MILAN (VN) — Italy, despite a floundering economy and questionable election results, is celebrating the rebirth of Giro del Lazio as Roma Maxima. The one-day race runs Sunday, starting and ending in Rome, after a five-year hiatus.
As with Strade Bianche the day before on Siena’s white gravel roads, the Roma Maxima ties itself to Italy’s beauty by finishing at the Coliseum in the centre of Rome. Unlike Strade Bianche, which is only seven years old, Roma Maxima has history.
The Giro del Lazio has been around since the days of Benito Mussolini in 1933. The name changed a few times along the way, using GP Roma for two years and Roma Maxima this year. In 1957, it even ran as a 116-kilometer time trial.
Rome adds that extra bit of charm. Not only are you winning an important one-day race, but you are finishing in the Eternal City and outside the same structure where gladiators battled.
“That win [in 1991] was the first big win of my career, it helped me find a big team the following year,” Andrea Tafi told VeloNews. “It’s a beautiful experience winning in front of the Coliseum. That helped establish it as a great race in Italian cycling. I don’t recall the other cities where it arrived, but finishing outside the Coliseum is the only way to go.”
Max Sciandri was the last cyclist to win outside the Coliseum in 2000. The organizers moved the finish to the seaside in Nettuno for a few years and to Rocca Priora before the race folded ahead of the 2009 season.
“Giro del Lazio was a great win for me, for sure, but it was not as great as it could’ve been,” 2003 winner Michele Bartoli explained. “It was not the same as arriving in the centre of Rome, which would’ve been the perfect setting.”
Added Sciandri: “It’s like the Champs-Élysées for the Tour de France, it gives you goose bumps when you round the Coliseum. That was a race I always tried to win, I got second a few times, including my neo-pro year, and I finally won it in 2000.”
Sciandri directs the BMC Racing team with Adam Blythe and Larry Warbasse. They and the other 14 teams face 180km, about 200 shy of the 394km covered in 1935. Their percorso is similar to the Giro di Lombardia with three climbs up to 750 meters: Rocca Massima, Rocca Priora, and Campi di Annibale. The third climb leaves 37km to race and passes the location where Hannibal and his elephants would stop over 2000 years ago.
The final section uses Appian Way, passes Domine Quo Vadis, and enters the Eternal City through Porta San Sebastiano. The last 2km are similar to the 2009 Giro d’Italia time trial stage, which saw race leader Denis Menchov crash on Via di San Gregorio.
Italian cycling, and much of European cycling, is in crisis. Organizers must pay more and more taxes and they have less and less sponsors willing to fund their races. Teams face similar problems.
Giro d’Italia organizer RCS Sport is taking a risk with the race. On the other hand, along with Strade Bianche one day after and Tirreno-Adriatico the following week, it now has an attractive 10-day package to sell to teams and television.
“I saw [race operations director] Mauro Vegni and I thanked him for taking on these races. In the 1990s when you won a race like Lazio, you had a guaranteed contract for two years,” Sciandri said. “These races, for me, make up the history of cycling.”
Said Tafi : “RCS Sport’s move was fundamental and should help encourage other organizers. I think, no, I know that this race is an important part in Italian cycling.”