SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

GIRO D'ITALIA

A quick guide to understanding the Giro d’Italia

Every spring, Italy is consumed by cycling fever as the Giro d'Italia speeds through the country. If you're new to the iconic race, here's everything you need to know.

A quick guide to understanding the Giro d’Italia
The pack rides alongside Lake Maggiore near Cannobio during the Giro d'Italia. (Photo by Luca Bettini / AFP)

It’s that time of year again, when thousands of fans crowd narrow mountain roads and camp out in fields for a brief glimpse at the hundreds of riders who will pass by at speeds that seem impossible to those who huff and puff their way through a morning commute.

This is the Giro d’Italia, one of the world’s premier cycling competitions and one of the biggest events in the Italian sport calendar. But for those who’ve never watched the race, the whole process can be baffling.

Why does one race take nearly a month? How can there be teams in a bike race? And why does everyone care so much about a pink jersey?

Fear not — here’s your guide to understanding the three glorious weeks of the Giro d’Italia.

What is the Giro d’Italia?

There have been over 100 editions of the Giro, as it’s more familiarly known, since it began in 1909. It’s preceded in antiquity only by the world-famous Tour de France.

Like that competition, the Giro was started to drum up subscriptions for a newspaper, the Gazetta dello Sport, whose pink pages inspired the colour of the jersey worn by the race leader (more on that below). It’s run continuously since then, breaking only for the First and Second World War.

Together with the Tour de France and Spain’s Vuelta a España, the Giro is one of the three grand tours of professional cycling — epic long-distance races that mark the pinnacle of the sport.

This file picture taken on August 24, 1938 shows Italy’s riders Gino Bartali (L) and Olimpio Bizzi (R), competing in the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) cycling race. (Photo by AFP)

As the first race in the calendar, the Giro is notorious for its iffy spring weather and difficult Alpine climbs, which fall in the last week of this three-week long race. It’s so notoriously difficult that the sport’s top competitors sometimes give it a pass to be in better shape for the Tour de France just four weeks later, often making for a more competitive race.

It’s been won by Italians 41 times, but in recent years an Italian has claimed the crown only twice — Vincenzo Nibali, nicknamed ‘Lo Squalo‘ (The Shark) for his aggressive style, won in 2013 and again in 2016.

Where does it go?

Each year, the Giro d’Italia follows a different path, engineered from classic cycling routes by race planners.

Cyclists cover roughly 3,500 kilometres over 21 stages of different lengths and difficulties, from the punishing peaks of the Dolomites to the breezy coastal roads of the Italian Riviera.

The race usually also includes at least one time trial, in which cyclists ride a shorter route alone and compete for the quickest time.

READ ALSO: Ten awe-inspiring routes for cycling through Italy

The race begins with a grande partenza, which occasionally takes place in an entirely different country. In 2018, the race even left Europe, taking riders to Israel for its first three stages.

The route is designed to test riders’ all-round capability, punishing those who specialize in speed on flat land or endurance on the mountains. The overall winner is often one who can handle a little bit of everything — and who is blessed by the luck to safely navigate slippery slopes and massive crashes in the Giro’s famous spells of bad weather.

How does it work?

But how does one actually win the Giro d’Italia? Technically, there are many routes to victory. In fact, riders are technically competing in as many as five different competitions simultaneously, called ‘classifications’.

Overall leader Team Ineos rider Colombia’s Egan Bernal smiles prior to the 20th stage of the Giro d’Italia 2021 cycling race, 164km between Verbania and Valle Spluga – Alpe Motta on May 29, 2021. (Photo by Luca Bettini / AFP)

The big prize is the general classification or ‘GC’, which is awarded to the rider with the lowest overall time after all 21 stages. Throughout the race, whoever is currently leading dons the pink jersey or maglia rosa.

But there are other prizes to fight for. For those cyclists who excel in the mountains but struggle to keep up with the fastest on flat land, there’s the ‘mountain classification’, with points awarded at the summit of each climb based on its difficulty. The holder of that title wears the blue maglia azzurra.

For those who specialise in flat-out speed, there’s the sprint or ‘points classification’. Points are awarded here for placing highly on individual stages, which usually doesn’t translate to the lowest overall time.

A rider who regularly sprints to win stages but falls badly behind on the mountains can still wear the mauve maglia ciclamino. Of course, the first to cross the finish line also claims the stage win — a prize in its own right.

