As one of the five great monuments of the cycling season, the Giro de Lombardia (Tour of Lombardy) is revered by cyclists around the world. The race has helped to immortalise legends of the sport like Fausti Coppi and Alfredo Binda, and the challenging mountain classic has seen its share of stunning showdowns since its creation in 1905.
A journalist, Tullo Morgagni, originally came up with the idea to host a Tour of Lombardy – originally it was known as the Milano-Milano, with the final stretch of the race ending in Milan. Morgagni intended for the tour to be a grudge match between a pair of Italian adversaries, Pierino Albini and Giovanni Cuniolo.
Ultimately, this contest was overshadowed by the victory of another cycling star, Giovanni Gerbi. But the race had been a huge success, with huge numbers of spectators coming out to witness the action. In 1907 it was renamed Giro di Lombardia, a moniker that remains to this day.
Legends of Lombardy
During the early years of the Giro di Lombardia, a trio of cyclists came to dominate the race. Frenchman Henri Pélissier continually found himself facing off against a formidable pair of local competitors, Gaetano Belloni and Costante Girardengo. Each of these riders was awarded their own hat trick of victories, cementing the tour’s reputation as proving ground for fierce rivalries between the world’s greatest cyclists.
A similar trifecta of talent inherited the ever-shifting crown of the Giro di Lombardia between the 1930s and 1950s. The all-Italian showdown between Gino Bartali, Alfredo Binda and Fausto Coppi was the focus of the race during this period. Coppi came out on top, winning the tour five times – no cyclist has won the race as many times since.
One of the most dramatic and memorable moments of the Giro di Lombardia arrived during 1956, when Coppi was attempting to secure his sixth victory on the course. After being mocked from a passing car containing Fausto Coppi’s smirking lover Giulia Occhini, fellow Italian competitor Fiorenzo Magni was enraged enough to experience fresh burst of speed. He caught up with the defending champion, and the pair proceeded to openly argue for the remainder of the race. A third rider, André Darrigade, saw this conflict as an opportunity. He powered forward at the last minute and won the race, relegating Coppi and Magni to second and third place.
From Milan to Como
1961 saw the Giro di Lombardia move its finish line from Milan to Lake Como. The area’s punishing climbs and jaw-dropping mountain scenery have redefined the race, making it best suited to skilful climbers capable of a strong sprinting finish.
The route has undergone several changes over the years, but one enduring symbol of its difficulty is the 10.6km climb of the Madonna del Ghisallo. This testing hill runs from the shore of Lake Como and takes its travellers 754m above sea level to the church of Madonna del Ghisallo, the patroness of cyclists.
Surrounded by the stunning scenery of Lake Como and lined with blazing golden trees during its autumnal occurrence, it’s no wonder that the Giro di Lombardia has attracted nicknames like ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’ and ‘The Romantic Classic’. Yet despite its beauty, the Tour of Lombardy’s history of cutthroat competition and unpredictable, undulating terrain make it a race that only fools would underestimate.
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