Italian Cycling | An amateur’s guide

From the unapologetically pink apparel to the furiously fast pedalling, Italy’s biggest cycling race will be winding its way to Trieste for its close. When thinking of the calm breeze of rural Italy, the Giro d’Italia appears a raucous contrast, but in fact cycling is a way of life in Italy and has been for generations. The Giro, though more intense than even Wiggins could champion, represents an Italian passion. For those enthusiastic about the sport, cycling in Italy will provide perhaps the most authentic and rewarding form of appreciation. We take a look at what treats Italy has to offer, the brands to indulge in and the tips to help maintain your physical prime.


Where to cycle in Tuscany

Merely skimming Tuscany, this year’s Giro d’Italia missed what historian John Foot insists is “a perfect terrain”. Author Felix Lowe adds:

“Regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Piedmont are famous for their hilltop towns. Tuscany is a veritable playground for amateur cyclists – not least because of the historical sights and gastronomy. Tuscany was the venue for the 2013 World Championships and also featured heavily in the Tirreno-Adriatico race earlier in the spring. Last Autumn I rode from Barcelona to Rome to research my book, and the rolling hills of Umbria and Tuscany were a real highlight.”

If you are sold on Tuscany’s landscapes, a recommended ride is L’Eroica. This is a relatively novel option, which celebrates environmental sustainability and prides itself on ‘clean cycling’. Cyclist Cosmo Catalano also recommends the Strade Bianche – a gravelled surface race which makes for an unstable yet enjoyable race. This route, Cosmo advises, is a joy to ride:

“These roads are much more sparsely travelled, which means less time worried about cars and more time taking in sweeping landscapes.  They’re narrower, too—putting riders right up close to the scenery and surroundings. Plus there’s the romantic appeal of traveling almost back in time, experiencing a countryside that’s remained more or less unchanged since the bicycle was invented”.

Another cycling haven is the walled city of Lucca, a Tuscany Now & More favourite. John Foot remarks that this suits the sprinter perfectly, as the historical infrastructure allows enthusiasts to circle the city at speed.


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Off the saddle

To get a thorough understanding of Italy’s cycling culture, John Foot’s Pedalare! Pedalare! explores a century of cycling, covering the historical context and individual biographies of notable riders. Felix Lowe’s Climbs and Punishment: Riding to Rome in the Footsteps of Hannibal, is a personal and often humorous account of a cycling journey to the capital, enriched with accounts of delicacies and sights along the way.

Once you are clued-up on this great culture, it’s worth drafting a shopping list. Lucca offers a cyclist’s goldmine of gear from reputable manufacturers. Felix commends Italian brands Colnago, Bianchi and Rosa. “Pegoretti is renowned as one of the great contemporary steel frame builders, a true pioneer in the industry”. Felix adds, “he used to design and build frames on the sly for the pros back in the 80s and 90s – riders like Miguel Indurain, Marco Pantani, Stephen Roche, Claudio Chiappucci and Mario Cipollini. Often they would buy them unlabelled and then mark them up with the team sponsor’s name so as to keep everyone happy”.

John Foot also recommends a number of cities offering and exhibiting biking treasures:

“Giro’s three-time champion Gino Bartali (better known as Ginettaccio), has a dedicated museum in Florence which displays nineteenth century bicycles as well as unique video archives of Gino and his fellow riders. There are also amazing biking manufacturers spanning the country. In Milan, Cinelli are creating single-geared bikes which are increasingly popular. Similarly Vicenza is home to the great Campagnolo, a prestigious manufacturer specialising in gears.”


Limbering up for Italian Cycling

As the Giro d’Italia encourages riders of all ages to grip the bars, Italian terrain does demand some physical agility, something Physio Paul Visentini has worked with for over twenty years. “The interaction between body and machine is complex and riding smarter rather than harder is the key to good performance” he explains. “Weekend riders who just hop on and pedal as fast as they can are probably not going as fast as they could go, were they to have proper instruction”. So how can a recreational cyclist improve?

Paul remarks that a careful muscle balance is what matters. “A cyclist who is not using his buttock muscles enough tends to overuse his quadriceps in the power phase which in turn puts too much pressure on his knee cap. This sets the scene for a knee injury”. By focussing on strengthening the core muscles, a balanced ride should come naturally.

 Is the Italian Spirit Catching on?

As the popularity of the Giro d’Italia grows by the year, it’s hard not to be taken-in by the infectious passion for cycling in Italy. As the UK televised the race for the first time last year, and the race took off from Northern Ireland this time, it’s no surprise that Italy is teaching the world to fall for this sport. Paul Visentini adds that cycling is a sport that anybody can enjoy, at any age. “It has gained traction among the middle-aged fraternity because it is something that we can still do and still go hard at”, he explains. “The knees have given way, we can’t run, we can’t play team sports but this provides a wonderful ability to exercise and be competitive with each other.”

For a closer look at this year’s Giro D’Italia route, commemorating Pantani, take a look at Italy on Two Wheels.

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