Giro d'Italia
Acquarone faced questions on the Giro's foreign...

A Straniero Giro: Organizers laud foreign appeal

Giro organizers welcome an international flavor to the Italian tour, but not everyone is interested in diluting the domestic appeal

MILAN (VN) — Giro d’Italia race director, Michele Acquarone said this afternoon in Milan that having a foreign winner is beneficial to his race.

“We have two Italian teams out of 18 WorldTour teams, so this is the likelihood. The foreign teams have a greater chance. Before the start, Ivan Basso was confident, also Michele Scarponi, but they encountered strong rivals,” Acquarone said during a press conference. He met the press early Sunday in a courtroom on the second floor of the Giureconsulti, around the corner from the Piazza Duomo and the finish of the Giro d’Italia.

“I’d like if an Italian won out there to see the Italian fans get behind him, but as an organizer, we have to treat everyone the same,” he said. “Then, on a worldwide level, if we want to see the race recognized globally, then we need to accept these global champions.”

For the first time since 1995, the Giro enjoyed a podio straniero, or a podium of foreigners. Swiss Tony Rominger won 17 years ago ahead of Russian Evgeni Berzin and Latvian Piotr Ugrumov. Only two times has a rider from outside Eurasia won the race: 1987 with Ireland’s Stephen Roche and 1988 with American Andy Hampsten.

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda), Spain’s Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) and Belgian Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) swept the podium today in the fourth closest Giro in history.

This year, American Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) won the opening time trial and held the race lead for three days. Hesjedal – who is as international as they come, born in Canada with homes in Hawaii and in Spain – held the lead for five days. They helped the Giro reach a global audience, reaching out to the U.S., even as the weeklong Amgen Tour of California ran.

“The figures are positive,” Acquarone continued. “We broadcasted the Giro live around the world. EuroSport covered it live daily. For the first time, Australia saw it live via SBS television – the audience is growing.”

Journalist after journalist questioned Acquarone in his debut year. Those questions included how and why the Tour of California today attracts bigger names than an established race in its 95th year.

“The Tour of California is definitely growing, it has a lot of investment and it draws on the cycling industry,” said Acquarone. “We are aware it’s growing, even if it’s not in the WorldTour. We’ve already talked with the UCI, saying, these two important races shouldn’t be on the schedule at the same time. I know it’s hard for them because the calendar is already packed. If they can’t split them, we have to be so good that the best teams want to race in Italy because it’s worth their while.”

Several journalists grumbled, writers who’ve been covering the race for more than 30 years, about the lack of an Italian flavor in the 2012 edition. Their long faces didn’t seem to accept another year without a home winner — three of the last five Giros have been won by non-Italians. Some didn’t want to see so many foreign WorldTour teams at the start, at the expense of squads like Acqua & Sapone and De Rosa. One asked, “Why bring NetApp, Rabobank, RadioShack and others that failed to influence Italy’s big tour?”

“I’d like to do everything thing I can so that the WorldTour teams want to come here and want to do well. In this time, it’s like the European Cup, some teams don’t even go there to win, like the Italian teams,” said Acquarone. “We need to make the Giro a worthwhile investment for the teams.”

Yesterday on the Passo dello Stelvio, the Giro’s operations director, Mauro Vegni echoed Acquarone. He told VeloNews, “A Canadian winner would not be bad at all. To see his name engraved on the race trophy would give the race more of an international feel.”

The organizers may be searching for that feel, but not everyone is so keen.