A BRIEF HISTORY
Alfonsina Strada [Morini] (16 March 1891 – 13 September 1959) was an Italian cyclist, the only woman to have ridden one of cycling’s three major stage races. She started in the Giro d’Italia in 1924 when the organisers mistook her for a man. Newspapers called her “The Devil in a dress.” We hunted far and wide for RARE photos of this strong woman.
Her racing career included an Italian record which lasted 26 years. She died aged 69 as she propped up her motorcycle after riding to a bicycle race.
Strada’s ride in the Giro d’Italia came about through a disagreement between the organiser, Emilio Colombo of Gazzetta dello Sport, and the top riders of the day. The riders refused to take part. Colombo did what the Tour de France had done and offered places to whoever wanted to ride. Gazzetta dello Sport promised to pay their bills, their hotels and their food. It offered places for 90 riders and promised 600 chickens, 750 kg of other meat, 4,800 bananas and 720 eggs. But there would be no managers, no masseurs, no mechanics and no team cars.
Strada entered as “Strada, Alfonsin.” The absence of a final “o” or “a” to her first name hid whether she was a man or a woman. She was accepted as number 72 and, assuming her to be a man, journalists began writing of Alfonsino. The truth emerged the day before the start and by then it was too late.
She came 74th on the first day, an hour behind the leader but nothing by the standard of the day, when riders could be separated by hours. She finished 50th of 65 between Genoa and Florence and survived as far as Naples. Then the weather turned. A gale blew, rain poured, mud and rocks swept across the road. Strada was among many who crashed. Her handlebars snapped and she stood by the roadside until a peasant snapped a broomstick to jam in the hole. She rode on with one side of her bars of steel and the other of broomstick but finished outside the time limit.
The next day was to Fiume, where a crowd lifted her from her bicycle and carried her in triumph when she finished in tears from pain and exhaustion 25 minutes after the time limit. It motivated her to continue to Milan. Only 38 completed the race and Strada, although no longer formally in the running, finished more than 20 hours ahead of Telesforo Benaglia, the lanterne rouge. She finished 28 hours behind the winner, 30-year-old Giuseppe Enrici of Piedmont. But almost an hour separated Enrici from his runner-up, Federico Gay, so it was hardly a close-run race. And two riders finished behind her.
Strada was never allowed to ride the Giro again, but she followed it for several years and earned the respect of Armando Cougnet (journalist), Giardini, Colombo, Cattaneo, Lattuarda, Costante Girardengo, as well as of journalists and competitors. She rode exhibition races throughout Italy, Spain, France, Luxembourg and before Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in Saint Peterburg. In 1937, in Paris, she defeated the French champion, Robin.
In 1938 she set the female world record for the hour, covering 32.58 km at Longchamp, Paris, a record beaten in 1955 by Tamara Novikova of the Soviet Union.
The Italian writer Dino Buzzati wrote that, as a boy riding in a park in Milan, he saw Strada and managed to stay with her for two laps before “exploding”. He said that after that she shot off down the path like an arrow.
Italian Play dedicated to the story of Alfonsina Strada’s ride in the 1924 Giro d’Italia
Video in Italian – The first WOMAN in history to challenge the greats of cycling by cycling the Giro d’Italia: Alfonsina Strada