Fabiana Luperini is the only female rider to win five editions of the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile – commonly known as the Giro Rosa - including four consecutive editions from 1995 to 1998 and the fifth title ten years later, in 2008. In total, she won 15 stages. What’s more, her first three Giro Rosa victories were doubled up with wins in the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale (the ‘Women’s Tour de France’ – formerly known as the Tour Cycliste Féminin) the same season. Standing at 157cm and weighing just over 40kg, the athlete from Cascine di Buti on the hills over Pontedera in Tuscany, has written her pages in the history of the Giro Rosa in indelible ink.
The young Fabiana, third daughter of Franca and Giovanni (an amateur racer with a penchant for climbing), was a passionate soccer player, demonstrating that she was not afraid of physical confrontation with males, and loving dribbling so much that she deserved the nickname of Maradonina. At seven years old Fabiana had her first real experience on the bike in her father’s team, G.S. Vettori, and the first big crash – resulting in 36 stitches on her knee and three more on her cheekbone.
From victory in her first race, in the Giovanissimi category, she went on to several times beat male contemporaries who were to become famous, not least the two-time UCI World Champion and Olympic Champion, Paolo Bettini. On the Tuscan roads, little Luperini also trained with Michele Bartoli and the Guidi brothers. Her first pro season was in 1993: at 19 years old she achieved an impressive 4th place in the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale after missing the Giro Rosa because it was too close to her high school final exams. In 1994 she won the Trofeo Alfredo Binda – Comune di Cittiglio after a tough season. Then, in 1995, came the blossoming.
Four consecutive women’s Giros
It was on the fourth day of the 1995 edition that Fabiana won her first stage of the Giro Rosa – on the climb to Pianezze, beating the expert Swiss rider Luzia Zberg to take the pink leader’s jersey. The next day, the race climbed to its highest point, San Martino di Castrozza, and Luperini won again in front of Zberg, then managed to keep her advantage. At just 21 years old, she went on to complete an incredible summer, also winning the Women’s Tour de France ahead of Zberg and the legendary Jeannie Longo.
1996 was the season of confirmation for Fabiana who triumphed in the national championship with an 88km breakaway, won the Giro del Trentino again and went to Rome to defend her Giro Rosa crown. Luperini was supposed to be the last woman leading out the sprint for her team-mate Alessandra Cappellotto in Monterotondo, but she pushed too fast and took the pink jersey herself on the first stage; almost a bunch sprint, after her 31 solo victories. Fabiana was unbeatable: she won the stages to Montorsaio and Novi-Tortona then again on the top of San Martino di Castrozza. The 1996 Giro General Classification was conquered ahead of her team-mate, Cappellotto. In August, again, she doubled up with the Tour de France.
In 1997, aged 23, there was no doubt that Fabiana Luperini was the strongest woman in Grand Tour racing. But in the Giro d’Italia there were tough rivals including the Lithuanian Edita Pucinskaite, UCI World Champion Barbara Heeb from Switzerland, and Linda Jackson of Canada. But Luperini imposed herself on the fifth stage in the backyard of her Sanson-Mimosa team, the Castrocaro Terme-Forlì, on the Apennines. She went solo on the first climb, Monte Trebbio, and finished almost two and a half minutes clear to become race leader. Fabiana attacked again, 60km before Agordo on the Dolomiti, gaining almost three minutes. Then she became the first winner on a new terrible climb… the Zoncolan. And after the 1997 Giro, came another Tour de France victory.
In 1998, Fabiana became the first winner of La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, then the Tour de l'Aude. In the Giro Rosa, Luperini won on her “home-climb” the Monte Serra in the fifth stage and in Assisi the following day, but lost the pink jersey after the Correggio time trial to the Canadian, Jackson. Fabiana reclaimed the leadership on the Passo Pordoi, then celebrated her team-mate Pia Ann-Katrine Sundstedt from Finland winning on the top of Tambre d'Alpago. In the next Tour de France, she fell short of the fourth double, coming second to the young Lithuanian talent, Edita Pucinskaite.
The fifth Giro Rosa, 10 years later
Over the next decade Fabiana Luperini changed teams several times, but was unable to repeat her Grand Tour success despite winning important races like the Italian Championships, the Giro del Trentino, Trofeo Alfredo Binda – Comune di Cittiglio, Waalse Pijl and the Women's Cycling World Cup of Montreal.
In 2008, the 19th edition of the Giro Rosa included a time trial prologue and nine stages from Mantova to Desio near Milan, totalling 809.6km. The organisers included several important climbs and Fabiana, wearing the Tricolore jersey, was to return to victory on Monte Serra, very close to her hometown in Tuscany.
After ten years the pink jersey was returned to her shoulders... but only halfway along the Giro’s route. She held it on the individual time trial the following day in Novara and then triumphed on the Montevecchia the penultimate day stage. “The victory of a fifth Giro d'Italia is a seal on my competitive career, as well as the sign of achieving an important inner balance,” Luperini said after celebrating on the podium in Desio, the 14th of July.
At 40 years old, Fabiana Luperini finished 16th in the 2014 Giro Rosa, won by the Netherlands’ Marianne Vos, and retired at the end of that season.