THE CYCLING SCENE
If you are a cyclist riding in the Veneto for the first time on a Sunday morning, you will experience the delightful sensation of having alighted in a world where bicycles rule. You'll encounter hundreds--maybe even thousands--of cyclists of all kinds, from families on organized pedalate ecologiche (ecological rides) to cicloturisti taking part in raduni (rallies), fast sport-riding clubs tackling switchback climbs with gusto, and probably even a race or two. You'll see lone riders, merry groups of friends, clubs in their team uniforms, and even old-timers in wool, astride vintage bikes.
Who's riding all those bicycles you see on the roads of the Veneto? Bikes are part of everyday life, so you'll always find plenty of people using them for transportation to work, school, and shopping, as well as recreation (you don't see many joggers here). As for the "serious" riders, they come in many categories...
Everyone knows the local pros: they've watched them race since they were kids, followed their progress up the ranks, and ridden with them at one time or another. They have fan clubs organized by proud and adoring neighbors, friends, and family. Some past Veneto riders of note, many of whom are are still involved with the sport, include Giovanni Battaglin, Eros Poli, Flavio Vanzella, Dario Bottaro, Nicola Minali, Bruno Cenghialta, Massimo Ghirotto, Stefano Zanatta, Marzio Bruseghin, Filippo Pozzato, Fabio Baldato, Andrea Ferrigato, Alessandro Ballan, Emanuele Sella, Mariano Piccoli, Gianni Faresin, Silvio Martinello, Davide Rebellin, Moreno Argentin, Moreno Moser, Damiano Cunego, Franco Pellizzoti, and Giorgio Furlan. (Linguistic note: surnames ending in "n" are typically Veneto). There are many, many more riders whose names are remembered only by the most ardent and knowledgeable fans. Check out the page to see the current riders from the tri-Veneto (the Veneto and neighboring Friuli and Trentino regions)
A fond memory...Everyone fondly remembers the Acca Due O women's pro team riders, who lived in a house in Cornuda belonging to the late Nonna Marcellina, an elderly grandma who fussed over them and worried about them as if they were her granddaughters. Nonna became a celebrity in her own right, appearing in newspapers and on tv. When the team won the Grand Boucle in '99, she died her hair yellow. The team was welcomed home with a victory parade through town and a party at Nonna's place, to which anyone and everyone was invited. I had the pleasure of greeting Mari Holden, who had finished in an admirable eighth place. Similar festivities followed other important victories.
The team morphed into Pasta Zara-Cogeas, and over the years, athletes of such caliber as Diana Ziliute, Nicole Cooke, Nicole Brandle, Gunn-Rita Dahle, Giorgia Bronzini, Mara Abbott, Claudia Hausler, Edita Pucinskaite, and Amber Neben raced for the team.
...are actually semi-professionals. Most aspire to become pros, though some are content to remain in the dilettante ranks, where they can sometimes make more money than entry-level pros do. One of Italy's most renowned and successful U23 teams has its home in Castelfranco Veneto: Zalf Désirée Fior has produced many Olympic and amateur/U23 world champions, including Daniele Pontoni, Cristian Salvato, Kurt Arvesen, Mirko Gualdi, Giuliano Figueras, and Ivan Basso, and continues to send many of its riders to the pro peloton. Maurizio Fondriest, Mariano Piccoli, Bertolini, Endrio Leoni, Paolo Lanfranchi, Marzio Bruseghin, Manuel Quinziato, Gianni Faresin, Domenico Pozzovivo, Paolo Savoldelli, Emanuele Sella, Damiano Cunego, Sasha Modolo, and Gianluca Brambilla are alumni too! Their jersey design is that of the old Brooklyn team of Roger De Vlaminck, but the colors are red, white, and green, instead of red, white, and blue.
are weekend racers with jobs and families, who race for the love of it (hence amatori). The racing is fast and challenging. Some cicloamatori are ex-pros who missed the sport. This term is often used (by the press, for example) to distinguish a "serious" cyclist, i.e., one wearing a kit, helmet, cycling shoes, etc, from a simple ciclista, which means anyone anyone riding a bike.
are strong, fast, expert recreational riders. Competitive granfondo riders fit this designation, and there's an Italian Cycling Federation license just for this category.
are serious, experienced, and (usually) competant, but non-competitive cyclists who like to ride at a more relaxed pace (relatively speaking!), have fun, and enjoy the sights and cameraderie. There are even competitions and championships for this group.
