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An ode to Alfonsina Strada: The only woman to race the Giro d’Italia

The story of the Giro d’Italia cannot be told without Alfonsina Strada, the only woman to ride the Grand Tour

Robyn Davidson
6 May 2022

When Alfonsina Strada entered the 1924 Giro d’Italia, she broke the glass ceiling and cemented her name within history.

Yet when attempting to register the following year, she was blocked by the organisers who once supported her.

Alfonsina Strada grew up riding around her village of Castelfranco Emilia near Modena. From a young age she had been winning races on a bike her father bought with chickens, earning the nickname ‘the devil in a dress’, and racing against local men.

Strada would tell her mother she had been to church on Sunday mornings, when in actual fact she had been out riding her bike.

According to Peter Cossins, the Italian even won her debut race.

Her prize? A pig.

How very Tro-Bro Léon.

In Revolutions by Hannah Ross, it is noted that Armando Cougnet, editor of the Gazzetta dello Sport, invited Strada to compete in the 1917 Giro di Lombardia a few years after she unofficially broke the hour record (37.192km) in Turin.

The Italian would compete in 1918 too, finishing 21st.

In what feels like a precedent for her career, Strada would be the first woman to participate in the 204km race. She would also be the last after men returned from the war and Cougnet no longer needed publicity.

In 1924, a dispute over pay and anger at organisers arose before the 12th Giro d’Italia, prompting rider strikes before the 12-stage event. Star names withdrew. Teams refused to ride. The Giro d’Italia opened itself to other individuals.

The 1924 Giro d'Italia route. Credit: Giro d'Italia archives.

One cyclist, a certain Alfonsin Strada, took to the start line.

Alfonsina dropped the last letter from her name to masquerade as a man.

It’s unsure just how deceptive her disguise was, given that Strada’s presence in Il Lombardia was well known, but she lined up at the start regardless with the number 72 pinned on her back amongst 89 other starters.

When she had married Luigi Strada in 1915, the groom gifted his wife a men’s bike as a wedding present. It was on this bike that Alfonsina completed every kilometre of the 3,613km 1924 Giro d’Italia.

Throughout the race Strada refused to give up. The first stage into Genova lasted a lengthy 300km. On another, her handlebars snapped which caused her to crash. A local housewife presented a broom to use instead, which worked, and she continued her journey.

Organisers excluded Strada from the race after she finished outside of the time limit into Perugia following the crash. Yet they weren’t unwise. They knew the attention Strada brought to the Giro d’Italia, headlines and support aplenty.

She was allowed to continue but wouldn’t ‘officially’ finish the race. No matter. Alfonsina Strada made it all the way to Milan, 28 hours behind 1924 winner Giuseppe Enrici.

Strada continued to spend the remainder of her life riding bikes. She died at the age of 68 working on her motorbike, but her legacy will stand the test of time.

I often think about how determined she was, how she refused to back down in the face of adversity.

How she was able to dig deep and find it within herself to rise above the prejudice that saw her barred entry into the 1925 Giro d’Italia despite bringing so much attention and publicity the year before.

Alfonsina Strada remains the first and only woman to race the Giro d’Italia. She is an inspiration for us all.