Move over Tour de France: The Giro’s rolling into Miami.
And, no, it’s not a mystery-meat concoction. Just pure Italian cycling mystique, only without the Alps.
In something of a coup for Miami, the organizers of the Giro d’Italia — the biggest bicycle race in the world after Le Tour — have assumed sponsorship of the Miami-Coral Gables gran fondo ride, the mass all-comers cycling tour of the lower half of Miami-Dade County that debuted last year with 1,400 participants.
Think of it as a one-day fantasy camp for Lycra-wrapped wannabes who get to crank alongside pro legends — at least until they get dropped from the lead peloton — while soaking up the italianissimo pageantry of one of the sport’s Grand Tours.
This year’s star attraction: Mario Cipollini, aka Super Mario, a flamboyant, now-retired sprinting specialist who won 189 titles in a long career, including a record 42 stages in the Giro, 12 stages in the Tour and a world road championship. “Cipo” was notorious for donning outrageous skin suits in big races — zebra stripes, tiger stripes, even a “skinless’’ kit that made him look uncannily like a living anatomical illustration pedaling a bike really fast.
Gran Fondo organizers say they can’t promise a costumed Cipollini (who, it should be noted, has never been linked to doping). But they hope to deliver a challenging ride on Nov. 11 with all the passione of the Giro and Italian cycling, which is to aficionados of the sport unequalled in style.
“It’s not a race, but we are trying to build up the excitement by bringing some of the champions and the mystique of the Giro to the United States,’’ said Daniela Puglielli, an event spokeswoman.
The Miami gran fondo is the second U.S. event for the Giro organization, long overshadowed in America by the better-known Tour de France. The organizers of the Italian race, which is run by a subsidiary of a giant media conglomerate, are looking to raise the Giro’s profile in one of the biggest cycling markets in the world.
To do so, they have seized on the astonishing proliferation across the country of gran fondo rides, which, as the name suggests — it translates roughly as “big ride’’ — originated in Italy. Bicycling magazine recently called gran fondos “cycling’s fastest-growing group-ride phenomenon,’’ noting that every major city in North America now hosts one.
The rides, which typically comprise a 100-mile route as well as a 60-mile (or 100-kilometer), alternative, feature special jerseys, Italian sponsors and products and post-ride Italian food and wine to give the events an upscale, dolce vita vibe.
“These things are popping out all over the place,’’ said Richard Pestes, the British Columbia-based publisher of the popular PezCycling News website, noting that a Vancouver-to-Whistler gran fondo featuring some tough climbs now draws nearly 7,000 riders. “It’s fantastic exposure for the Giro. In terms of recognition it’s way behind the Tour. People don’t even know about it. So they said, let’s bring over the Italian experience and let’s sell that. It adds pizzazz to the event.’’
For Miami, the Giro’s gran fondo represents a chance to raise the city’s cycling bona fides around the world, and perhaps a new look from often-affluent cyclo-tourists willing to travel long distances for tours and organized rides.
The draw: warm weather at a time when it’s getting cold elsewhere, views of Biscayne Bay and an exotic subtropical landscape. Like last year’s inaugural edition, the full, 100-mile course will take riders from downtown Coral Gables south to the lush agricultural Redland and the edge of the Everglades, then back north to Brickell before looping south for the finish at Miami City Hall in Coconut Grove. Where other gran fondos offer steep climbs, Miami’s substitutes usually-stiff winter winds.
The race organizer, RCS Sport, is part of RCS Media Group, which also owns the Corriere della Sera newspaper, the Rizzoli book publisher and La Gazzetta dello Sport, the sports daily that inaugurated the Giro in 1909. Because La Gazzetta is printed on pink paper, the Giro leader’s jersey is pink, unlike the Tour’s famous yellow jersey. So expect a lot of pink next week in Miami.
The Giro affiliation may also help the Miami gran fondo stand out in an increasingly crowded fall calendar of organized cycling events in South Florida, including this weekend’s Miami Dolphins Cycling Challenge, a series of escorted rides to raise money for the University of Miami’s Sylvester Cancer Center.
So far, gran fondo organizers say, some 800 people, many from out of town, have signed up for the ride, but they’re ready for as many as 2,000.
It’s not certain how far Cipollini will ride. Cipo, whose specialty was sprinting for the finish line at the end of flat race stages, was known for never actually winning, or for that matter finishing, the whole three-week Giro, given his strong aversion to climbing. Which should make Miami’s gran fondo a perfect stage for Super Mario.