The aptly named Alfonsina Morini Strada (strada means "road") was the only woman ever to participate in the Giro d'Italia along with men. In 1924, the smiling, tenacious farm girl from Modena, wearing number 72, rose to as high as 41st place in the GC (out of 90 riders), in a race whose shortest stage was 250 km. Roads were unpaved, and riders had to do their own repairs and look after themselves. After a crash caused her to arrive outside the time limit on one stage, she was officially out of the race, but the officials allowed her (as well as some male competitors) to continue anyway, and she completed the Giro--quite a feat, because tens of riders had abandoned the race due to illness, injuries, exhaustion, and harsh, brutal conditions. She was accorded great esteem, respect, admiration, and affection by both her fellow competitors and the public--this in an age when a woman's place was decidedly in the home.
The attention she garnered at the Giro made her quite a celebrity, and allowed her to continue to make a living as a professional cyclist. Her bicycle can be seen in the Madonna di Ghisallo chapel.
If you'd like to know more about Alfonsina's incredible life, read the wonderful and moving Gli Anni Ruggenti di Alfonsina Strada (The Roaring Years of Alfonsina Strada) by Paolo Facchinetti, published by EdicicloEditore (www.ediciclo.it) in 2004 (ISBN 88-88829-03-2).
(right) a card that Alfonsina handed out to her admiring fans.
The Giro d'Italia Donne (formerly the Giro Rosa) is the world's most important and prestigious women's stage race. The many stages in the Veneto over the years have always drawn large, enthusiastic, and appreciative crowds. I will be adding a number of photo galleries soon.