Standing in the rain: la Vigorelli-Ghisallo 2018

Vado in bicicletta da meno di un anno. Vado piano in discesa, vado piano in pianura, vado piano in salita. Sono lento ad agganciare i pedali, quando prendo le barrette dalla tasca posteriore, una su due mi cade per terra. Non sono nemmeno più tanto giovane. Di certo non sono un fenomeno della bicicletta, ma ieri alla Vigorelli Ghisallo c’ero anche io. Ho avuto freddo, sentivo l’acqua scorrere ovunque, nelle scarpe, sulla schiena. In certi momenti non vedevo quasi niente, tante erano le gocce sulle lenti dei miei occhiali da vista. Ho sentito le gambe durissime, legnose, ho avuto paura di non farcela, ho sentito la ruota posteriore che scappava via, ma poi l’ho ripresa. Quando si è fatta davvero dura, ho tenuto lo sguardo sulla strada cercando di capire quando iniziava a spianare. Ancora 100 metri, ancora 100 metri. Respira. Ho pedalato per poco più di tre ore, anche se in alcuni momenti mi sono sembrate trenta. Ho canticchiato mentalmente gli Hüsker Dü per tutta la salita finale. Perchè ho deciso di partecipare? Perchè infilarmi in una situazione oggettivamente un po’ estrema? Non avrei saputo dare una risposta, finchè sono arrivato a Magreglio. La risposta l’ho trovata lì nel preciso istante in cui ho visto il cartello “Madonna del Ghisallo”. In quel momento capisci perchè non importa se ti sei svegliato alle 6.15, perchè non importa se hai preso acqua, tanta acqua, per 73 kilometri, perchè non importa se ti senti il freddo fino nelle ossa: perchè è quel momento lì, quell’attimo che –  per quanto provi a descriverlo – non renderà mai abbastanza se non l’hai vissuto metro per metro. Quell’attimo che ti rimane addosso, che ti si espande dentro come una camera d’aria. Una foto di pura gioia, anche se non hai vinto niente, anche se non sei il primo, non hai fatto il tempo, nessun record né personal best. Ma ti fa sorridere mentre stringi la mano del tuo compagno di squadra (grazie Umberto!) e pensi che se potessi abbracceresti tutti, ringrazieresti tutti i partecipanti, tutti gli organizzatori, tutti quelli che mentre ti incrociano ti dicono bravo anche se non sanno chi sei. Io so che una giornata così, bella così, me la ricorderò per tanto tempo. Ora posso dire che, se non avessi partecipato, non me lo sarei perdonato.

Criterium Brianza

The 2nd Crit Cup Agostoni Cinelli organized in Lissone, in Brianza. Not as famous as Red Hook in Bovisa, but not less exciting. A circuit in the city center full of pitfalls, of flooring changes, blind corners, dried performed at 90°, the straight that suddenly become narrow and threatening. Nothing new, actually, it is the nature of a criterium. This is what you expect, what the participants expect, aware of riding to the limit every lap, with their brakeless bikes. Some accidents in qualifying laps, just behind a tight curve, then once they get the right pace everything went smoothly. An extra eye to the security would not be bad, but you have to pay a little inexperience in the second edition. See cyclists, heedless, jump into those curves, raise the action on the straight and push for all tours with that force, it is always an amazing sight. Even the scenario that alternates between historical center and factories is a winning combination. Cinelli is this year’s main sponsor, and its team has repaid the patron Colombo, with a victory. Ivan Ravaioli overtakes the last year winner, Mario Paz Duque, demonstrating his strength at the last lap.

The Giant

The Giant of Provence, the Mont Ventoux. Whatever you call it, strikes a deep awe. Impossible not to see it, a few kilometers away, you can think of historical stages and intrepid cyclists. Step in your life or you’ve read, players who have made a business or, on the contrary, were defeated by the challenge. The monument to Tom Simpson, British champion who died a few hundred meters from the summit, it is there to witness it. Along the road leading to the top it is reminiscent of the great European shrines like Fatima or Lourdes: an unbroken line of pilgrims who try to reach the summit. Young and old, on shape or not, everyone wants to get up there, as there was to ask a favor. In reality there is only a picture of yourself in front of a streetsign, but only those who have seen that road knows how much effort and cost has that image. The Giant presents itself in all its power and majesty, just reach the last famous 6000 meters, you clear the 360 degree view, it does not grant you a shadow thread, nor a tree: it’s all in front of you, bend after bend , tear after tear. Even if you’re not a cyclist, that landscape is something incredible. One cannot but be fascinated. And anyone who has ever taken a road bike in his hand, in front of that show, hopes one day to be able to cajole the Giant.

