On 7th August 1908 La Gazzetta dello Sport announced in a full-page headline that the next spring it was going to organize the Giro d’Italia “which”, it said, “will become one of the most important and popular events in international cycling”.
On 13th May 1909, everything was ready for the debut at 2.53 from Piazza Loreto in Milan. A large group of able-bodied contestants started the adventure that aroused curiosity and interest along the whole route. After 8 stages, 2.447 km and four different stage winners, Luigi Ganna won the first Giro d’Italia, ahead of Carlo Galetti and Giovanni Rossignoli.
The general classification was established by the sum of the points assigned to the partecipants. The score was given by the place on the finishing line of each stage, whilst all those who finished behind the first half of the contestants who had started, received an identical score. The amount of prize money had been fixed at 18.900 Lire. At the end of the Bologna-Chieti stage four riders were disqualified for taking a train in the course of the race.
As soon as the bicycle manufacturers saw the great interest aroused by the first Giro, they asked for the mileage to be increased. So, the number of stages increased to 10 (2987 km). In the Teramo-Naples stage, after having faced the forbidding spurs of the central Apennines, a change in the route, which was not marked clearly enough due to a flood the previous day, was the cause of mistakes that gave rise to complaints and counterclaims. At the beginning the race was uncertain, but, as the days passed, the superiority of Galetti was unquestionable and Pavesi and Ganna ended up in occupying the places of honour.
It was in the 1910 Giro’s edition that a foreigner, the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Dortignac, won a stage. The category of the isolated riders, who usually had to add the problem of finding shelter in the towns of the stages to the effort of the race, was taken into consideration with a ranking and suitable prizes being set up for them.
In conjunction with the Exhibition for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Kingdom of Italy, the Giro started from Rome. The Giro had alternating results: Petit Breton and Galetti struggled for the leadership, until the Frenchman was forced to withdraw on the penultimate stage owing to a technical problem to his bicycle. Galetti won the Giro, while Giovanni Rossignoli proved to be the best in the unofficial time classification.
For the first time in its history, the Giro climbed to an altitude of over 2000 metres. In the 5th stage, Mondovì-Turin, the cyclists tackled the Sestriere. In the 11th stage, which was due to finish in Naples, the organizers decided to anticipate the finishing line to Pompeii since there was danger of serious unrest due to the presence of a large crowd. The public protested and there was big debate about this episode.
To meet the demands for more visibility by the cycling manufacturers, the formula of a classification by teams, each with four cyclists, was devised. This system was not favourably received by the public and their interest in the Giro gradually dwindled. The Atala – Dunlop, with Galetti, Micheletto and Pavesi won the Giro with 31 points.
During the 4th stage from Pescara to Rome, a cloudburst made it impossible for the race to continue normally. At a fork, the cyclists ended up off the road and the stage was annulled. The organizers decided to replace it with a “Giro di Lombardia” to be disputed after the arrival in Milan. The UVI (Italian Velocipe Union) protested against this decision but in the end it approved the result of the “Giro di Lombardia” as the last stage.
After the failure of the experiment of the Giro by Teams, there was a return to the individual classification by points. The 1913 Giro was the one of the generational change. Promising young cyclists such as Oriani, Azzini and GIrardengo joined the champions Ganna, Galetti and Rossignoli. The race was fiercely fought, but in the penultimate stage Oriani brought out all his long-distance talent also supported by a continuity of behaviour shown throughout the Giro and took first place in classification.
In the 5th stage, Salerno-Bari, at the Eboli fork, there were no signs for the route and the riders took the road to Calabria. With great difficulty, they were followed and put back on to the route, but they accumulated such a delay that when they arrived, the streets light were on. Carlo Oriani enrolled in the Corps of the Bersaglieri (Italian infantry) immediately after his victory and was called up to the front line in the Great War: he died in a Military Hospital in Caserta.
