Giro d’Italia 1998-2014: Defining Images

During my time doing the whole graphical top ten malarky (see elsewhere on the site), I got a bit fed up of seeing each Tour as a bunch of lines and tried to offset this by looking at images of those races. That gave me an idea to try and think up a defining image for each race, which is what you see below. They are by no means perfect – condensing a three week, 90 hour rollercoaster tale of drama and intrigue into a single frame is bound to leave plenty out and untold, but hey, I tried. Perhaps there can be a “highly commended” section later on. In the meantime, here’s what I came up with – feel free to tell me how very wrong I am!

Unfortunately my knowledge of the Giro is less complete than I would like, so please forgive the brevity of some of these, and also excuse the overly flowery lingual attempts to be a bit deep about them…

1998 Giro d’Italia

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Marco Pantani became a figure of almost quasi-religious devotion in 1998, winning the first edition he had finished since 1994 (where he had been second) in the mesmeric style of a true climber, trouncing his rivals in the mountains and hanging tough in the time trials. This image of Pantani’s triumph at Montecampione established the images and myths that would be produced of Pantani’s exploits for years to come.

1999 Giro d’Italia

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Ivan Gotti won the 1999 Giro, but Marco Pantani was the only man Italy cared about. Whilst the first couple of weeks seemed to be a duel between Pantani and Laurent Jalabert, Pantani eventually cracked the Frenchman and had a six minute advantage coming into the final days of the race, only to be thrown off for exceeding the haematocrit limit.The image captured the oxymoronic triumphant despair that Pantani seemed to be enveloped in at the time, his eyes troubled and his celebration muted with the toil of the stage evident on his face. It was the beginning of the end for him, and a time for soul searching in Italy to decide, as in this image, just what was going on in Pantani’s mind.

2000 Giro d’Italia

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Having Marco Pantani as your domestique is a rare and incredible privilege, and Stefano Garzelli, who would withdraw from the 2001 and 2002 Giros after having done the same in 1999, made full use of it. The roles had originally been reversed, but with Pantani lacking the form to challenge (he eventually finished 28th, not bad considering he only decided to ride a day before the race) Garzelli took up the mantle to challenge, and fought a close battle with Francesco Casagrande (seen here in Pink), whom he pipped on the penultimate day of racing on the time trial to Sestriere, having won atop Prato Nevoso.

2001 Giro d’Italia

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Gilberto Simoni had been third the previous two years of the Giro, so the sense of triumph expressed in this photo, of the penultimate stage, Simoni’s one stage win from the race, is well founded. not that it was close – Simoni won by a staggering 7 minutes.

2002 Giro d’Italia

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2002 was a Giro more known for the doping claims and dropouts that characterized it than the actual race, so I’ve gone with an image of the winner Paolo Savodelli  realising his triumph. Feast your eyes on all that nostalgic TT gear.

2003 Giro d’Italia

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The first half of this race was Stefano Garzelli’s, but then Gilberto Simoni took over with three stage wins in the maglia rosa to win by seven minutes. Here, he triumphs at the first inclusion of the Monte Zoncalon, albeit the Sutrio side rather than the harder Ovaro one (which Simoni would win on in 2007).

2004 Giro d’Italia

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Cycling has a fond history of teammates who dislike each other, and the “friendship” between Gilberto Simoni, the defending Champion, and Damiano Cunego, his 22 year old upstart teammate. It probably didn’t help that Cunego attacked Simoni on Bormio 2000 after the latter had been in a solo breakaway, presumably to get  a win in the Maglia Rosa, but things had been simmering anyway, boiling over with that attack, causing Simoni to brand Cunego “a bastard.” The pair held the lead for all but a few days of the race, ceding it briefly to Serhiy Honchar, who would separate the two on the podium. That was probably wise.

2005 Giro d’Italia

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Grand Tours are often remembered for one stage, and in 2005 it was the stage up the Col de Finestre. Sure, the stage actually finished at Sestriere, but after Discovery Channel’s Paolo Savodelli had seemingly set up overall victory, the gravel roads of the Finestre saw him isolated by Di Luca, Simoni and Rujano, who looked like pulling off a coup on the timeless looking slopes of the wonderful climb. Italian TV even started broadcasting in black and white, such was the nostalgic and epic nature of the events that were unfolding before their eyes. It wouldn’t be used for a few more years yet, but the modern Giro’s motto of being the “world’s hardest race in the most beautiful place” was seemingly born here, as well as cementing the Giro’s reputation for originality and drama.

2006 Giro d’Italia

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Basso fever had been climbing in Italy for the last two years, especially in 2005 when he has both assumed the mantle of being Lance Armstrong’s successor by finishing second to the American at the Tour, and also through his tragicomic Giro exploits, where despite a couple of bad days caused by intestinal difficulties, he rallied to take a couple of stage wins. He then decided to return and to his homeland and attempt the Giro-Tour double, and ground his opponents into the dust in Italy. Sure, there are other riders behind him in this image (you can see the shadows) but fittingly Basso obliterates them from sight as he climbs the Mortitolo. This Giro was only about the adulation of Basso, as he stormed to an almost 10 minute triumph to send Italy into raptures and set up the prospect of mirroring the double feat of Marco Pantani.

2007 Giro d’Italia

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A very odd Giro in that it only featured three mountain stages, compared to the effective double that number nowdays, it’s range of lumpy stages favoured the Ardennes-master-turned-Grand-Tour-winner Danilo Di Luca, who assumed control against a relatively meek field to take victory from a 22 year old gangly Luxembourger called Andy Schleck. “The Killer”, as Di Luca is known, has his face set in this picture as he bludgens his way to victory, with Schleck offering a fine view of the future of cycling behind the future doping convict.

