Only a few decades ago, all we saw of the great continental bike races on TV in the UK was a short five minute weekly Tour de France round-up on either Grandstand or World of Sport, and even then it was often a tiny segment so as not to interrupt the football or horse racing. As for the Giro, there were absolutely zero insights or coverage of this great race on small screens in the UK.
Every now and then a local club or group may somehow get access to a cinema screening of a classic cycling movie of the past, such as the Stars & The Water Carriers, and cyclists from far and wide would turn out for these dodo-like rare screenings.
Oh how times have changed, and these days we can all watch all of the action from even minor races at the mere flip of a thumb on our smartphones.
Even so, the epic documentaries and films of those woolly-shorted days still hold their own, and are true masterpieces born of passion and grit. They offer an amazing glimpse into the sport of cycling as it once was.
Here are five of the very best Giro related retro-chic films that you can watch on online...
The Stars & the Water Carriers
This is perhaps the quintessential Giro d’Italia retro classic, in which Danish poet and filmmaker Jorgen Leth documented the 1973 Giro. He originally set out to follow his countryman Ole Ritter through the race, who was one of the fastest time trialists and most promising young Giro contenders of the era.
As is the nature of Grand Tour racing things did turn out somewhat differently, and the focus of the film drifted superbly with this to show what would turn out to be one of Eddy Merckx's most dominant victories; although it must be said that the brilliant Spanish climber and underdog Jose-Manuel Fuente of the Kas team stole the hearts of viewers with his pre-Pantani-esque attacking style in the mountains.
There are some amazing behind-the-scenes and intimate insights into the teams and riders' daily lives on tour, most of which focus on Ole Ritter and Felice Gimondi through their Bianchi Campagnolo team. All of this was done in a very artistic way, which is perhaps what makes this film really stand out.
The Greatest Show on Earth
In what could be considered as an unofficial sequel to The Stars & the Water Carriers, the highly acclaimed German director Michael Pfleghar set out to follow the 1974 Giro in his film, The Greatest Show on Earth.
Although the cast is pretty much the same as in the 1973 Giro, the film has a very different approach and feel, with more of a mainstream documentary style of approach and sense to it. At the start, the film even features a cameo appearance by the Pope himself in Vatican City.
Much of the film focuses on the epic mountain battles between Merckx (who eventually won) and Fuente, and it offers some poignant and direct glimpses into the emotions and thoughts of the riders, as well as documenting the reactions of the tifosi along the way.
There is also some great footage of two young and rising stars of the era, Roger De Vlaeminck and Francesco Moser, with the Belgian classics king clearly demonstrating that he was no slouch when the gradient went up either.
Totò al Giro d’Italia (Toto Tours Italy)
Stepping well away from the documentary-based Giro films, we have the 1948 comedy Totò al Giro d’Italia, a highly unusual and yet entertaining film in cycling terms.
Toto (also known as Antonio de Curtis due to his extremely long family name) was a highly popular Italian comedian and actor who made several major films during the 1940s and '50s, including Toto al Giro.
In the film Toto plays a school teacher who dreams of winning the Giro to impress a female cycling fan he has longings for... and so obviously he sells his soul to the Devil to attain success (sounds familiar!)
The film is not of a serious and informative nature, it's in black and white and in Italian (with English subtitles). There are some great scenes with the likes of Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, the Italian stars of the day, who play themselves during the race and film. You also get glimpses of many of the other greats of the era along the way.
Although this may not be everyone’s snap of grappa it’s definitely worth watching, and is still an amusing watch in any language. It's quite possibly as unique as it gets when it comes to cycling films.
This film is more than worth sitting down with a bottle of Chianti to, both for cyclists and non-cyclists alike, as it truly is an imposing piece of art. Filmed back in 1948, Bicycle Thieves (Ladir di Biciclette) is a genuine classic movie, and one that is widely regarded as one of the best and most impactful films of all time.
The film was directed by Vittorio di Sica and follows the story of an impoverished father (Lamberto Maggiorani, staring as Antonio Ricci) living in Rome just after World War II. After regaining his pawned bike, Ricci is offered a lifeline through a job pasting advertising bills, but then his bike stolen and he's unable to take up the offer and feed his family. He goes in search of the thief, and through despair this eventually leads him to stealing another bike.
The focus of this article is on the retro and pre-Lycra era Giro of course; although there are many more great recent documentaries out there featuring the Giro. Here are some of our favourites:
What have we missed? Let us know in the comments as always.
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