Wednesday, 4 June 2014
I've watched the Giro with interest and relish this year - Congatulations to Nairo Quintana - he's a phenomenal rider with great all-round ability for a, so called, climber.
I know the Giro lives in the long shadows cast by Le Tour, however it has a lot to offer the cycling fan. Fantastic scenery, sometimes impossible conditions (snow on some of the stages this year), incredible drama, the steepest climbs and all wrapped up in the passion that is always evident in anything Italian.
The story of modern Italian history could almost be entirely told by a journey through the history of the Giro d'Italia, the country's biggest annual sporting event – a cycling tour – second in importance only to the Tour de France.
Although not always by design, each year the race touches a moment, town or event that has in some way shaped the nation. The fight for the race's famous Maglia Rosa (pink jersey) – now branded "Fight For Pink" after an attempt through social media to rebrand the event – has taken place for most of the 153 years that modern Italy has existed. May is the month when even those who hold no interest in the sport tune in to their TV sets, keep their ears close to the radio and read about the Giro caravan's route across their land.
Despite the increasingly globalised nature of professional sport and the world in which it takes place, the Giro this year remembers the Battle of Montecassino. This held special interest for me because my Dad was there during the war. Stage six was the first time that the national tour has visited the site of one of the fiercest battles of World War II, a brutal, tragic and bloody event that many historians widely acknowledge as a strategic turning point in the conflict. Today it is home to 33,600 people, but was almost completely destroyed by the Allies in the spring of 1944. I remember Dad telling me about the German army who were dug in at Cassino - crack troops he said, hard men - they held on against overwhelming odds for ages. The race's passage commemorated the 70th anniversary of one of the ugliest chapters in the region's long history.