For the first time, the individual classification took into account the time taken by the participants in the individual stages. Calzolari won the Giro, followed by Albini and Lucotti, even if bad weather and the length of the stages (five out of eight were over 400 kilometers long) decimated the group. 44 out of the 81 who started withdrew after the first stage and only eight riders reached Milan, recording the lowest average time in the history of the Giro (23.437 kph) and the greatest gap between the first and the second (1h 55’26”).
The Lucca-Rome stage of 430 km, the longest of all the Giros, also recorded the longest breakaway ever (Lauro Bordin, 350 km). Besides, on the Bari-L’Aquila stage, some riders were towed for a few hundred metres by a car. There was great debate about this between the Jury, the UVI (Italian Velocipede Union), and the Gazzetta dello Sport. The controversy was settled at the Court of Milan in 1915.
The Giro started again after the war. The war years had been terrible, with many losses that had also affected the world of sports and tremendous destruction concerning the roads and essential services. However, there was no story to tell about the race, so great was the superiority of Girardengo. Even though he was recovering from an attack of the dangerous epidemic of Spanish flu, he won seven out of the ten stages and was at the top of the general classification form the first to the last day. Girardengo was followed by the young Belloni put himself into the limelight and at the third place by the Belgian Buysse.
The first act of the Giro was to go to Trieste and Trento, which had been won back from the Austrians, where it was given a triumphant welcome, bearing the message of reconquered Italy. There were a lot of difficulties, above all in Veneto and Friuli, heavily destroyed during the war: for example the Tagliamento River had to be crossed on foot, because there were no bridges, but luckily it was dry.
This Giro was very difficult owing to bad weather that blighted all the stages and the very bad condition of the roads. As a result, the meagre bunch of participants was decimated, with only ten of them arriving in Milan. Girardengo was struck by misfortune during the first stage: he fell, had mechanical mishaps, was penalized for a presumed irregularity and arrived very late. In the second stage he withdrew. It was easy for Tano Belloni, now without rivals, to win the race. He was followed by Gremo and by the Frenchman Alavoine.
For the first time, the Giro went out of Italy, crossing the border into the Swiss canton of Ticino with the climb of Monte Ceneri. In the last stage, whilst the leading group of nine riders was about to dispute the final sprint, the public invaded the Trotter Park in the Turro neighbourhood of Milan where the race was to end. The Jury, after suspending the race, decided to award the victory to all nine cyclists in the gruppetto.
The Giro was dominated at the start by Girardengo, the undisputed winner of the first four stages, but in the fifth stage, the cyclist from Novi Ligure had a breakdown and near Rocca Pia got off his bicycle and marked out a cross in the dust on the road, swearing that he would never take that road again. The Giro continued in uncertainty and ended in the victory of Brunero, with less than a minute’s advantage over Belloni: an exceptional lead for those times.
In the last stage, the Ghisallo was climbed for the first time. The Tobler Factory from Milan supplied chocolate to the isolated riders at all the stages. As an experiment, the Gazzetta sold exclusive filming rights to Sport Film. The films were shown in the most prestigious cinemas in Rome, Milan, Genoa, Bologna and Turin. Bets were permitted in five towns: they were placed on the winner and on the placing with odds.
In its 10th edition and with memories of the war fading, the Giro started initiatives that brought innovation but above all quality. The Maino and Bianchi teams with Girardengo and Belloni respectively, dissatisfied with the disqualification and following readmission of Brunero, withdrew their cyclists. Naturally the Giro, although losing two exceptional leading elements, still aroused curiosity and interest and in the end Brunero was deservedly the winner, followed by Aymo and Enrici.
The Gazzetta dello Sport, having an inkling of some rival initiative for speculative purposes, decided to defend its interests by registering the Giro d’Italia trademark. Legal protection of this right was officially acknowledged by a deed of the Royal Prefecture of Milan, reference no. 271, on 23rd May 1923. The positive experience of the previous year concerning the filming of some stages, went on extended to the whole of the Giro. The totalisator further developed, attracting thousands of gamblers.