The Giro was the first big win for Giovanni Gerbi - known as the Red Devil (in 1905 during the first edition), and it was also the first male competition in which a woman officially took part (Alfonsina Strada, in 1917 and 1918). In 1919, Ghisallo took part for the first time, as did Costante Girardengo. At the peak of Santuario the first winner had a fifteen-minute advantage and was so relaxed that he stopped at Erba to change his clothes and have a quick snack at the side of the road. After taking a break, his pace slowed considerably - whatever he had eaten disagreed with him. Though the other competitors chipped away at his advantage, Girardengo stopped in a field to relieve himself before setting off again and arriving at the Trotter in Milan eight minutes ahead of Belloni and the other six remaining competitors, winning the first Giro di Lombardia and marking the end of his best-ever season.
Over ten years later in 1931, Alfredo Binda took part in this race and turned it into one of his shining achievements. Setting off a mere 96 kilometres from the finish line, he won with an 18-minute advantage over the silver medallist Michele Mara (by the time Mara arrived in Milan, Binda had already picked up his prize and taken a shower). When he was asked how he pulled off such a stunning victory on a cold, rainy day, Binda answered: “Everything I had in my pockets dissolved in the rain, and the only thing I was able to eat were raw eggs. I had 34 of them during the race.”
Following World War Two, the Giro di Lombardia became one of the most popular places to see Fausto Coppi perform. “He had a simple tactic,” explains Giuseppe “Pinella” De Grando, the bicycle mechanic who created the Airone. “Fausto would keep up with the other competitors until they reached the start of the ascent to Ghisallo and then would break away. He’d head towards Santuario with a consistent lead, which he doubled on the descent towards Erba. We’d meet him there and cheer him on”. This technique is how Coppi won four competitions in a row between 1946 and 1949. 1949 was his best year - he won the Milan-San Remo race, the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France before turning his attention to Ghisallo, which had recently become almost revered in cycling circles, which he also won with a lead of three minutes over Kübler.
Sport has developed since them, and roads have been resurfaced too, making the Ghisallo climb less challenging. Because of this, Vincenzo Torriani decided to include the Muro di Sormano in the Giro. This is a 2 km ramp with an average gradient of 15%, peaking at 25%, which at the time was little more than a mule track. After the controversies of 1962, when fans pushed Ercole Baldini along, allowing him to beat the record for the ascent, the Muro di Sormano was removed from the Giro.