The Swiss Alex Zülle was in the limelight immediately. He was the protagonist of actions that seemed to mark the destiny of the Giro at the Laceno Lake and in Trieste. Pantani started to move up the classification in Piancavallo, but the following day Zülle outclassed him in the time trial. But in the Selva Valgardena stage Pantani flew on the Fedaia and on the Sella passes and although threatened by a strong-willed Tonkov, he got the lead. He was superlative at the Plan di Montecampione and defended himself in the Lugano time trial, winning the Giro, followed by Tonkov and Guerini.
With his victory of this Giro and his triumph in Paris on the Tour, Pantani created a favourable consensus about cycling that had disappeared since Coppi and Bartali’s golden age. But times were about to change, and a storm was looming on the horizon.
The dramatic events of the 1998 Tour concerning the Epo issues, created a justified alarm also on the eve of the Giro. The blood testing was intensified and in Madonna di Campiglio, before the start of the second last stage, Pantani’s haematocrit values were not within the norms. The rider, Maglia Rosa and undisputed ruler of the Giro up to that moment, was stopped by the Jury Committee and the queen stage of the Giro, with the Gavia and the Mortirolo passes, turned into a nightmare. Gotti, second till that day, arrived first in Aprica and got the Maglia Rosa. He arrived in Milan as the winner, followed by Savoldelli and Simoni.
After Merckx’s expulsion from the Giro in 1969, La Gazzetta dello Sport was again deprived of the Maglia Rosa for doping problems. The Giro, which had kicked off surrounded by an exceptional enthusiasm, pushed the splendid athletic feats to the background and ended in terrible controversy.
After the triumphal prologue in Rome, the race featured surprisingly fighting riders throughout the first week. At the Abetone, Francesco Casagrande performed an outstanding feat but unfortunately in the Sestriere time trial his action did not meet the expectations and Garzelli, in great form, reversed the situation and won the Giro.
There was great controversy on behalf of the teams at this Giro who forbid their riders to participate in the protocol ceremony. The real problem for them was the lack of a joint management of the image rights. After more than ten days of dispute, a mediation was found in Bibione with an increase in the amount of expenses reimbursed to the teams.
The Giro lined up first-class riders at the Grand Start in Pescara, but already in stage two Francesco Casagrande was involved in a crash and suffered from a fractured arm. After a few provisional stages ruled by the sprinters, the race was characterized by the Frigo – Simoni rivalry, as main theme, but Frigo was removed in Alba by Director Ferretti because he was found with some forbidden substances. So Simoni was rightly awarded in Milan, where he was followed by the Spanish riders Olano Manzano e Osa Ezaiguirre.
On 6th June, around 10 pm, over two-hundred NAS Carabinieri went to the teams in their hotels and started a thorough search in the context of the anti-doping programme which lasted many hours. The following morning the riders gathered and complained fiercely, threatening to stop racing the Giro in Sanremo. The Imperia – S. Anna di Vinadio stage was cancelled in the end and the Giro resumed from Alba.
In 2002 the Giro started out in Gröningen and touched the six Nations which, with the Rome Treaty (1957), had laid the foundation for modern Europe. The first part of the Giro featured mainly anti-doping facts. Garzelli was tested positive after his victory in Liège and had to abandon in Caserta, while Simoni and Sgambelluri was forced to abandon the race in Campobasso. Paolo Savoldelli conquered the Maglia Rosa in Folgaria and maintained it in the final Monticello Brianza – Milano time trial. Hamilton got the second place and Caucchioli the third one.
The Grand Start from Gröningen was with jubilant crowd and the same thing happened in Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. The finish in Strasbourg was the rightful homage that the Giro paid to the town hosting the European Parliament. In a Giro that featured so much interest in the anti-doping matter, it was curious that Francesco Casagrande had to abandon because he threw a punch to a fan.