There’s also a classification for the best young rider under 25, who wears the white maglia bianca. And there’s a ‘teams classification’ for the lowest overall team time.

Who are the teams?

What’s that you say? There are teams in cycling? Indeed there are, and it’s one of the things that is often most confusing to new viewers.

Professional cyclists ride for teams named for their sponsors, which often change year to year, and yield unwieldy names like the Belgian outfit Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux.

Each team will bring together riders with different strengths, from climbers who can excel in the mountains to sprinters who will bring their sponsors glory in a photo finish.

But cycling at this level is also a team sport. Riders need constant fuel in the form of food and water, which must be retrieved from team cars at a cost of time and energy. This thankless grunt work is done by riders called domestiques or, in Italian, gregari, from the word for ‘gregarious’.

Team riders chase a two-men breakaway in the final ascent of the 20th stage of the Giro d’Italia 2021 cycling race. (Photo by Luca Bettini / AFP)

These riders also work as moving windshields for their GC contenders, who can save as much as 30 percent of their energy while drafting behind a teammate.

Though teams claim riders from around the world, there actually hasn’t been an Italian-sponsored team at the Giro since Lampre-Merida folded in 2016.

How can I watch it?

Now that you know the route and the players, you can enjoy the race — and there’s a reason professional cycling is known as ‘chess on wheels’.

For most of the race, the bulk of the 150 or so riders will be in one large group called the gruppo or peloton, while a breakaway group rides a minute or two ahead up the road.

These breakaway riders usually get caught before the stage’s end. But don’t be sad for them — they know the drill, and are doing it for their sponsors, or for a brief moment in the limelight.

The important thing to keep an eye on is the time gaps, especially between the maglia rosa and his nearest competitors. Usually, the race is won with daring breakaways on difficult mountain stages where a rider times his charge carefully and out-thinks his opponents — and of course, relies on the hard work of his gregari to give him an extra edge.

Now you know the ins and outs of the Giro d’Italia. Even if you don’t care for cycling, this is a competition for all lovers of Italy.

Tune in, and you’ll see wild fans, daring descents, and breakneck sprints — but also unbroken hours of Italy’s most gorgeous landscapes.

In Italy you can watch the Giro d’Italia on host broadcaster RAI Sport or, in English, on Eurosport.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

DISCOVER ITALY

What to do in Rome this August

Rome may be emptied of Italians in August, but the city still has plenty to offer.

What to do in Rome this August

August has arrived in Italy, which means chiuso per ferie (closed for the holidays) signs are starting to pop up in the shuttered shopfronts of towns and cities across the country.

Each summer, there’s an annual exodus from urban centres as locals flee their simmering asphalt jungles for the cooler climes of the coast – and Rome’s no exception.

READ ALSO: Ferragosto: Why the long August holidays are untouchable for Italians

But if you’ve unwittingly booked your holiday to coincide with the capital’s emptiest and sweatiest season, don’t despair: there’s still plenty going on.

Here are ten things to do in Rome this August.

Go sales shopping

Shopping sales, or saldi, are closely regulated in Italy, with only two big sales allowed per year.

This year’s summer sales season in Lazio, the region where Rome is based, runs until August 15th.

Until then you can browse the sales at your leisure, taking advantage of the lack of other shoppers to snap up items locals have missed.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about sales shopping in Italy

Chill on the Tiber with Lungo Il Tevere

Lungo Il Tevere, a series of summer events and food and drink stalls along the Trastevere section of the River Tiber, runs from mid-June until the end of August every year.

From 7pm each evening you can have an aperitivo or even a meal at one of the pop up restaurants overlooking the river, browse stalls selling clothing and trinkets, and play table football.

Every summer in Rome the Lungo il Tevere festival hosts a series of events and stalls along the River Tiber.
Every summer in Rome the Lungo il Tevere festival hosts a series of events and stalls along the River Tiber. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP.

READ ALSO: What changes about life in Italy in August 2022

From around 9pm until 2am, a nightly events programme kicks off that includes film screenings, discussions, presentations and musical performances.

Outdoor cinema screenings

Many of Rome’s outdoor cinema programmes close at the end of July, but there are a few that run into August. 

One is the Caleidoscopio programme, which is held in an open air ‘cinema’ at Villa Borghese from June 9th to September 19th, including throughout the month of August. Most non-Italian films will be shown in the original language with Italian subtitles.

