Giro d’Italia: Italy’s “Grand Tour” Bike Race

Before Lance Armstrong became a headline story (first for thrilling reasons, then for depressing reasons), the sport of cycling was not very popular outside Europe. Although there were other non-European winners in the Tour de France race, the average person would know the name of France’s most famous bike race and Armstrong’s name. Then their cycling knowledge would be pretty well tapped. They wouldn’t know that Italy has its three-week-long bike race, the Giro d’Italia.

If you’re not already a cyclist, I won’t try to convince or convert you. I will tell you a little bit about the Giro d’Italia, Italy and what you need to know as a traveler – whether you are interested in the race or not.

What is the Giro d’Italia, you ask?

“Giro d’Italia” is simply the Italian word for “tour of Italy”, which is a fitting name for the stage bike race Italy hosts each May. It lasts approximately three weeks. However, the start and finish dates can vary depending on which year it starts in. It is one of three Grand Tours.

In 1909, the first Giro was created by La Gazzetta dello Sport to promote its sports newspaper. As it is now, the paper’s color was pink. Although the race is no more organized by La Gazzetta dello Sport, pink continues to be associated with the Giro. The leader wears a pink jersey every day, for example.

There are both daily winners and overall winners in any stage race. The time for each stage is added over the course of the race. The overall winner is the rider who completes all stages in the shortest amount of time. Other competitions are available for climbers, sprinters and young riders. Some of these are based on points earned at specific parts of the race.

You don’t have to know everything about points, accumulated time or team tactics to enjoy a stage in the Giro d’Italia.

This is partly because a stage can seem like an endless event. Official vehicles and sponsors accompany riders on every stage. Some of these vehicles give out goodies to spectators, much like they are at a Mardi Gras Parade. Even if you don’t speak the same language, there is camaraderie among spectators. You can enjoy a lot of food, drink, and listening to the race on the radio.

A stage or two of the Giro can be a great way for adventurous travelers to escape the tourist areas in Italy. You won’t be able to avoid the crowds, as there are many people who travel the race route every year. It’s a different crowd to the ones that you will see outside the Uffizi Gallery or Vatican Museums. You’ll see parts of Italy that you wouldn’t otherwise see.

Italia: Where is the Giro d’Italia?

Giro peloton climbing to Rocca di Cambio || creative commons photo by luckyz

Each year the course is different and it’s not always in Italy. Many times, cities are included right across the border from neighboring countries. Sometimes they appear at the start of the race, and sometimes halfway through.

The official race website hosts the official course map and stage descriptions for the next edition. This is an overview of 2015, which shows (roughly) where the race will be held in Italy. You can then click on each stage to view a detailed map.

It’s a great time to travel in Italy during the Giro d’Italia. Here’s what you need to know

It’s smart to check if your itinerary overlaps with the race route if you’re . Depending on your desire to see the race or not, you will decide what to do.

You can see the Giro d’Italia here:

  • Choose a spot where you want to spend the day, and then watch the race unfold. Points along a mountain stage allow you to see more riders, as they are moving slower, so it is easier to see them.
  • Bring your picnic food. You’ll be watching the riders pass by a long time before you see them, so make sure you have enough time to enjoy the ride. If you have something to share, you can make many friends.
  • Be there early. Getting there early means getting a good place along the race route. Sometimes, especially for popular mountain stages, this means that you will need to camp out the night before. You can still attend the race later if you are a casual observer or don’t intend to see it on a famous stage. You should be aware that the race route is closed before it starts. In the mountains this might mean the day before. If you are not close enough to the race, your route may be blocked.
  • Be prepared for inclement weather. This is especially true if you are going up to the mountains. High elevations are not yet experiencing summer, but you might see some snow.

You can avoid the Giro d’Italia

  • Make adjustments to your itinerary. You can consult the race route early enough so you can shift your plans so you don’t cross paths with the Giro on your trip.
  • Book your reservations early. Hotels along the race route are often booked well in advance. Sometimes train reservations between cities of the same race can be difficult to find on certain dates. You can adjust your itinerary if you are unable to do so. Make hotel and train reservations as soon you can to avoid being stuck without them.