The Grande Partenza of the 98th Giro d’Italia, to be celebrated on May 9, 2015, will cross over into a territory still largely unexplored by top-notch pro road cycling: bike paths.

Get a free giffgaff Sim

An increasing variety of terrains are being tested by the tyres of the planet’s best riders, much to the delight of fans worldwide. Cobblestones, tidal paths and dirt mountain roads are crowd-pleasers for Grand Tour aficionados. However, what Sanremo has in store for riders and supporters is breaking new ground, and will ideally reconcile two worlds traditionally many miles apart on the broad cycling spectrum: pros and adepts of bike tourism.

The inaugural stage of the three-week race will be an 18-km team time trial on the Ponente Ligure bike path, one of the longest in the Mediterranean area. The bike path was built on the former coastal route of the Italian State Railways between Ospedaletti and San Lorenzo al mare, which fell into disuse and was relocated in 2001. The route was redeveloped by a government-owned corporation called Area24, and the first paths were finished in 2008.

What a Grand Tour can do for cycle tourism

While one cannot say that the path was built thanks to the Giro alone, it is undeniable that the popularity of theCorsa Rosa significantly contributes to the improvement of the touring experience for cyclists choosing Liguria, the Italian region that is home to Sanremo.

The bond between Giro d’Italia organiser RCS Sport and this ground-breaking bike facility is a tight one. The 2014 Milano-Sanremo (another RCS event), saw the unveiling of the “Milano-Sanremo Gallery”. The joint project redeveloped a former railway tunnel, allowing for the final completion of the cycle path. The tunnel (photo below by RCS Sport) is a unique “ride-through” museum; 100 of the best pictures from the classic monument race are on display, and pink road markings include some of the fans’ most memorable tweets about the race.

Hosting one of the world’s major sporting events is a push for road maintenance. Safety and comfort must be at the highest for the race day – and everyday cyclists keep benefitting from the improvements long after the event is gone.

The global reach of the Giro will promote the Liguria region among cyclists worldwide. State-of-the-art bike paths, strategically placed near transport hubs to ensure inter-modality, attract cyclists to its shores and villages. Tourism is indeed a crucial driver of the region’s economy, with an estimated 61.3 million visitors per year producing an economic impact of EUR 5.5b. Bike facilities can draw more tourists… and encourage them to spend more money. A2007 study on the tourist expenditures generated by the presence of recreational bike trails has found evidence of cost-effectiveness of the facility with regards to the proceeds for local businesses. Hotels and businesses in Liguria are on top of it: conscious of the opportunities created by the bike path, they advertise their proximity to it as an extra perk for their customers.

Millions of Euros invested

At the end of 2011, EUR 200,000 were unlocked for investments on cycling infrastructure in Liguria, a region of 1.5 million people. It was only the beginning. In the summer of 2013, EUR 5.1m (3.5 from the State, 1.6 from the EU through regional funds) were allocated to a series of cycling networks.

“Our goal is to complete a single cycle path connecting the two extremities of the region”, declared President Claudio Burlando during the presentation of the Grand Départ last summer. It would be a business-savvy move: aBritish study has found that extending the length of cycle paths is likely to lead to greater tourist expenditures in the territories involved, especially in rural areas, thanks to the lengthened “cycling-time” of travellers. This seems well aligned with the goal of preserving rural areas from dying out – surely a concern for the region with the oldest population in the country.

GoPro footage of a cycling stroll along the path – with an on-the-go interview (in Italian) with the CEO of Area24 – is available here.

RCS – committed in a number of other social responsibility initiatives to get kids active and protect the environment – is also looking into intensifying its bonds with national cycling advocates. This began in 2012 when the event organisers sat down to a round table with national cycling Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Albeit in need of continuity, the liaison offers ample growth potential, and local cycling advocates are calling for a strengthened role of Italian Cycling Federation (FCI) in “making cities fit for cyclists”.