Giro d'Italia

Andrew Hood’s Giro notebook: Alpini invasion, long day in saddle

Tens of thousands of retired and active “Alpini” soldiers descended on Torino for an annual convention set to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification — just in time for the start of the 2011 Giro.

TORINO, Italy (VN) – Torino is overflowing, but it’s not just Giro fans who are packing the streets of this vibrant northern Italian city.

A rolling party. The Alpini know how to take on the Giro. | Andrew Hood photo.

Tens of thousands of retired and active “Alpini” soldiers have descended on Torino for an annual convention set to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification. Some estimates put the number as high as 150,000 members of the elite mountain troops who have poured into Torino.

The group was formed in 1872, making it the oldest mountain infantry in the world. They were originally created to protect the northern mountain boundaries against France and Austria. Units today continue to serve throughout Italy and the world, including a current assignment in Afghanistan.

The streets of Torino are filled with bands of these celebrating soldiers. They’ve taken over bars, singing songs, waving banners, beating drums and drinking a lot of beer. They stand out in the crowd with their distinctive green felt caps, called the “Capello Alpino,” which includes a trademark raven feather tucked into the band.

International peloton

The 94th Giro starts with 23 teams, 35 nationalities and 207 riders in what’s a very international peloton. Some 62 are Italians, followed by 25 Spaniards, 11 Dutch, 10 Belgians, 10 French, eight Americans and seven each from Australia, Russia and Switzerland.

Others include six Germans, five Brits and Colombians, four from Belorussia and Denmark; three each from Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Venezuela. There are two riders from each of the following: Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Norway and the Ukraine. These nations have one representative at the start line: Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ireland, Japon, Lithuania, South Africa, Sweden and Uzbekistan.

HTC-Highroad, Leopard-Trek and RadioShack start with eight of their nine riders from different countries. Two teams – Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli and Colnago-CSF Inox — start with all nine riders with the same nationality: Italian.

The oldest rider in Giro is Andrea Noè (Farnese Vini) is 42 and the youngest is Carlos Betancourt (Acqua e Sapone) at 21.

Sunday’s stage

The 94th Giro d’Italia continues Sunday with the longest stage of the race in the 244km from Alba to Parma. The most flat stage squirts the farm country south of the Po Valley and the only notable geographical challenges are two short hills with about 35km to go. It’s a flat, straight run in the closing kilometers to give the sprint teams time to set up their men. The final kilometer gets interesting, with a sharp right-hander at about 800m to go followed by another sweeping right-hander with 450m to go.