Giro d'Italia
Creating the course for the Giro d'Italia is a...

The story behind the Giro’s route design

Andrew Hood sits down with Giro d'Italia race director Mauro Vegni about how each race course comes together.

ALGERHO, Italy (VN) — The Giro d’Italia is born from a desire to deliver an inspiring race.

Cycling’s most passionate stage race is a labor of love for the dozens of men and women who work behind the scenes to bring the Giro to life each May. That number swells to hundreds by race time, when safety officials, podium girls, and start and finish line ground crews are added to the workforce.

Each Giro is different. Each race tells a unique story. The route changes year to year, with return trips to some legendary climbs, such as the Stelvio, Mortirolo, or Blockhaus, mixed in with unusual departures for faraway start places like Belfast and Denmark. Ultimately, the Giro is a race that weaves together history and cycling across Italy’s dramatic natural beauty into what’s a three-week rolling postcard.

How does it all come together? There are moving parts that go into designing a three-week race, yet every Giro starts with a singular idea or spark. What will the Giro commemorate? Where will it take the peloton?

Giro race director Mauro Vegni takes that task very personally. He’s worked on more than 20 Giri in various roles across his career, and this 100th edition marks his sixth as race director.

We caught up with Vegni ahead of Friday’s start of the 2017 Giro to get the scoop on how each race is designed:

VN: Thanks Mauro for your time; so tell us, what goes into designing the Giro route?
Mauro Vegni: It starts with an idea, and how we want to express something special about each Giro. The final route depends on what is behind each year’s project. Before we build the route, we start with the fundamental idea of what the Giro will say. Each year is different. Every story is different.

VN: What comes first; the general shape of the route or this kernel of inspiration?
MV: You can say there are three steps to designing the Giro. First, it starts with the idea of what story you want to tell. And then you begin to think about how the Giro might look in terms of where it starts, and finally, you approach the specific stages.

VN: Where does this spark of an idea come from to give each Giro a story?
MV: Sometimes the inspiration can come from something that is larger than the sport, like an historic moment in Italy or in Europe. I try to create a bridge from the Giro to other larger historical moments. This year was closer to home, to celebrate the 100th edition of the Giro, and we decided early on that theme would dictate the outline of the course. Other times we have brought in larger themes, like when the Giro went to Athens to celebrate the Olympics, or when we made a route to celebrate the unification of Italy. We try to link to an important milestone or historical significance to bring the Giro into the broader context of the society. The idea can be spontaneous. You can never know when it comes. Others are more obvious, like the centenary of the Giro a few years ago.

VN: Italy’s geography is unique in Europe; how much of a challenge is it to fit a three-week stage race into a boot?
MV: We try to incorporate as much of the territory into the route each year as possible without being too exaggerated. We typically try to move from the south to the north due to the weather, but that is not always the case. We have the Dolomites in the north, and they’re usually in the last week due to the snow and weather. The landscape of Italy is more complicated than other countries. We have the Alps and the Dolomites, and we must decide to go east to west, or vice versa, to bring the important climbs into the race and the larger narrative.

VN: What is the biggest challenge of designing the Giro route?
MV: Trying to weave together all the considerations. First of all, you want to have a fair and challenging course for the best cyclists in the world. We also want to make the Giro interesting for the fans as well. And finally, we want to build these larger narratives into the route to give each Giro its own story.

VN: So what is unique about this year’s Giro?
MV: For the 100th edition, we want to unify the history of cycling and feature the big protagonists, like Coppi, Bartali, Pantani, and others, and bring in some of the historic climbs, like the Stelvio and Mortirolo. We also want to showcase the natural and historical places of Italy. Over the course of 21 days, you start with the sporting aspects, but we also want this important story of 100 editions of the Giro’s history to play out over three weeks.

VN: What is your favorite Giro?
MV: I would say this year is very good because it is a good balance of the sporting aspect and a beautiful course, but I have not hit the ideal Giro yet. I am still working on it! You learn something every year you do it.

VN: The Giro also brings the race into the heart of Italy’s historic cities; how difficult is it to bring a race down a street that was built by the Romans?
MV: It’s obvious that to bring the Giro into an historical city center is a complicated task. We have been creative, for example, like leaving the team buses outside the city center. We want to create this ambiance of a big show in the beautiful cities of Italy. Sometimes it is a bigger issue in the largest cities due to the traffic considerations, but we do want to keep all the major destinations as part of the Giro. In most cases, the people are very happy when the Giro comes to their town or city.

VN: Do you look to the other grand tours when designing each year’s Giro?
MV: To be honest, I am only thinking about the Giro and how to make our race as interesting and exciting as possible. I don’t look at what the Tour or Vuelta might be doing and adjust accordingly. Of course, I watch what they’re doing, but the Giro is also at the forefront of course design. It is the others who seem to be taking inspiration from us.

VN: How has the Giro’s growth internationally helped the race?
MV: We have worked hard to increase the profile of the Giro, and now we are seeing the fruits of our labor. The interest in the Giro is better than ever before. We want to draw the top international riders and to expand the reach of the Giro into new markets. It’s also satisfying to see this new interest in the Giro. We want to keep growing, to be at the same level of the Tour, to be an important international event. The Giro deserves it.

VN: And what about the idea to bring the Giro to the United States?
MV: Well, it is still in the works, but probably not next year.

VN: How do you decide which cities will host a stage?
MV: It’s a wide approach. You compare with the ideas you are formulating and look at the offers you have from host cities and regions, and you try to build from that. Sometimes you have to go to areas to convince them that it will fit into the story you are trying to tell with the Giro. Overall, the interest in the Giro is very high. We have many communities wanting to be part of the Giro.

VN: Do you inspect the Giro route before signing off on it?
MV: Once the Giro course is mapped out, we have a team of technical people who go to all the starts and finishes to scope out the logistics. They drive each stage start to finish, usually around October, to make sure everything is valid. We finalize everything before the official presentation each year. Some places you have visited many times, so you know it will be OK, but for a new area, the visits are more important.

VN: And finally, what would be the perfect Giro course?
MV: I always say that every Giro route must have some unique features. Of course, we must include the big climbs, because that is what the Giro is about. But we also look to new ideas about how to make the Giro interesting. We also build around the weekends, when the ratings are highest. The project is continually evolving and changing. We strive to bring new things, above all, with an eye toward the quality of the race. It’s also important to have a balanced Giro, so that all the riders have an opportunity. Something for the sprinters, the time trialists, the GC specialists. We always want to make something spectacular, so there is a reason for the public to tune in.