Alfonsina Strada was an Italian cyclist and the only woman to race in the Giro d’Italia in 1924 when the organizers mistook her for a man. At the time newspapers called her The Devil in a dress!
She rode her first race at about 13, winning a live pig. She won nearly all the girls’ races she entered and many of the boys’ events. Her reputation brought an invitation to ride the Grand Prix of St Petersburg in Russia in 1909. She was such a success that the Czarina Alexandra⋅wanted her husband, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, to give her a gold medal.
Strada entered the Giro d’Italia as “Strada, Alfonsin.” The absence of a final “o” or “a” to her first name hid whether she was a man or a woman. She was accepted as number 72 and, assuming her to be a man, journalists began writing of Alfonsino. The truth emerged the day before the start and by then it was too late.
She came 74th on the first day, an hour behind the leader but nothing by the standard of the day, when riders could be separated by hours. She finished 50th of 65 between Genoa and Florence and survived as far as Naples. Then the weather turned. A gale blew, rain poured, mud and rocks swept across the road. Strada was among many who crashed. Her handlebars snapped and she stood by the roadside until a peasant snapped a broomstick to jam in the hole. She rode on with one side of her bars of steel and the other of broomstick but finished outside the time limit.