What is a successful journey. Travel essay behind this photo

In this photo we see like a Colombian professional cyclist of an Australian team Mitchelton — Scott (now BikeExchange), Esteban Chaves, winning a stage #19 of the Giro d’Italia 2019 in the town of San Martino di Castrozza, Trentino, in front of Pale di San Martino mountains, Dolomites, Italy.

Ivan Kuznetsov
Outdoor writer from the Dolomites, Italy, and Karelia, Finland

— The Giro d’Italia is the main professional cycling race in Italy and one of the only three major multi-day three week cycling races in the world called “Grand Tours”, on par with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. However, the sports competition is only one part of these races, the other part is tourism.

The purpose of the Giro d’Italia (and other Grand Tours) is not only to reveal the winners and medalists of the race and to promote cycling as a sport, but also the tourism in Italy, by showing and telling about its individual territories during the race. In general, cycling, like no other sport, is closely connected to travel.

That’s why TV commentators and authors of publications about the Giro pay as much attention to the description of sights as to sports battles during stages.

Is the Giro fulfilling its purpose? What do we see in a single photo? Does it motivate us to travel to the Dolomites?

Beautiful mountains

The Dolomites are generally called “the most beautiful mountains in the world” — not only in Italy. If I have never been here and saw this picture, I would definitely want to be here — especially since I am myself a big fan of cycling.

People

All these people gathered to watch the finale of the prestigious mountain stage race. As a local, I could say that there are never that many people in San Martino on normal days. But it is possible to meet about the same number of people in the most popular places like Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Cortina d’Ampezzo or Lake Braies. One of the problems of these mountains is the overtourism in some places.

Colombian flag

At the stages of the Giro d’Italia, there are always a lot of foreign fans, who cheer for the riders from their countries. Some live here, some travel to Italy to see the race on purpose. The winner of the stage is Colombian. Now we also know that the winner of the whole race — Richard Karapas — is also. So it was a “Colombian Giro”.

It speaks to me as a tourist, of a kind of internationality of the Dolomites. I see foreigners — I can go to these mountains, too. This is motivating and shows that the Dolomites are a popular tourist destination not only in Italy or the EU but in the world.

What I don’t see in the photo is that there are not many foreigners living in the Dolomites. For example, to see a Colombian on the street is more an exception to the rule than the norm. This is a region with a dominant local population: Italians, Austrians, Germans. There are also native people of the Dolomites, the Ladins.

The cyclist

In the photo, we don’t see the winner — just his little figure. That’s why I purposely chose a second close-up photo to show that the same picture from a different angle will be completely different:

Esteban Chaves winning a mountain stage #19 of the Giro d’Italia 2019 in the town of San Martino di Castrozza, Trentino, in front of Pale di San Martino mountains, Dolomites, Italy © Gido d’Italia

I guess this says that also two future tourists will see the different Dolomites, depending on personal experience, because impressions are always very subjective. Maybe when you come to the Dolomites you will not call them the most beautiful mountains, you will not like the food, the weather and so on.

Road to the podium

It is interesting that at the stages of all three Grand Tours only the winner is rewarded, second and third places are not. Within all these parallels between Giro and tourism, this somewhat brutal sports element in the Dolomites tourist picture is not superfluous. Every tourist who makes a successful trip here is also the winner of his personal race, or rather to say “journey”, where there are no second and third places. Even if you’re traveling in the company of friends, you’re traveling alone — just like every cyclist on a 10—15-person team runs his or her race.


But what does it mean “successful”? In my opinion, the successful journey is not necessarily to be inside a similar picture to say “Here I saw it on the Internet, and was able to repeat it. I’m in the Dolomites. I’m the winner”.

Definitely, a successful journey is a journey with meaning. The results can be negative, you can be a loser, not a winner, but if you learned something important about the place you were in, and — just as importantly — about yourself during the journey, it’s a success, a victory.


This essay is an assignment for “Tourism cultures” exam of the “Planning and management of tourism systems” (PMTS) master degree course I’m taking at the University of Bergamo (UNIBG), Italy.

Cover photo: Giro d’Italia

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