After the misadventures connected with doping in 2002, in 2003 the Giro started from Lecce and after riding on the Salento coasts went down to Catania and then up the Peninsula, with a real “festival” for the sprinters who were the stars of the show until the Appennines. In the Faenza stage Simoni, who was waiting to get his revenge after the 2002 Giro, conquered the Maglia Rosa and validated his supremacy on the Monte Zoncolan and at the Alpe di Pampeago. He maintained the Maglia Rosa till Milan, where he was followed by Garzelli and Popovich.
Cipollini won in Arezzo and Montecatini and with these victories he broke the record of stage victories that had been hold by Alfredo Binda for over seventy years. On the winding road leading to the Toce waterfall, Pantani, for the last time on the Giro, tried to rally by attacking, but Simoni responded promptly.
In 2004 the Giro started from Genoa, identified by the European Union as the “2004 city of art and culture”. In the second and third stage, with Cunego winning in Pontremoli and Simoni at Corno alle Scale, it was clear that harmony lacked in the Saeco squad, which was the main theme of this Giro together with Petacchi winning almost all the flat stages (at the end his victories were 9). The turning point happened in the Falzes stage where Cunego showed that he was distinctly superior and he deservedly crossed the Milan finish line in Corso Venezia as the winner of the Giro, followed by Honchar and Simoni.
The race crossed the borders into Istria for the first time, so as to reinforce, with the Croatian support, a revival of the Italian spirit, which in fact had been thwarted and oppressed for many years. Needless to say, the Giro was received sincerely and friendly.
The Giro started from Reggio Calabria: its promenade staged the night prologue. The riders went up the Peninsula with Di Luca and Bettini alternating in wearing the Maglia Rosa. Then it was Basso time but he lost the Maglia Rosa on the Stelvio pass owing to bowel upset. At the end in Milan three top riders were all ranking within 45 seconds: Savoldelli won, followed by Simoni and Rujano Guillen.
In the night prologue on the Reggio Calabria promenade, Mario Cipollini, the holder of stage wins records, rode the thousand meters route wearing a pink overall to bid the Giro d’Italia farewell. The race passed for the first time by Colle delle Finestre with its 16-km climb with an 8-km section of gravel road. It was like going back to the old-fashion cycling with crowds lining along the spectacular winding climb.
The Giro kicked off from Belgium for the second time, this time in Wallonia to pay homage to the victims of the tragedy of Marcinelle, where many Italian emigrants died. Bad weather was the protagonist of this Giro and caused many crashes, also Petacchi was involved and broke his knee. As the Giro came back to Italy, Basso became the undisputed leader and the only rider who tried to counter him was Leonardo Piepoli who won two stages. In Milan Basso arrived first followed by Gutierrez Cataluña and Simoni.
Basso’s superiority was ill-received by some riders who considered him under federal inquire, luckily enough it ended into nothing. But in the last days some unconfirmed report about doping practices involving also the top GC riders began to leak. It was the eve of the anti-doping action that was to be called “operation Puerto” and that a few weeks later was going to involve among others first-class riders such as Basso, Ullrich, Scarponi and Valverde.
In the context of the celebrations for the Bicentenary of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s birth, the Giro started form Caprera. After the stages in Sardinia, the Giro resumed its northbound race from Salerno. From the Alpine stage of Briançon with the Colle dell’Agnello and the Izoard Pass, Danilo Di Luca gained control over the race, disputed only by Simoni, Piepoli and Riccò, and arrived first in Milan. The young Andy Schleck gained the Maglia Bianca, reintroduced after twenty years and also the 2nd place while the 3rd place went to Mazzoleni.
The Giro ended with many suspicions which turned true for some riders. Di Luca (Maglia Rosa), Petacchi (Maglia Ciclamino) and Piepoli (Maglia Verde) were involved in the doping spiral. Di Luca’s proceedings ended on the eve of the 2008 Giro with him not being convicted, Petacchi had one year ban and the disqualification from the 2007 Giro with the loss of all his racing results. Piepoli, a member of the Monégasque Federation was acquitted.