It was just a few minutes to three in the morning when, on 13 May 1909, the first Giro d’Italia started off from Rondò Loreto in Milan. The race was the brainchild of the Gazzetta dello Sport under Eugenio Costamagna and Armando Cougnet, based on an idea put out by Angelo Gatti, the proprietor of Atala. A ride of almost two thousand five hundred kilometres, all the way to Naples, and then back to the Parco Trotter in Milan. There were 127 cyclists, in a number of Italian and French teams: the Bianchi, Stucchi, Atala, Rudge, and Legnano teams from Italy, and the fierce Peugeot and Alcyon teams from France.
News reports stated that a good half of the participants mounted bicycle tyres made by Pirelli & C Milano. All the Italians had their eyes on Luigi Ganna, the cycling champion from Induno Olona, in the province of Varese. Ganna was a bricklayer in Milan at the time, and every day he would ride to work on his bicycle: he was a young twenty-five-year-old who had already won the Milano-Sanremo that year. Carlo Galetti, of the Rudge team, was a “pensive” cyclist, who used to ride in the slipstream of the others and then beat them in the final sprint. Giovanni Rossignoli, nicknamed Baslòt, was a true sprinter, Giovanni Gerbi was known as the “Red Devil” because of his sweater, and Eberardo Pavesi was called the “professor” because he spoke in a refined manner. From beyond the Alps, the champion to beat was Lucien Petit-Breton, who by then had already won the Grand Boucle twice.
The roads were not paved in those days, and the event brought three weeks of punctures and falls: the cyclists would go to be treated at the nearest hospital and then return to continue the Giro. The dust was so bad that participants could not even recognise their opponents, and there were also some who took the train – the same one as the organisers – and were naturally disqualified from the race. That was cycling back in 1909.
In the end, the first to reach the Parco Trotter in Milan, on 30 May, was Dario Beni of the Bianchi team: he was a “free hitter” and had cycled all the way from Rome to Milan in order to take part in the Giro. The runner-up was Carlo Galetti, with Legnano. Luigi Ganna was only third, but since the overall classification was based on points and he had notched up 25 of them, he won the Giro and the 5,000 lire prize. There was no trace of the French at the finishing line. That year, Pirelli commissioned the Tipografia Ricordi to print a splendid postcard with art deco motifs and the message: “Pirelli tyres show they are the best, also in the Giro d’Italia”. A triumph to remember.