BENEVENTO, Italy (VN) — It’s been an elusive vision of grand tour organizers for decades; bringing the elite of the European peloton to North American roads.
So far, that idea has been more like a mirage than a reality, but the Giro d’Italia is dreaming once again.
Giro director Mauro Vegni confirmed to VeloNews that interest in a North American “grande partenza” is still very much part of the Giro’s plans.
“The Giro in the United States could be an opportunity that is closer than people think,” Vegni told VeloNews. “We want to bring the Giro experience to growing European economies, and to other regions, like the United States and East Asia.”
With the Giro set to celebrate its centenary edition in 2017, Vegni has already hinted that something very big might be coming down the pipeline. Could a North American start finally come to fruition?
Vegni did not reveal details of where and when a U.S. start might be possible, but his comments confirmed that efforts to bring the Giro to the United States are alive and kicking.
As the Giro continues to grow and expand in the United States, Vegni said the U.S. market is becoming more important to race owners RCS Sport. The company also expanded its popular Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia series into the United States.
“We are very happy to hear that the Giro is growing year by year in the USA, because it’s a very important market for us,” Vegni continued. “And we are happy to hear that Italy is a country that Americans look to with a lot of interest, for our race, the landscapes, the food, and history, and our growth in USA is a reflection of that.”
Grand tour race organizers have been dreaming for decades to bring their events to the western hemisphere.
The Tour de France studied possible starts in Canada, the United States, and even Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. Each time, the numbers just didn’t add up. It was too far, too expensive, and maybe just too far-fetched for a bicycle race.
The Giro d’Italia almost pulled it off, with an aborted effort that came tantalizingly close to bringing the Italian grand tour to Washington, D.C. in 2012. That Giro eventually started in Denmark.
A change of mayors and a budget crisis in the U.S. capital torpedoed that idea, headed up by former Giro director Angelo Zomegnan. A new mayor has since been elected in Washington, and it’s unclear if D.C. is once again the Giro target or if it could go elsewhere. Queries to the mayor’s office by VeloNews were not returned in time for this story.
Plans to bring the Giro to D.C. in 2012 were well-advanced, and any revived efforts would certainly piggy-back on those concepts.
Under the Giro-to-America blueprint, the Giro would have a completely separate infrastructure available within the United States. Teams would have access to cars and other vehicles that would stay behind once the peloton returned to Europe, very similar to how the Giro was organized in Belfast, Northern Ireland, last year. Other infrastructure, such as finish line podiums and course barriers, would also be contracted locally.
There would likely not be a time trial stage, so teams would only have to bring the minimal amount of bikes, frames, wheels, and other material, similar to races in such far-flung destinations as China or the Middle East. And the Giro would likely ask for an exception on rest days, perhaps adding an additional stage to the U.S leg, with a likely Friday start and as many as four stages, before returning to Europe on a trans-Atlantic flight.
Once back in Europe, the peloton would have an early rest day to recover, then likely a shorter, easier road stage to ease back into the rhythm of racing.
The major hurdle to bringing European racing to North America has always been the long flight. A nonstop trip from the East Coast to Milano is about eight and a half hours.
Too much? Perhaps not. Other races have taken overnight ferries and even long flights up to four hours to cover long transfers, so perhaps a trans-Atlantic flight wouldn’t be too exaggerated.
Vegni is enthusiastic about bringing the Giro experience beyond the confines of Europe. Just how far away remains to be seen. Scandinavia and Eastern Europe are closer than the U.S., and all represent growing markets for the Italian grand tour.
He said it’s unlikely the Giro would venture into the Middle East, mainly because the United Arab Emirates is already investing in its own races with the backing of RCS Sport. The Dubai Tour debuted in 2014, and the Abu Dhabi Tour begins in October, giving the oil-rich emirate a strong cycling presence.
“My thoughts are that in a world that is more global, international events, such as the Giro, Tour and other events, they should be able to arrive in these type of countries to promote our sport,” Vegni explained. “The Emirates have visited the Giro, and they liked the race, but they have invested in their own events. Our strategic interests for the Giro now lie in other countries.”
Vegni also said the internationalization of the Giro is the next natural step in the race’s evolution that began to revive more than a decade ago. The wildly successful “big start” last year in Belfast has only fueled the Giro’s interest in going far beyond the Dolomites.
“The Giro in the future should be more and more international. The Giro can serve as an ambassador of Italy in the world,” Vegni said. “We also must not forget the values of our sport, and focus on the athletes. The Giro is a fantastic stage, but the cyclists are the actors. We must also search for the balance between the modern and the traditional.”
There would be nothing more modern than bringing the Giro to the United States. Whether the traditionalists can get their heads around that remains to be seen.