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Italian stage racing enjoys resurgence

New bike races in Italy are cropping up again as the country continues to rebound from the 2009 financial crisis.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — These are good days in Italy, with stage races starting, blossoming, and establishing themselves at the top of the cycling world.

The timing is right it seems in the Bel Paese, which has been on its knees since the Eurozone crisis of 2009. The warm air this spring not only sees purple, pink, and white wisteria, but an abundance of stage races, both old and new.

The Tour of the Alps just finished with Thibaut Pinot winning ahead of Fabio Aru and Chris Froome. The race formerly known as the Giro del Trentino, which renamed itself in 2017, continues to blossom in its 42nd year with star riders and breathtaking routes through the Dolomites.

The five-day race is Italy’s top stage race not under organizer RCS Sport’s umbrella. It continues to grow year after year as a warmup event for those racing the Giro d’Italia two weeks later.

“It has been a perfect week, in one of the most beautiful areas in Europe,” Pinot of team Groupama-FDJ said after celebrating his win. “Last year, I had promised I would be back for winning. Now, I promise I will be back to make a double.”

“We think we’ve earned our top-level spot,” race director Maurizio Evangelista said. “In Italy, this race holds a lot of prestige, on the same level of Tirreno-Adriatico in March.”

RCS Sport’s races held strong through the financial crisis. Its range of races, which includes the Giro d’Italia, Tirreno-Adriatico, Strade Bianche, and Milano-Sanremo, remained while others fell through the cracks.

Numerous stage races disappeared over the last decade due bad organization, a lack of money, and globalization. Races once well-established like the Giro di Sardegna, the Settimana Lombarda, and the Giro di Padania exist now only has memories in Italy’s Bici Sport magazine.

But with the warm air and colorful wisteria, Italy has begun to awaken. As workers were sweeping away the confetti at the Tour of the Alps, the Adriatica Ionica was born.

The first edition of the 2.1-ranked stage race, scheduled for June 20-24, covers the roads of the ancient Sea Republic of Venice. Competitively, it will serve as a tuneup for riders building for the national championships and the Tour de France.

“We want to offer a quality product that is also original and stands out from other races,” said former world champion Moreno Argentin, who founded the race with Quanto Basta.

“Our project intends to promote the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions, but also looks for new roads. Within five years we have the ambition to arrive in Greece, in Athens, through Austria, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Macedonia, Albania. Following the routes and history of the Serenissima, the Sea Republic of Venice.”

As they celebrate their first edition, the Giro d’Italia will celebrate its 101st edition. RCS Sport’s coup for 2018 includes a three-day start in Israel, the first grand tour departure outside of Europe, and Chris Froome’s presence.

The Team Sky star will compete against Pinot, Aru (UAE Team Emirates), Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and 2017 victor Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).

ASO remains the top race organizer with the Tour de France, Critérium du Dauphiné, Paris-Roubaix, and others. However, the Giro’s ability to continually attract top stars over routes that zig-zag the country’s famous boot from the south and skirt the most stunning Alpine peaks in the north speaks volumes. And despite some hard times, the warm and friendly Italian touch persists and trickles down to the smaller, but just as charming, stage races.