Sports | 4 May 2016This Month in Cycling History Share article facebook twitter google pinterest The Ardennes Classics are over. Cobbles are behind us. The Tour de Yorkshire has been and gone (and so quickly they couldn’t even catch them on the TV!). What is the cycling fan to do? May is a month ripe with cycling history, marking the birthdays of Beryl Burton and Mark Cavendish, as well the inaugural edition of Paris-Tours and a string of victories in 1889 by Belfast man Willie Hume which persuaded the world that perhaps those new-fangled pneumatic tyres might have been a good idea after all. But for those hungry for cycling in the days leading up to the Giro, we bring you an Italian-themed edition of this month in cycling history. © Daniel Seex / Frances Lincoln 13 May The first Giro d’Italia starts (1909) Buoyed by the success of one-day races Milan–Sanremo and the Tour of Lombardy, and fearful of rival publication Corriere della Sera’s own plans to launch a national tour, in August 1908 La Gazzetta dello Sport hastily, but boldly, announced a new bicycle race. There, on its front page, were the details of the new Giro d’Italia. It would take place the following spring. It would take in 3,000km. It would offer 25,000 lire in prize money. It would, in short, be ‘one of the biggest, most ambitious races in international cycling’. The Gazzetta had been pushed into declaring the race. Now it had to arrange it. And that responsibility fell to Armando Cougnet, a cycling writer and senior executive at the Gazzetta. Initially sponsorship was hard to come by and at one point the race was postponed but eventually funds began to trickle in and on the morning of 13 May 1909, 127 riders set off from Milan for an eight-stage race. It was decided on a points system. One point for first on a stage, two for second and so on, with the rider with the fewest points at the end of the race being declared the winner. Luigi Ganna was that man. He finished with three stage wins and twenty-five points overall to win by just two points over Carlo Galetti. 14 May Gerbi starts the Giro aged forty-seven years (1932) The oldest rider ever to contest the Giro d’Italia is Giovanni Gerbi. The Red Devil rode his final Giro in 1932, aged forty-seven, an incredible twenty-three years after he took his place on the start line of the inaugural race. Gerbi had turned professional in 1902 and, despite possessing rather modest palmares in comparison with other riders of the era, he was one of the most popular with both the tifosi and Italy’s sports journalists. He had a reputation for mischief and cunning. If Gerbi was around a good story was never far behind. Gerbi never won the Giro, never even won a stage. His best placing was third overall, which he achieved in 1911, but in 1932 he entered the race’s history books as its oldest rider when he rode as an indépendant. The race did not go well for him. The first stage started in Milan and finished in Vicenza, 207km away. Learco Guerra won it in under six hours. Gerbi finished nearly an hour later, outside of the time limit. Day one done and he was out of the official race already. But Gerbi had promised to finish the race in Milan and finish it he would. Three weeks later he rolled into Milan. He wasn’t classified, and he was so far behind the others that only his wife was there to greet him, but the tenacious Gerbi had finished. His wife gave him flowers. His name went down in history. © Daniel Seex / Frances Lincoln 22 May Simoni conquers Zoncolan (2003) With only five visits to date, what the now legendary Giro climb of Monte Zoncolan lacks in history it more than makes up for with its vital statistics. This is a climb that boggles the mind, as well as murders the legs. From Ovaro, over the course of its 10km distance the climb averages a gradient of nearly 12 per cent with stretches that near a soul-destroying 22 per cent. ‘The Gates of Hell’ proclaimed a banner strung above the road at the foot of the climb when the race last visited in 2014. A warm welcome to what is surely one of the toughest climbs faced by the professional peloton. It all makes for a terrific spectacle. Riders are reduced to the pace of cyclo-tourists, emerging blinking from darkened tunnels, teeth bared in pain as they slowly grind their way to the summit. The race first climbed the Zoncolan in 2003 (the Giro d’Italia Femminile visited in 1997 but with a finish line before the summit). Then Gilberto Simoni won while wearing the pink jersey on his way to his second Giro victory. ‘It got so steep that I wanted to put my foot down and push,’ he said later. Simoni won on Zoncolan again the next time the Giro visited, in 2007. With Ivan Basso, Igor Antón and Michael Rogers the only other stage winners on Zoncolan, Simoni is currently the only rider to have twice tamed these particular precipitous slopes. Giles Belbin and Daniel Seex are author and illustrator of A Year in the Saddle and will appear at SPIN London on Saturday 21st May at 3.15 to talk about their book. Across the weekend, you’ll also be able to hear talks from Simon Warren (better known as @100climbs), Max Glaskin explaining the essentials of cycling science, and Robert Dineen in conversation with former national time trial champion and record holder Alf Engers and twice world pursuit champion Tony Doyle. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.