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ITALY is the world's biggest consumer of chest wigs. Some 15% of the working population are kept busy in this thriving industry and its dependent off-shoots - gold medallions, dark glasses, hair oil and penis extensions. Famous for its wine and pasta, Italy once had a football team, sadly, no longer...

The Italian currency is the lira which is made from special shrinking paper and the pizza is still used as a unit of measure despite the efforts of the European Community to bring Italy in line with the rest of Europe. Although Latin remains the most widely spoken language, English is fast becoming the lingua franca in the big cities...

Italy is a land of contrast and paradox. Italian designers are acknowledged as some of the best in the world and yet the majority of the female population always wear black sacks and headscarves. Italy produces some of the world's great car margues and yet most people never learn to drive. Well, never learn to drive properly...

In Italy, all great cyclists have names ending in "i". Exceptionally, they are permitted to have a name ending in "a" or "o" but, officially at least, only "i" will do. So it is that Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi and Guiseppe Saronni are lauded in cycling's history books, while Luigi Smith has long since been consigned to history...

Francesco Moser was something of a law unto himself in this regard, but throughout his career suffered the ignominy of Italian commentators never pronouncing his name properly - there is no "r" in the Italian language...

Unfortunately, the Giro d'Italia has, in modern times at least, played second fiddle to its more illustrious neighbour the Tour de France despite often producing a much more open race than Le Tour. The select band of riders who have managed the "double" of Giro and Tour in the same year includes all the great tour riders - Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain. (The only other rider to achieve the feat was Stephen Roche.) Expect Jan Ullrich to line up the maglia rosa for his collection some time soon!

Italy boasts two major classics, and, as befits the Mediterranean climate, these are the first and last of each year. Spring sees the annual gallop up the famous Poggio en route from Milan to San Remo, and the Giro di Lombardia is known as the "Race of the Falling Leaves", traditionally bringing the season to a close. That distinction has been removed in recent years as the World Cup has extended the season outside of Europe, but for many traditionalists the season finishes as it starts, in Italy...

We will be getting rather more serious and producing a lot of material on Italy as our site builds. If you would like to be kept informed on future Italian cycling features then Join Our Mailing List.

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This page was last updated on 31 July 1998