An ode to Alfonsina Strada: the only woman to have raced the Giro d’Italia

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

Yet, in attempting to enroll the following year, she was blocked by organizers who had once supported her.

Alfonsina Strada grew up riding around her village of Castelfranco Emilia near Modena. From an early age, she had won races on a bike her father had bought with chickens, earned the nickname “devil in a dress” and raced against local men.

Strada would tell her mother that she went to church on Sunday morning, when in reality she was out riding her bike.

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

His price ? A pig.

How very Tro-Brother Leon.

In Revolutions by Hannah Ross, we note that Armando Cougnet, editor of the Gazzetta dello Sportinvited Strada to participate in the Giro di Lombardia 1917 a few years after unofficially breaking the hour record (37.192 km) in Turin.

The Italian would also participate in 1918, finishing 21st.

In what looks like a precedent for her career, Strada would be the first woman to take part in the 204 km race. It will also be the last after the return of the men of war and Cougnet will no longer need publicity.

In 1924, a dispute over pay and anger with organizers erupted ahead of the 12th Giro d’Italia, prompting strikes by riders ahead of the 12-stage event. Star names retired. The teams refused to ride. The Giro d’Italia has opened up to other individuals.

The route of the Giro d’Italia 1924. Credit: Giro d’Italia archives.

A cyclist, a certain Alfonsin Stradatook the starting line.

Alfonsina dropped the last letter of her name to impersonate a man.

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

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

Throughout the race, Strada refused to give up. The first stage to Genoa lasted 300 km. On another, his handlebars broke, causing him to crash. A local housewife presented a broom to use instead, which worked, and she continued her journey.

Organizers kicked Strada out of the race after finishing outside the time limit in Perugia following the accident. Yet they were not reckless. They knew the attention Strada brought to the Giro d’Italia, the headlines and the support galore.

She was cleared to continue but did not “officially” finish the race. Never mind. Alfonsina Strada went all the way to Milan, 28 hours behind 1924 winner Giuseppe Enrici.

Strada went on to spend the rest of his life riding his bike. She died at the age of 68 working on her motorcycle, but her legacy will stand the test of time.

I often think of his determination, his refusal to back down in the face of adversity.

How she was able to dig deep and find within herself the ability to rise above the prejudices that kept her from entering the 1925 Giro d’Italia despite so much attention and publicity the previous year .

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

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