RCS Sport CEO Paolo Bellino is set to travel to the start of a Giro d'Italia which will look a lot different to what the race has seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Spectators will be welcomed back for the annual 'party in May' as restrictions ease.
The 105th edition of the Corsa Rosa will start on Friday, May 6 in Budapest, Hungary with a road race stage to nearby Visegrád and end on Sunday, May 29 with a 17.4km individual time trial around Verona.
The past two editions of the Giro d'Italia have been held under strict COVID-19 regulations with the 2020 race moved to October and in 2021 there were strict limits on gathering of spectators. Bellino is hoping for a return to near normality at this year's Corsa Rosa.
"Starting from May 1 the level of security for COVID-19 will be low and for the first time in Italy we don't have to wear masks in bars or restaurants. We are expecting to return to normality and to have the same numbers as before COVID, around 10 million people," Bellino said.
"The worst thing, especially in the first year, was the lack of spectators on the road. Sport without spectators is not the same thing.
"The Giro is the largest spectator event in Italy, with roughly 500,000 spectators per day. In Italy it's known as the party of May and marks the opening of the tourist season. It's something that people wait for with excitement."
Avoiding politics in Orbán's conservative Hungary
Budapest hosts the 2022 Giro d'Italia after a two-year delay, after the original plans to host the Grand Depart were postponed because of the pandemic.
Hungary borders Ukraine and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was a former ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, often pushing back against European Union policy and ideals. Orbán has criticised the Russian invasion of Ukraine but also labelled Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky as an "opponent."
Orbán won a fourth election in early April, despite his critics accusing him of a subversion of democratic norms, limiting media freedom and the rights of minorities. However, a referendum curbing the scope of sex-education programmes in schools, particularly in terms of banning content relating to gender-affirming surgeries failed to pass, with campaigners considering it a minor victory.
Bellino tried to avoid any conflict with Hungary, who are funding the Giro d'Italia Grande Partenza, by avoiding discussions about politics and sport.
"I'm a sports organiser, I think that sport is the only moment in our lives as a society where everybody's free to demonstrate their capabilities, and their passion. There are no barriers. I would like for the Giro d'Italia in Budapest to do the same thing," he said, treading carefully.
"I don't want to take into consideration politics and other things. I think that we, as RCS, and as the Giro d'Italia, guarantee to all the people in general the possibility of living an incredible event and living together with us.
"I have no barriers and I think that our intention is to create an incredible event, in an Italian style, with the best riders in the world competing and giving the opportunity of a great party."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.
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