Life on Track

“[…] And the Six Days.
In Montreal we rode in the hockey stadium, two straights and two commas as curves, we learned quickly, and who did not learn, flew away. The first night I see him again, De Lillo, flying over the tables. “
Giovanni “Vanni” Pettenella

No longer are the years when on Saturday evening on TV they aired the Maspes and Gaiardoni challenges. There is no more mythical aura that surrounded the big event on the track, but once you step inside a velodrome for a Six-Days, you will be fascinated. It is a concentrate of emotions, the continuous succession of races does not give you any pause, there is always something to see and experience. From the stands you have everything under control. You see the races and you see the athletes training, there are sprints and breaks, without missing a single detail. An attack, a stretch, sometimes even a fall, a contact a little ‘off the limit’. We experience the speed, almost physically, you see it in the athletes’ legs and just think about it afterwards how crazy it is as to generate it is the only leg strength. Then there are the races. There is the tactic and strategy, there is power and agility. The fastest races, the longest races. Great moments of concentration and great moments of excitement. You cannot get bored. Bicycles are the absolute stars, with their futuristic look, sharp as a sword blades, powerful and nervous as a wild horse, no brakes, unstoppable. And the track racers at the starting line, concentrated as hell, fatigue grimaces that change the face, because of such hard gear to push in the first meters. A world that has lost the spotlight, but that would deserve to find it again.

North Stones

“For a Belgian, win the Flanders for the first time is much more important
than wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour” – Johan Museeuw

The first of the Great Northern Classics, the Tour of Flanders. The steep walls and cobblestone roads under the wheels that do not give you a moment’s peace. 250 kilometers of suffering on dips, often with adverse weather, the rain, the cold. The May 25, 1913 on the start line there are 37 runners, ready to face 330 kilometers. With a short break due to the Great War, it is the only race to have been run during the period of World War II. Since 1919, it runs continuously on the first Sunday of April. Those who has tried it knows that it is a race like any other, the route shakes you from head to foot for more than five hours, if you are among the strongest. Each curve is a snare, every stone a possible cause of falling. Hell, as Hinault said. Italians have always distinguished themselves as great specialists, Fiorenzo Magni firstly, Moreno Argentin, Gianni Bugno, Michele Bartoli and then Dino Zandegù, all winners. Magni winning three editions earned the nickname of “Lion of Flanders”. His epic victory in 1951, was his third in a row. Nobody ever managed to do better. Other riders have won three editions, nobody has managed to break the record of Magni. A race so difficult that even Eddy Merckx has struggled for winning.

Every April the Fleche Wallonne takes place. Since 1936, when it was organized to increase sales of a sports newspaper, called “Les Sports”. In recent years, starting from Charleroi, to get to Huy. A race that Italians have always liked a lot: three successes of Moreno Argentin, three of Davide Rebellin, the last one in 2009. The Italians, after the Belgians, are those who have won the most, 18 times. The first was Fermo Camellini in 1948. Coppi won in ‘50. Between 1990 and 1994 we got a series of five victories. Often it is considered as the younger sister of the Doyenne, the Liege-Bastogne-Liege, because the area is the same (we are in the Wallonia region), it runs only a few days before basically in the same roads, the mileage is lower (approximately 200 against about 260 of the Doyenne). Its main feature is the Wall of Huy, a small circuit, uphill, to run three times in succession. And it is there, on that hill, that you can win or get defeated, on those stretches of asphalt that reach also 23%; short climbs, but they can be lethal tear. When you get to that point, you must have “legs” or you have no hope, there are no shortcuts, there is no luck, there is only the strength to get to the top, to the finish line.

