In the 1979 film Breaking Away, a young American teenager from a non-descript Indiana town develops an obsession with cycling and the Italian team. “Ciao Mama! Ciao Papa!” – his parents are unimpressed, and his friends fail to understand his new passion. David searches out scraps of information on the Italian team, pouring over magazines and papering his bedroom walls with images of his European heroes. Campagnolo, Colnago, Coppi, Gimondi; the evocation of Mediterranean exotica.
So it is with great expectations when he hears news that a team from Italy will be travelling to compete in a local race. At last he gets to experience Italian culture first hand, to race against these foreign new adversaries from the spiritual home of cycling. When the day arrives, the Italians dominate the race, riding at the front and setting a fierce pace, dropping everyone except our American idealist. He is a nuisance, stubbornly refusing to drop behind with the other local riders – the Italians tell him in no uncertain terms – though in Italian – to bugger off. When their intimidation fails to make an impression, they ram a pump into the spokes of his front wheel. As David flies head over heels into the roadside shrubbery, his carefully constructed Italian dream also falls flat on its arse.
Later today, the riders will roll down the start ramp in Amsterdam to begin their three week adventure in the Giro d’Italia. For many the first grand tour of the year is also the best; beautiful scenery rivalling Le Tour, steeper more demanding climbs, racing that is less predictable and more aggressive. But most importantly, it winds it’s way through a country that embodies the soul of cycling, cheered on by the adoring and fanatical tifosi.
The hosts will once again be hoping that a local hero can emerge and claim the maglia rosa – the rest of the world will be hoping he is earning his glory through honest means. Recently we’ve seen too many improbable performances from the home favourites – Basso, Ricco, Di Luca. Too many times has this race, wrapped in the passion and beauty of Italian culture, also been unravelled by its uglier side.