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An American in Italy

Americans have been competing in the Giro d'Italia for 25 years, yet their exploits in Italy's Grand Tour are frequently overshadowed by the attention given to success in the Tour de France. Cyclingnews' Peter Hymas discovers that as more riders from the US have made their mark however, the importance of the Giro d'Italia to the development of 'globalised' cycling cannot be discounted.

On June 1, 1985 first-year professional Ron Kiefel became the first American to win a stage of a Grand Tour. After 203 kilometres of hard racing from L'Aquila to Perugia, the 25-year-old 7 Eleven rider crossed the finish line first, barely holding off a charging peloton, not quite sure that he indeed was the victor.

 

 

Christian Vande Velde kicked off the 2008 Giro d'Italia in dramatic fashion for Slipstream-Chipotle's Grand Tour debut, donning the race's maglia rosa after crossing the finish line at the head of a winning team time trial effort. As Vande Velde and his Garmin-Slipstream teammates face the pressure of repeating the feat at the centenary Giro, the feeling of last year's performance still resonates.

"There was a lot of emotion flowing. We were the underdogs and that's the perfect situation going into the race. It was just a fun time. I remember stopping after the race knowing that we did the best we could and if anyone beat us hats off to them."

Being a part of the Giro's centenary edition provides an additional appeal for Vande Velde. "In 2003 it was the 100th anniversary of the Tour and I missed that so I'm really excited about being a part of the 100th anniversary of the Giro. It's just a little bit different, starting with the team time trial again and ending in Rome. It's going to be a spectacular race with the long time trial and the short mountain stage."

Vande Velde has been thinking about what makes the Giro d'Italia a special event.

"I've been reading a lot about that lately and thinking about that myself. I think at the Giro it's mostly Italian whereas at the Tour and Vuelta it's a very international field. The Giro is Italian particularly with the fashion and the tifosi. I think it's more emotionally based for the home team, the Italian riders."

Vande Velde recalls some of the moments which only seem to happen in the Giro.

"There are days where you go through a town and you might be going easy or you might be going hard and than all of a sudden you have random people like Bettini sprint to the front. You wonder, 'What's going on?' and then everybody slams on their brakes.

"Suddenly you have people passing out pastries, cookies and ice cream and everyone grabs as much as they can and start stuffing their faces. Then they jump back on the bike and keep on riding. That's just weird and crazy to me [laughs]. We get back on the bike and everyone acts like that's a normal thing and you go on with the rest of the race."