Alfonsina Strada, freewheeling woman

Her name was Alfonsina. It ended in “a” like most female names in Italian. But announcing her participation in the 1924 Giro d’Italia, the “Gazzetta dello Sport” omitted that final letter, and called her, poetically, “Alfonsin Strada”. Bologna’s “Il Resto del Carlino” took it further, adding the most obvious “o” to her name and turning it into a masculine “Alfonsino”.

After all, a woman had never taken part in the manly, virile bicycle race.

Typos and mistakes did not stop the brave thirty-three-year-old (born in Castelfranco Emilia, in Emilia Romagna, in 1891) from pedaling on her heavy two-wheeler for the whole 3,600 kilometers of the race, placing thirty-first out of thirty-three “surviving” participants (out of ninety who had sprung from the start line). Her performance was warmly applauded by an enthusiastic public, and praised by champions such as Costante Girardengo.

The Giro was a great challenge for the heroic Alfonsina, who at one point had to replace her bike’s broken handlebar with a broomstick a farmer gave her along the way.

She won 50,000 lira, and immediately sent the prize to the mental institution in Milan where her husband was in care. Marrying her, the man had given her his name ‘Strada’ (“street”, “road”) – perhaps an omen to the distances she would travel thanks to her childhood passion for cycling.

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