According to a detailed report in Italian newspaper La Stampa, the 2018 Giro d’Italia could start in Japan, with four stages held in the Shizuoka area east of Tokyo, including one that climbs Mount Fuji –the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776 metres.
Well informed journalist Giorgio Viberti reports that Giro d’Italia race director Mauro Vegni has apparently already travelled to Japan, with some kind of provisional agreement perhaps in place. A final contract could even be signed in the coming weeks if a delegation from Japan visits this year’s Giro d’Italia.
It seems that the leading Japanese advertising agency Asatsu-DK is involved in the plans for the Giro d’Italia in Japan and would help fund the costs via major sponsors. Also involved is Enzo Cainero, the event organiser from the Friuli region, who has often helped to organise stages of the Giro d’Italia that end on the Monte Zoncolan climb. Thanks to Cainero, Monte Zoncolan and Mount Fuji are twinned as climbs and he organises a Zoncolan-Fuji Gran Fondo in August.
Professional cycling has a significant following in Japan, with the Giro d’Italia shown live on television and riders travelling to the country for the end of season Japan Cup. Rival French race organise ASO runs the end of season Saitama Tour de France Criterium.
Reports of a possible Japanese start for the Giro d’Italia first emerged last year. Vegni played down report that a deal had been done but did not deny it could happen.
"There's always a lot of interest in the Giro d'Italia and I'm not going to deny that there's been contact with people in Japan but it's very premature to say if anything will come of it," Vegni told Cyclingnews at the time. When contacted again by Cyclingnews, RCS Sport preferred not to comment on the report in La Stampa. The 2017 Giro d’Italia marks the 100th edition of the Corsa Rosa and the race is expected to celebrate the history of the race and Italian culture by starting in Sardinia and visiting Sicily before a traditional final week in the mountains of the north.
A start in Japan would be the 13th time the Giro d’Italia starts outside of Italy but the first time outside of Europe. The Giro d’Italia organiser RCS Sport was close to sealing a deal to start in Washington DC in the USA in 2012 but talks stalled after local elections and Angelo Zomegnan was removed as race director. Vegni is now in charge and has been buoyed by the success of the Giro d’Italia Grande Partenza in Northern Ireland, and Ireland in 2014 and most recently in the Netherlands.
With Italian towns and cities struggling to find stage finishes, cash-strapped RCS Sport has no qualms about looking abroad for extra funding, with reports that Berlin, Ireland and other European cities and regions are keen to host the Giro d’Italia Grande Partenza in the future. There have been reports that the Giro d’Italia could also start in Dubai or Abu Dhabi – where RCS Sport organise races. However, Cyclingnews understands that RCS Sport wants to focus on developing the two races rather than cannibalise them to fund the Giro d’Italia.
La Stampa reports that the total budget to organise the Grande Partenza in Japan would be close to 35 million Euro, with each team competing in the race likely to receive a fee of between 250,000 and 500,000 Euro to convince them to accept the 14-hour transfer from Japan. The local organiser of the Grande Partenza reportedly had a total budget of 13 million Euro, with RCS Sport covering most of the cost of the teams to help team with the logistics of having staff and vehicles in both the Netherlands and then southern Italy.
It is unclear if the riders and team would accept travelling such a long distance during a Grand Tour or if the UCI would allow the Giro d'Italia to start in Japan and then include two rest days so early in the race. However, the success of the Grande Partenza in the Netherlands and the general globalisation of professional cycling could lead to the first Asian start for a Grand Tour in 2018.