“The ascent of Redoute is like Huy Wall, must be approached with a good pace, at the head of the Peloton. The slope is about 14 or 15 percent, and arrives after 220 or 230 kilometers. You don not need to be a genius to realize how difficult it is. “
Moreno Argentin

La Doyenne, not surprisingly. Liege Bastogne Liege. One of the three Ardennes Classics, one of the five Classics Monument, along with the Tour of Flanders, Milano-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix and the Lombardia. It ran the first time in 1892, the route has remained virtually unchanged: it comes down from Liege to Bastogne – about 90 km – and then you go back to Liège for a different path, for another 160 km away. It is called the race of Italians, because of the large Italian community around Liege and also because, as the Fleche Wallonne, after the Belgians, Italians have always been winning, with 12 first places. If Eddy Merckx is the undisputed champion with 5 wins, only one Italian was able to keep up: Moreno Argentin, with four victories between 1985 and 1991 (including three in a row!). To notice that the little big Wladimiro Panizza, a pure domestique, got 3rd in 1974. It is a tough race in many ways: for mileage, for the climbs that come in sequence and do not give you rest and the weather conditions. April can be very variable, in three editions it happened to see snowing. In 1980, as a matter of fact, it began to snow from the Start line and of 174 participating cyclists, only 21 arrived at Finish line. Bernard Hinault, who won that edition, had to wait several days before having back the propert mobility of the fingers. You need to be strong, intelligent and rational. You can not leave anything by chance. It is a complete test of the strength of a cyclist.

Tre Valli Varesine

At the Start line of the Tre Valli Varesine 95th edition there are some of the most important pro cycling team of the world championships. The last part of the Lombardia triptyque took place between Busto Arsizio and Varese, with a 9 laps circuit just inside the city that hosted the world championship some years ago. It is immediately clear that the pace will be very high, the average speed will be set quickly beyond 44km/h, it is hardly impossible to follow the race by car. A first bunch of runaways try to shake the race, but Astana plans are pretty clear as soon as they get the head of the peloton. Ups and downs of the circuit help to reach the runaways until Vincenzo Nibali tries to win the race as he will do some days later at Il Lombardia. The Italian Champion arrives lonely, with a suffering face, just turns back one last time before raising his arms to the sky, just below the Soc. Ciclistica Alfredo Binda banner, in the heart of Varese city.

Passoni Passion

Everything started when Luciano Passoni was climbing the Ghisallo riding a bicycle named Trecià; he could not believe that such a frame could be so performing, so the day after he bought three of them. In case they decided
not to keep on making them, he thinks. He wasn’t wrong in the end, Amelio Riva, the frame builder, did not make too many frames but his vision already had left a legacy. His “welding bell” is currently still working at the Passoni workshop. The Passoni Titanium bicycles were born and they really made history of Italian cycling (all champions you can imagine rode a Passoni, even if the colours suggested different brands…), bicycles that keep on the highest level of italian handmade framebuilding. The atmosphere inside the workshop among the different areas, from assembling to welding, from polishing to warehouse is simple, pure, passion. Every detail, every adopted solution about tubing, every new technique says that framebuilding step is taken at its best level. The mastery, the technical capability are just the same you can appreciate in luthiers who – from some squared piece of woods – can obtain a violin simply carving and polishing layer by layer. The polishing of a frame needs the same accuracy, the same attention not to exagerate, knowing all the time which is the limit not to trespass. Each distraction can be fatal, you can ruin your job and then it is a point of no return. Diego shows me the workshop, telling me about what they do, how they do, how they take care of those who decide to get a Passoni frame, how they follow every single passage, how they try to satisfy who decide to trust at their job. He explains to me all materials characteristics, differences between one technical choice and another, all that you can customized when you decide to have your own and unique Passoni frame. Passoni bicycle are not only performing but also esthetically very well done. Beautiful, really beautiful, in a word. To be honest, they are not bicycle for all pockets, we will not deny it, but sometimes is good to have a dream.