The word ombra means "shadow," but in the Veneto dialect, it has come to mean a nip of one's favorite alcoholic beverage (Prosecco wine is a favorite). Ciclo ombre are cyclists who head out for a bike ride but spend more time stopping for ombre than they do in the saddle! My friends and I occasionally fall into this category, except that our pick-me-ups of choice are coffee, pastries, and ice cream.
DRIVERS & THE PUBLIC
It's understandable that visitors believe that Italian drivers harbor a special affection for cyclists, given their attentiveness and awareness of our presence, and the respect, courtesy, and consideration they accord us. In truth though, this behavior can probably be attributed more to cultural influences as to affinity for cyclists. From infancy on, children are surrounded by bicyclists of all kinds--they are everywhere. Virtually everyone has ridden a bicycle for transportation, if not for recreation. Therefore, an Italian kid--or more precisely, a Veneto kid--grows up with the attitude that bikes are legitimate vehicles with a right to be on the road. In driving school, which is required for obtaining a license, students are taught not only to be aware of cyclists, but to anticipate possible difficulties they may encounter (a rough road, a big puddle, etc.) and to treat them with care. Drivers are taught to open their car doors with their right hands, automatically putting them in a position to see a passing cyclist. When I took the road portion of my driving exam, three of the six candidates failed--one of them for not showing the proper consideration to a cyclist! Drivers who hit cyclists don't get off simply by saying, "I didn't see him!" They are charged and prosecuted. As a result, I have always felt quite safe riding on Italian roads. This situation is changing though, as our immigrant population grows and there are more and more drivers from countries lacking the Veneto's cycling tradition and driver training. More insidious threats include the increasing popularity of SUVs, which are simply too large for many of our favorite little roads, arrogant drivers (usually in Audis, Land Rovers, etc) who think that roads belong to them and laws don't apply to them, and worst of all, an increasing number of drivers under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or cell phones.
Drivers do complain about cyclists riding two or more abreast and failing to move over (and they are right! I get angry with inconsiderate cyclists myself), and I've seen drivers irate when they had to wait in a long line for a raduno (rally), or race to pass, or needed make a detour because a road had been closed for a granfondo. One acquaintance said he thought that cyclists looked pathetic when suffering up climbs, and another said he thought that cyclists were a rowdy and unrefined bunch (true in the case of old guy groups, who ride along whooping and yelling for no particular reason). So cyclists are not universally adored here. However, neither I nor anyone I know has ever been the victim of harassment, assault, or road rage (though I have read about it happening to others ). We have instead, been treated to countless acts of thoughtfulness and kindness. I've been invited into the homes of strangers for a coffee, glass of wine, and even fresh homemade tiramisù! Strangers allowed a desperate friend and me to use their bathroom when we were on the Ciclolaguna ride on the island of Pellestrina in the Venetian lagoon, where there were no bars or even bushes to be found anywhere. They've stopped to ask us if we were ok or needed help when they saw us standing by the side of the road. When a bee stung my thigh and I went in a bar to ask for ice, the concerned owner insisted on driving me to a pharmacy in the next town so I could buy some antihistamine cream. Residents have provided aid and care to cyclists who crashed and were seriously injured, and even driven them to the hospital. Someone wrote, "In Italy, you are never alone." How true, and it is indeed a reassuring feeling to know that if some misfortune were to befall me, I could ring any doorbell or flag down any driver, and find them willing to help. I believe that most people here do indeed have a special affection and soft spot for cyclists. Unlike some countries, where cyclists are considered arrogant elitists in silly lycra shorts, I think they see us as "just folks"--genuine, good-hearted, affable, decent, and non-threatening. They admire our dedication and sense of adventure, and understand the romance of the road that beckons us.
FCI Vicenza 57 clubs
Giuliano Calore, a cyclist who defies categorization. The exploits of this musician and champion of acrobatic cycling from Padua have earned him the title "Cyclist of the Impossible." For example?
• in 1981 he climbed and descended the Stelvio Pass while playing, in turn, four different musical instruments, including an amplified accordion.
• his most famous feat was his 1985 descent of the 48 hairpins of the Stelvio Pass on a bike with no handlebars or brakes! His time was just over 27 min., averaging 80 km/h,
• In 2015 he descended the Stelvio at night!
Visit to see more photos, and a list of his 12 Guiness World Records.
Calore on the Sella Pass, with the Sassolungo in the background, The photo is from his website.
Magico Tempe on Monte Grappa, The photo is from his website.
Photo © April Pedersen Santinon
Simone Temperato aka Magico Tempe
Ferruccio Lunardon conceived the Brevetto del Grappa.
Ginesio Ballan is known as the man who climbed
Monte Grappa two thousand times.