Every race has its brightest star and, for the women’s Giro d’Italia, that star goes by the name of Fabiana Luperini. The nineties were simply defined by her dominance. Between 1995 and 2008, this imperious Tuscan climber carved her name on the history of this race thanks to a couple of remarkable records: five editions won (four of which on the bounce) and 40 days in the Maglia Rosa. In addition to these still unbeaten records, let’s not forget her 15 stage wins (fourth in this special ranking).
Luperini’s first victory at the Giro took place in 1995, when she was just over 21 years old and defending the colours of team Sanson led by Marino Amadori, the current head coach of the U23 national team. On 25 June, during the fourth stage, Luperini went wild on the Treviso ramps of Monte Cesen towards Pianezze, conquering the much coveted stage + jersey combination. And since appetite comes with eating, as they say in Italy, she did the same thing the next day in San Martino di Castrozza, strengthening her leadership in the GC and securing her Maglia Rosa.
Luperini made a clean sweep in 1996. She won the first stage in Monterotondo and carried the Maglia Rosa from the first to the last day, taking four more stages in between. Her hat-trick came in 1997, along with three more stage wins, including her triumph on the summit of the Zoncolan, climbed for the first time ever in a Giro d’Italia and ready to become an icon in the men’s race as well.
In 1998, Luperini took the start with a reputation as the strongest stage race athlete of her generation, thanks in particular to the three Giro-Tour double wins scored in the previous three seasons. Basically unstoppable! Her great perseverance was the key to winning the ninth edition of the Corsa Rosa, one of the longest and most intense in history: 13 stages in 12 days. The fifth fraction finished on Monte Serra, basically a training ground for her, and Luperini took both stage win and first position in the GC. She doubled up the next day in Assisi but lost the lead the following day to Canadian Linda Jackson. It took another iconic mountain of Italian cycling to hit the poker. On the ninth stage, the Pordoi Pass inspired the feat of the 24-year-old from team Mimosa Sprint and her fourth back-to-back Giro became a reality on the last day in Vittorio Veneto.
Pushing the fast-forward button, after her second place in 2004 (behind Britain’s Nicole Cooke), Luperini returned to the roll of honour as winner in 2008, 10 years after her initial run ended (another record). For her fifth and last Giro, a scene is repeated from 1998. Once again, the race was decided on stage five on her beloved Monte Serra, and Luperini took both the stage and the jersey, before claiming one more partial seal in the penultimate stage before the final triumph.
«My victory on Mount Serra back in 2008,’ confides the ‘Pantanina’, nicknamed after Marco Pantani due to her technical and physical skills resembling those of the late climber, ‘is the one I remember with greatest joy. I conquered Zoncolan and Pordoi and other stages as well, but at the time I was too young to enjoy them as I should have. Instead, on that day in July, considering that I was a bit more mature and experienced, I was really pleased with myself. I totally enjoyed every single moment because it came so many years after the last time. Looking back on it today, I think my record of five wins may be hard to beat. I was also the last Italian to win the Giro, but then sooner or later someone will have to succeed me. We’ll see if it happens in 2024».
«With the race being taken over by RCS Sport,’ concludes Luperini, ‘the Giro d’Italia Women take a further step in the growth of the women’s movement and I am certain that the level of the race will also rise. Having the same organiser as the men’s Giro d’Italia is an added value for everyone, beginning with the athletes. All the strongest riders who have missed out in the past will try to make their mark this time».