In my personal pantheon of races I can’t help but talk too much about, the Giro dell’Emilia has ranked pretty high for a while. Sometime into my PdC career I not only discovered the race but got a little tired of the Giro di Lombardia and decided that this warm-up event was more or less equal in beauty and excitement. The race was an ancient fixture on the cycling calendar (it hit 100 editions in 2017), and the backdrop of the Madonna di San Luca with its 666 arches along the portico made for an unforgettable, authentically Italian road race. Its honor roll was and remains a tribute to Italian cycling, and even the recent mondialisation of the race has seen respectable wins by riders like Nairo Quintana, Robert Gesink and Esteban Chaves.
But it’s been a decade since I started this conversation, and at times it got a bit difficult to sustain the enthusiasm. TV coverage went from bad to worse. Then Lombardia, backed by the powerful RCS, started messing around with the calendar, and there was little the good folks at the Grupo Sportivo Emilia could do about it. In 2012, Lombardia switched from its customary mid-October spot to more than two weeks earlier, jumping ahead of Emilia and its October 6-11 range of dates. Emilia went from a crucial pre-Lombardia test to a post-race consolation event. That was... not good. By 2014, the race was in the hands of disgraced hanger-on Davide Rebellin, who won ahead of a fairly anonymous field. Interest was tanking across the board.
In 2016, however, the Doha World Championships took place in the second week of October, thanks to not being a cycling... uh, to the heat. Emilia pounced on a race date of September 24, moving back into position before Lombardia. Last year, the lineup held, for reasons I don’t really recall, though maybe having to do with the 100th anniversary celebration in Bologna or people remembering that they liked racing it in preparation for Lombardia. Whatever the reason, Lombardia slid back to October 7, and has slid again to the 13th, putting Emilia right back where we started.
[We meaning me and anyone reading my posts. If you want to look at all 100 years, Lombardia has bounced around a bit. Emilia has been pretty consistent of late but early races took place in May, June, July, August and September.]
In addition to the resumption of a favorable calendar spot, Emilia also instituted a women’s race happening on the same day. The parcours is a pale imitation of the demanding men’s event, staying pretty flat until the final climb to San Luca, but it’s a notable event and an improvement over past seasons that went dark as soon as the World Championships ended. On the men’s side, the big change has been an uptick in TV coverage, with Eurosport and the American FuBoTV providing live pictures and commentary. The race is not only admirable in the abstract sense, but in real time. We can look at it and love it again.
Saturday the race runs again, and the startlist is loaded with the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (still seeking his first win here), Thibaut Pinot, Miguel Angel Lopez, Rigoberto Uran, Michael Woods, Mikel Landa, Simon Yates, Primoz Roglic, Gianni Moscon, Romain Bardet, and a host of other plausible winners. The race will still come down to several laps up the Portico, and the last one is sure to break up whatever groupings still exist. The competition will be impressive and the scenery memorable.
Like it always should be.