The third round of the UCI Women’s WorldTour, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Comune di Cittiglio on Sunday 24 March, is a celebration of an Italian cycling champion from the 1920s who was nicknamed “La Gioconda”. Like Leonardo da Vinci, the painter of La Gioconda (or Mona Lisa as it is known in English), who died 500 years ago, he’s another famous name from history that’s being celebrated this year.
On 13 May, stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia will start from Vinci (Tuscany), the native town of Leonardo da Vinci who died on 2 May 1519: the Corsa Rosa will be part of widespread celebrations of one of the world’s most famous artists.
He was initially known as “the trumpeter”, after the music instrument he learned with his brothers before being sent to Nice, France, at the age of 16, to become a plasterer. But once in France, he took up cycling instead, and the Italian was later nicknamed “La Joconde”, firstly in French, and then “La Gioconda” (in Italian), recalling Mona Lisa because of the unique beauty of his style on the bike. He rode with class and elegance and was considered as beautiful as the masterpiece displayed in the Louvre museum in Paris. Cycling isn’t all about winning. In the 1970s, among the secondary classifications of the Tour de France, there were awards for the most elegant rider and for fair-play, called the Courtesy Prize.
Binda ended up with several nicknames, such as “il Campionissimo” (the super champion) or “l’imbattibile” (the unbeatable). He’s one of five record holders for three wins in the UCI Road World Championships road race (in 1927, 1930 and 1932), alongside Peter Sagan, Oscar Freire, Eddy Merckx and Rik Van Steenbergen. He’s one of three record holders for the number of overall wins in the Giro d’Italia (1925, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1933) with Merckx and Fausto Coppi. He’s probably even more famous for having skipped the 1930 Giro d’Italia because the race organisers opted to pay him the same amount as the winner (22,500 Italian lire) to not participate – as he was so dominant that public interest in the race was waning.
Binda was also the successful director of the Italian national team from 1948 to 1961. And his name appears in all decades of cycling history for the last 100 years because way before he died in 1986, aged 84, a race was created in his name in his hometown of Cittiglio in the province of Varese near Lake Maggiore. From its inception it was a women’s race, first won in 1974 by Giuseppina Micheloni.
“It was originally a regional race that reached the national level in the 90s before being promoted to the international calendar in 2007,” recalls race organiser Mario Minervino.
Part of the UCI Women World Cup from 2008 to 2015, it was an obvious choice for the UCI Women’s WorldTour from its first edition in 2016: “I must underline that this organisation has been considered the best in the world,” commented UCI Vice-president Renato Di Rocco.
Technically, it’s the women’s version of Il Lombardia, with enough climbing to make the decisive difference between the protagonists. The defending champion is Poland’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma of Canyon-SRAM Racing. Her pedigree reveals the climbing skills needed for winning the Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Commune di Cittiglio. It represents a significant change in racing style compared to round 2, the Women’s WorldTour Ronde van Drenthe (the Netherlands) which was won by Italy’s Marta Bastianelli (Team Virtu Cycling). The Italian leads the UCI Women’s WorldTour after the first three rounds with 300 points, followed by Strade Bianche winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), who has 200 points.
For the record… like Leonardo da Vinci from the Italian town of Vinci, van Vleuten was born in a Dutch town called… Vleuten.