It is a tale of technology and men. One of legendary wins and races that are still held to this day. And one of a comeback as the leader. Pirelli loves cycling and returned to the sport in 2017. A partnership was sealed with the World Tour team then known as Mitchelton-SCOTT, now called Team BikeExchange, one year later.
And now for the big comeback. More than 60 years since the last time, Pirelli will be at Giro d’Italia with Bianchi bicycles. One of the partnerships that wrote the history of Italian sport – and not only of cycling – is back. The two leaders shared the same technological vision, based on research and progress, already at the beginning of the last century.
The right partner
Although the first official Bianchi-Pirelli team was formed in 1914, Bianchi had been fitting the tyres made in Bicocca for several years. It was destined to happen because Edoardo Bianchi, born in 1865, was looking for the right partner to raise the bar higher and higher. He was just twenty years old when he started building very modern bicycles putting all the discoveries of his time into effect in a small mechanical workshop in Via Nirone in Milan. He created Italy’s first model fitted with inner tube tyres in 1888.
The product was an immediate success and convinced him to invest in the first bicycle races already in the last decade of the 19th century. He gained popularity as an innovator and businessman to the extent that he was summoned by Queen Margaret of Savoy to the Royal Palace in Monza in 1895 to demonstrate the operation of his bicycle and instruct her how to use it. After the important event, Bianchi designed a frame compatible with the bulky skirts of the day and the first ladies’ bicycle was created.
The Cyclist Costante Girardengo at the Milano-Sanremo arrival 1918 (Fondazione Pirelli) The Pirelli Champion Cyclist Girardengo - Fondazione Pirelli
After the debut at the 1914 Giro d’Italia, with two stage victories scored by Giuseppe Azzini, the two brands teamed up for three periods, specifically in 1919-1920, from 1927 to 1932 and from 1951 to 1959. The stage race was not held in 1918 and the Milan-Sanremo was the prime event of a calendar recovering from World War I. It was won by 25-year-old Costante Girardengo, the first ace of Italian cycling, who displayed the Bianchi-Pirelli name on his jersey. The race that is also known as the “Spring Classicissima” – “most classic” – has always been very challenging and a goal of the manufacturer, that won 15 of them.
The cyclist Alredo Bovet during Milano-Sanremo 1932, Lauro Bordin photo (Fondazione Pirelli) Milano-Sanremo 1932 - fondazionepirelli.org
A thank-you letter
In 1932, Swiss-born Alfredo Bovet, all-rounder turned track-racer, won the race with a solo breakaway launched 197 km from the finish line. The resounding success, assisted by the perfect performance of the tubular tyres, inspired Edoardo Bianchi to write a beautiful thank-you letter to Pirelli in which he declared that “Bovet and his team suffered not even the slightest puncture or flat. They all crossed the finish line with the spare inner tube still intact and attached to the saddle, and with the inflators sealed.”
The cyclist Fausto Coppi at Giro d’Italia 1953 Coppi and Bartali: Of Men and Demigods - Fondazione Pirelli
The legend of Fausto Coppi
The Bianchi-Pirelli cyclists stood out for the stages won at the Giro d’Italia and the wins in single-day races (like in the Milan-Sanremo with Bovet and Michele Mara in 1930) in the years from 1927 to 1932, but it was in the so-called “golden decade” that history would turn to legend, especially thanks to Fausto Coppi who, from 1951 to 1955, wore the white and blue jersey made immortal by Mario Ferretti’s radio commentary.
“The Heron” wearing the Bianchi-Pirelli colours started with two stage wins at Giro d’Italia and one at Tour de France. Then, in 1952, he scored the combination that makes the difference between a real champion and everyone else, being the first ever to walk off with the Tour of Italy and the Grand Boucle. Only six others have succeeded in the feat in the following 70 years. Coppi won the Giro d’Italia again in 1953, the season in which he proudly sported the rainbow jersey. He was the leader for two more years, winning the Giro di Lombardia and the Italian Championship.
Together with him and in his wake, other Bianchi-Pirelli cyclists made their mark at the Giro and the classic single-day races until 1959. From Loretto Petrucci, two times winner of Milan-Sanremo, up to Diego Ronchini, Italian champion in the final season of the partnership. Now it is back to racing on the Italian roads from Turin to Milan, a 3471-kilometre-long challenge on the very roads that saw the champions of yesteryear on Bianchi bicycles with Pirelli tyres.