PASADENA — When Gene Rossini learned that the Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia was making its North American debut on Sunday, the 66-year-old Pasadena resident needed little incentive to scrawl his name on the sign-up sheet.
“I thought great,” he said. “It’s Italian and I’m Italian, so I had to ride it.“My city. My mountains. Meet [Italian cycling legend] Francesco [Moser]. What’s not to like?”
Rossini, who finished first in his age group (65-and-older), was among 800 cyclists who took part in the American version of the bicycle exposition, which began and ended at Pasadena’s city hall. Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, Moser and 1988 Olympian Dave Lettiere also competed in the ride, which toured Old Town Pasadena, Colorado Street Bridge and the Rose Bowl.In Italy, Giro d’Italia is an annual cycling event for professionals. It’s one of the Grand Tours, along with Tour de France and Vuelta a España. For its North American introduction, the ride primarily featured amateurs — mostly locals, though some came from Europe and other parts of the country.
“We wanted the feeling of having an Italian event. We wanted to bring to people the Italian experience,” Giro spokesperson Matteo Gerevini said. “Giro d’Italia is like the Super Bowl. But it’s adjusted for amateurs here so you could have the same experience as a Super Bowl, with everything around you. Same concept.”Participants took photos on-site with an authentic copper Trophy of the Giro “Senza Fine” at the Italian-themed festival with city hall as its backdrop, which most agreed added to the Giro experience.
“They’re really embracing the Euro flare,” said Neil Shirley, a 33-year-old Valencia resident, who finished first overall. “What they tried to do is, specifically, they wanted city hall because it basically looks like a European building, the styling of it. Same with the route; they really wanted a cross over from the Giro d’Italia race -- with what the professional riders are challenged to in the race -- bring it to amateurs and cycling enthusiasts and give them a sampling of what a professional event is.“It’s as close as any of us are ever going to get to riding in the Giro.”
Shirley won (27:59.23) the King of the Mountain challenge, an 8.2-mile stretch of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road. It was perhaps the most competitive aspect of the ride, in what was otherwise a non-competitive, friendly event.
Barret Brauer finished second (31:29.13), Shannon McGee was third (34:30.56) and Scott Lundy took fourth (34:40.03). Lettieri, who was a cyclist on the U.S. men’s team in the 1988 Olympics, came in fourth (35:16.20).
Tracy Tilton, 27, of Irvine won the Queen of the Mountain challenge, clocking in at 38:31.30. Claudia Campos, 50, was the runner-up (41:04.20) and Amy Avila, a 38-year-old Pasadena resident, finished third (48.18.57).“This is a complete surprise to me,” said Avila, who rode in her first cycling event on Sunday.
All the top finishers were awarded prizes and a photo opportunity on stage with Moser, who dominated the cycling scene in the 1970s and 80s. He has 273 career victories, third overall in history, and is widely considered an innovator in the sport.Though he admits to not being in riding shape, the 61-year-old Moser finished in 22nd place (39:00.93). Also competing was his son Carlo, who manages the family’s sparkling wine company, labeled “51,151” to
honor the elder Moser’s world hour record in 1984. Their business was one of a handful that gathered at the Italian-themed festival that started at 6:30 a.m. and went well into the afternoon.
“It’s not only an opportunity to enjoy cycling and the cycling culture, but also to network with other businesses,” Carlo Moser said.
Gerevini, who lives in Milan and spent the week leading up to the event in Pasadena, said he expects Giro d’Italia to return next year, probably in June.
“It’ll be an annual event, for sure,” he said. “Pasadena is a friendly city. We have a good relation with the city. They want to promote it as a cycling destination. And the point is, this is a great place, close to the mountain, there’s not too much traffic. It could be like a European-size city, having the American spirit, so it’s perfect.”