Dec 15 2014
The Giro d’Italia announced a new mascot today. I haven’t been graced with the accompanying PR copy, but I’d guess it’s something along the lines of “Lupo is the perfect mascot to bring this great Italian race to a world-wide audience!”
Lupo’s arrival marks the end of the road for the race’s previous mascot, Girbecco, whose demise, resurrection, and various zombie states have been a a running gag at Podium Cafe almost since his appearance on the scene in 2008.
Girbecco was always a bit obtuse—a mountain-goat built more like a post-retirement sprinter than a nimble ungulate, with confusing horns that were both over- and under- (compared to the real thing) sized. Not to mention the fact that they looked like Big Bird’s legs under an ever-changing array of multi-color stockings.
Girbecco was far too smoothly rendered to have been the work of “a little girl” as his origin myth states, something made all the more obvious by the old-timey spare tire wrapped around his bulging torso, and the unsubtle inclusion of “honesty” among the values the mountain goat embodies—”values,” his press release stressed “which have always been linked to the Giro”.
To say Girbecco did not translate well is an understatement. His IRL counterpart lives only in the Alps and his name (a play on “stambecco”) just doesn’t work in English—except maybe in South Africa and countries that compete against them in rugby.
But what Girbecco lacked in comprehensibility and wide appeal, he made up for in Italian-ness. The Giro’s always carried a bit of illogical flare, perhaps best exemplified by the defunct and byzantine Intergiro competition, though you could still see shades of it in the repeated neutralization polemica at this year’s event.
Girbecco was also a massive step up on his predecessor, “Ghiro”. It’s an obvious pun on the name of the race, and the common Italian name for the rodent Glis glis; despite unappealing English appellations like “fat doormouse” or “edible doormouse”, the creature itself is quite cute. Ghiro, however, came out looking like a wobbly-eyed cross between Don Corleone and Master Splinter—which, given the winners through his 2002-2008 tenure, isn’t entirely inappropriate.
Lupo Wolfie marks a distinct and meaningful break from this mascot tradition. He’s clearly a wolf, and devoid of strong-but-disorienting characteristics, with just the pink shirt to link him to the Giro. The wolf has tremendous recognition across cultures, and his name, which employes both the Latin (lupus) and Germanic (wulf) roots should be widely recognizable, too.
But for all his cute, cartoony appeal, Lupo is problematic. He’s a clear statement of the Giro’s intent to internationalize, but with that effort comes the challenge of maintaining the race’s unique character. Lupo checks all the boxes for cuddliness and comprehension, but how does he avoid, like every Olympic mascot in recent memory, becoming an amorphous blob of focus-group approval?
In many ways, the challenge of Lupo is the challenge facing all of cycling—how does the sport broaden its immediate appeal without diluting the unique character, history, and tradition, that make it so enduring?