2008 Giro d’Italia

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After being excluded from the Tour, Alberto Contador’s Astana squad were a last minute invitation to the Giro, which Contador, whose name means “accountant”, took in a clinical, calculating fashion, never winning a stage but hurting himself enough to keep himself in contention. The podium was 21 seconds apart in the final week, but Contador held the jersey for that time and despite Riccardo Ricco closing to withing 4 seconds, still won the event. This image of him on the Plan de Cornones time trial captures the pain and effort the Spaniard endured, and the unique challenge he had to overcome to win.

2009 Giro d’Italia

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The Centenary edition of the Giro focused more on echoing the history and great cities of Italy than the cycling heritage of the Giro, with Venice, Vesuvius and Rome in place of old favourites such as the Stelvio and Gavia. What’s more the race rather got lapped up in the excitement of having Lance Armstrong making his comeback there, which somewhat degraded much of the historical interest. It produced close if not exciting racing, although the defining moment that it would be remembered for came in the last kilometre as leader Denis Menchov, never one known for his bike handling, slid off on the wet cobbles of Rome. Oddly, even with this delay, he actually increased his lead over Danilo Di Luca, which must have been somewhat embarassing for the Italian. Still, the striking image, of Menchov in modern TT gear gazing at the monuments to Rome’s past glories in the distance, has a nice feeling of encompassing the globalised nature of a race that was still adoring of its historical roots.

2010 Giro d’Italia

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Arguably the best grand Tour of the last few years, the Giro 2010 threw the conventions of Grand Tours out of the window and produced one of the most entertaining and unpredictable races in history. Whether it was starting in the Netherlands (not even adjacent to Italy), racing across gravel roads, allowing absurdly large breakaways full of overall contenders up the road, uphill time trials on gravel, ludicrously steep mountains or every variety of weather under the sun, the Giro threw up a new story every day that made it simply an enthralling competition, like the days of yore. This is reflected in this image, of the 7th stage to Montalcino, on the “white roads” of Tuscany that turned filthy brown in the rain. The race broke to pieces and resembled old, weather photographs by the end. It was spectacular.

2011 Giro d’Italia

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I didn’t intend for this photo to show “both” the winners of the 2011 Giro, only to show that Alberto Contador was simply on another level. Yet to be banned for his clenbuterol issues and in a furious mood because of it, the Spaniard spent the 2011 Giro attacking even when he had no need to, although he did start gifting stage wins away towards the end, such was his dominance. Michele Scarponi ended up best of the rest in what was a Giro that was remembered more for the tragic death of Wouter Weylandt and the the concerns over both rider safety (leading to the withdrawal of the Monte Crostis) and how hard the race was then Contador’s swashbuckling performance, which was simply too dominant to really make the race as exciting.

2012 Giro d’Italia

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As usual with Grand Tours, they are designed to follow a certain “script”, with a historically steeped climb usually back loaded into the event so that it’s significance in deciding the race is heightened and its legend increased. In 2012, that climb was to be the Stelvio, the switchback laden behemoth that climbed through the snow. The podium, rather than the race, ended up being decided there, as Thomas De Gendt, who had frequently trained on the climb, sythed his way up to pull himself from the lower reaches of the top 10 into 4th place, with the considerably poorer time triallist Michele Scarponi only seconds ahead of him with such an event remaining. Behind though, it was the two riders who had somewhat inadvertently found themselves drawn together to duel one another on the slopes, with their somewhat contrasting styles. One, Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez, with just about everything he could muster customised into shocking pink, was the extrovert, the punchy entertainer who had won two stages. The other, Ryder Hesjedal, in the designed-by-an-accountant Garmin kit, had quietly and methodically marched his way into a position to win overall by floating under the radar. Coinciding with the Giro’s new epithet that it was the “hardest race in the world’s most beautiful place,” this image shows off the truth of that boast as the pair climb together to the summit, with Rodriguez poised to make the jump to desperately try and claw some seconds back. It had been Rodriguez’s Giro, but he would lose it by just 16 seconds.

2013 Giro d’Italia

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The image is of one man alone above the rest, but this Giro was meant to be a dual between the defending Tour de France champion and the Italian Vuelta winner and Giro/Tour podium placer Vincenzo Nibali, who supposedly disliked one another after a minor spat at the 2012 Tour. It never turned out that way, as Wiggins turned up off colour before withdrawing, leaving Nibali facing Cadel Evans as his main rival. With some awful weather characterising the event and forcing the cancellation of one stage, this picture encapsulates Nibali’s dominance of the event through those conditions, as well as his ascension to the top levels of cycling’s elite through his triumph in an epic blizzard on Tre Crime de Lavardeo.

2014 Giro d’Italia

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Not one of the more entertaining editions of the race, the 2014 Giro ended up being transfixed with the incident on the Stelvio that essentially decided the direction of the race, and brought everyone up to date with the word “polemic”, such was it’s over use over the escalation. In another year of appalling weather, this picture captures the ambiguity over what was quite going on on the descent – was the red flag a neutralising measure, or was the motorbike simply showing the way? As much as Quintana still gained lots of time after this, “Stelviogate” became the defining image of the Giro. Helpfully, this picture seems to show Quintana, or at least some partially obscured Movistar rider, at the bottom of the picture.

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