READ ALSO: The 7 signs that August has arrived in Italy

Tickets are free, but are first come, first served: to secure a seat, attendees should go to the ticket office within two hours of the film’s start time of 9pm.

Lungo Il Tevere is also screening at least one film a night – some free, others €6 entry – until August 15th.

Make sure you check language restrictions before going – V.O. means the film is in its original language, sott.Eng/ sott.Ita means it has either English or Italian subtitles. Neither means the film is dubbed into Italian or in the original Italian without subtitles.

Day trip to the beach

If the summer heat is getting too much for you, there are several beaches within easy reach of the Italian capital.

Fregene, just 30km from the capital is a popular destination – though you can’t get all the way there by train, and will have to take a bus for the last stretch of the journey if using public transport.

Santa Marinella beach with Santa Severa castle in the distance.
Santa Marinella beach with Santa Severa castle in the distance. Photo by Alessandro Canepa on Unsplash

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

The twin beaches of Santa Severa and Santa Marinella, while a little further out, are both without walking distance of stations that can be reached via a direct train from Rome.

Day trip to a lake

Not such a fan of the seaside? There are plenty of swimming lakes around Rome that can be visited by train for a small day-return fare.

The easiest to access from Rome are Lago di Albano and Lago Bracciano, both a little over one hour from city centre train stations.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Both have shores and lidi that can be accessed via a short journey on foot walking downhill from the nearest train stop. You have the option of paying for a sunbed at a private lido or simply laying down your towel on a free section of the shore.

Outdoor opera at Terme di Caracalla

If you’ve ever dreamt of attending an opera under the stars amongst ancient Roman ruins, now’s your chance.

Every summer sees the Terme di Caracalla thermal baths in Rome host a series of after-dark operatic and ballet performances. The season ends on August 9th, but until then you can catch Carmen, The Barber of Seville, and Notre-Dame de Paris.

Performances start at 9pm. Tickets can be bought here.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

Jazz concerts at Casa del Jazz and Castel Sant’Angelo

Summertime 2022 at the Casa del Jazz features a series of outdoor evening concerts in the Villa Osio park. The programme runs until August 7th.

If that’s not enough jazz for you, Castel Sant’Angelo near the Vatican is also putting on ‘Classic Mit Jazz‘ on August 11th – a fusion of jazz and classical music with an ensemble that features a sax and drums as well as a violin and cello. Tickets are €12 full price, €2 for 18-25 year-olds.

Rome's Castel Sant'Angelo hosts a series of summertime events.
Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo hosts a series of summertime events. Photo by Mauricio Artieda on Unsplash 

The event is part of the venue’s ‘Sotto l’Angelo di Castello’ festival of dance, theatre and music performances, which runs until September 25th. 

Go to a museum for free

History and culture buffs who find themselves in Rome on August 7th are in luck: on this date (the first Sunday of the month) the city’s civic museums are open to all for free.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

That means you can visit popular sites like the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the National Museum, Palazzo Barberini, the ancient city of Ostia Antica, the Caracalla and Diocletian thermal baths, and Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este without paying a cent.

A full list of the museums and sites included in the scheme can be accessed here (this is a nationwide initiative involving hundreds of museums all across the country; search ‘Lazio’ to see which venues are included in and around Rome).

Attend a guided tour of the Colosseum under the stars

Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night this August (and until the end of October) you can take a nighttime tour of the Colosseum featuring video projections and audio narration.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Nine tips for making the most of a Rome city break

Banner ad

The tour lasts one hour, with slots available between 8pm and midnight.

Tickets cost €25 full price and €20 for under-25s, and can be bought here.

Nighttime tours of the Colosseum can be booked Thursday-Saturday throughout August.
Nighttime tours of the Colosseum can be booked Thursday-Saturday throughout August.

Witness a midsummer snowstorm

Every year on August 5th Rome commemorates the ‘miracle of the snow’ outside the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

Legend has it that on the night of August 4th in 358 BC, the Virgin Mary appeared in a dream before a noble Roman couple and showed them where to build a church in her honour.

READ ALSO: How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

The next morning the couple related the dream to Pope Liberius, who had had the same vision. He went to the place and found it covered in snow in the middle of summer. Tracing an outline, he demarcated the foundations, and had the church built on that spot at the couple’s expense.

The annual event starts at 9pm, with performances and music set against the backdrop of moving images and light plays projected on the basilica’s facade, and culminates in a midnight ‘snowstorm’ on the piazza outside.

SHOW COMMENTS