Giro blog: The Giro invades Alpini stronghold

The centre of Turin was full of thousands of fans at the team presentation yesterday. The streets were packed with men drinking and singing, and drinking some more.

The main Piazza in the Alpine city was full to bursting and the crowds were spilling out in to the small side streets, drinking the cafes dry and generally having fun. It was bigger than anything I’ve ever seen at the start of a Grand Tour and it was Zomegnan’s first masterstroke.

The Italian is known for dropping in a few gems each year, it’s what makes the Giro so special. This year he has combined the opening stage with the reunion of the Alpini, a military corps that provides the country’s first line of defence throughout the Alps and Dolomites that stretch along Italy’s northern border.

The get together happens each year, and it’s huge. Some 100,000 have reportedly descended on Turin. Young and old, past and present, some still serving Alpini, others long since retired. They’re sleeping in tents at the side of the road, in campervans, while some have gone for the luxury of hotels.

And they’re all drinking. Did we mention the drinking?

Each one is wearing a green velvet cap adorned with medals and a single feather. Yesterday at the presentation it’s pretty much all you could see. I was stood behind the riders as they waited to be marched in to the main piazza, but they were barely visible among the green caps.

According to the stories, that no doubt get embellished every now and then, the Alpini don’t drink beer or wine. All they drink is Grappa. Sadly for Grappa makers it’s not true, I saw them drinking beer, wine and pretty much anything else they can get.

We stopped at a cafe this morning for a quick coffee and there were two Alpini’s chasing down a beer with a glass of Prosecco. At 11 o’clock in the morning.

It’s all good natured fun though. Another story says that all Alpini’s are brothers, and there is never any trouble when they get drunk, they just sing. That does seem to hold true, and it makes for a great atmosphere at the start of the race.