but eventually catapulted him to victory.
And he would have loved today’s stage – tough, testing, with a final skywards flourish. Pian delle Fugazze, which made its debut in the Giro back in 1934, lies at the top of an 11 km climb with a slope that from the fifth to the tenth kilometre never drops below 9%. In addition to the day’s sporting importance, in a region with more than its fair share of champions, such as Giovanni Battaglin, winner of the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España in the same year, two references stand out.
The first is extremely high and moving: the finish line is just a few steps away from the Sacro Ossario, the resting place for the remains of over 5,000 Italian soldiers who fell in the Battle of Pasubio on 2 July 1916; therefore the race provides a further opportunity to recall the First World War victory that came at such a high price. The second is more cheerful, enhanced by one individual’s great integrity and depth of personality: on 14 June 1992 Miguel Indurain won the first of his two consecutive victories in the Giro d’Italia, wearing the leader’s jersey from second stage in Arezzo to the final leg in Milan. In the same year he won the second of his five consecutive Tour victories. Many of today’s cyclists are in their early twenties, and it’s nice to think that many of them will be inspired by his class, professionalism and elegance.