Inside the RHC

I meet Riccardo one day in late October, and it is still warm. He is passing through Milan for business but he cannot give up using his bike. Riccardo was at all the RHC that took place in Milan, he is just one of the few who can have such a honour. He tells me that this year was really tough, he could not qualify even if his time was pretty better than last year (on the same circuit). Maybe he could be in if only the organization did not change the
rules about repechage. Anyway, there is no problem. What really matters is to be there and have fun.
Let’s start from the beginning, from RHC Bovisa. You told me, you rode all the editions – one of the few – so what are the big differences you noticed along those years?
Every year seems to be a different world: in 2010, that friday night at the first pioneering edition, there was all the North italian underground cycling world who came out for the first time. It was like looking at the mirror after being on a desert island for months and realize who and how many we were. That was the sparks that get many current realities off the ground, such as Iride Modena which is the winner of the RHC Team World Championship. Everything was unbelievable, like being in a movie, not to mention Jon Ander Ortuondo (AKA “ortu”) winning on a Legor frame, the rest is history. Year by year all the media started being more and more interested, plenty of talented photographers and videomakers arrived and it became a worldwide event. Year by year the technical level considerably grows up, I do remember in 2011 people looking at you strangely if you used the rollers to warm-up… now everybody uses them.
The RHC is a very technical race, you have to be really skilled but it is not enough. How do you deal with the race? Do you train specifically in the previous months?
We have a big advantage here in Italy, especially in the North, we have been so enthusiast and involved that (according to a study made by the RHC organization)now we are the country – all over the world – in which you
can find the highest number of fixed gear criterium (just give us a record sometimes)! So I have to say that among several tasks I can participate at many criterium during the year, especially in the period just before the race, the second week of October.I think that the best training is riding those races to get the right skills to restart and sensitivity to stay in the peloton, which is not easy because , as you know, we are brakeless! To be more specific, what makes a “criterium leg” are the cadence variations, so even when I am training with my racing bike I try to focus on these aspects. Then, considering that I live close to the Alps, I do love climbs so it is easy to train also suffering attitude, you never forget that it will be your mind that will allow to reach certain goals. It is always your brain that keeps your legs moving.
Track bikes are really essential, but are you a “maniac” about adjustments?
I do not spend too long around adjustments, I have my position on the saddle, which is well known thanks to a good professional biomechanic, but I have to confess that I am very careful about components condition and tightening. A loose nut can make you lost a race but it can also be very dangerous for your and others safety on track, such as a badly glued tubular tyre or a worn out tread. So yes, the night before the race I check everything,
and considering how essential track bikes are, it is something very quick to do; but every details becomes a chainring, if every single one works, all the chain will work.
While watching qualifying stages, I thought about an old interview with Ayrton Senna in which he said that to get the best lap in Monza you only had to focus on one point, just before the parabolic curve, if you have the guts to enter without slowing down, you got the best lap. For some reason, looking at the bikes at the RHC, I had the same feeling. As we said before, the “leg” is important, but how much is it important to have the guts to throw yourself inside the curve withno fear? Is it fundamental to know the track to get the best lap?
I start saying that Senna is one of my favourite, a legend, so let me talk about something else. I remember someone asking Ayrton who was the most important rival of his whole career. Everybody was expecting to hear the name of Prost, Mansell or Piquet, but he surprised everyone saying Fullerton, an unknown kart driver. Well, more or less we are talking about the same story, the bike in the end is not that important in a criterium race, what is important is the challenge, the pure competition to taste the real essentialmeaning of the race without strategies or state-of-the-art materials, that is what I like the most in cycling. Going back to your question, yes, the way and the speed you get the curve is crucial, here the path is everything, you are the engine and the less you slow down the faster you will be compared with your rivals. For example, apart from Bovisa race, it happened to me to ride in a kart circuit where I took different path compared with the others, but I was able to regain many meters even if they had “faster legs” than me. I would also like to say something about hairpin turn: you have to be able to slow down quickly (sorry about oxymoron), because putting your wheels first in the curve is one of the few ways to overtake rivals, in that moment you build a lot of your success; lap by lap knowing how to slow down become tougher and tougher, harder than speed up going out the curve.
Talking about strategies in such a race can sound ridicolous, you only have to ride fast and faster, but what are the things that pass through your mind lap after lap?
I think this is the most difficult and personal question…I do not think there is an answer, you are focused 110% on the race and on people at your side, concentration is very high and it happens not to hear anything of what they say along the circuit, even if especially here in Milano, hearing friends shouting your own name is something that give you an impressive boost, I mean it!
In one of the photos I took this year, there is you with a no doubt expression about your competitive attitude. I think I can say that you did not come to Milano to win, how can you describe such a passion?
Well, thanks for the photo firs of all! It tells a lot about what happens in the rear of the peloton, something that who come for the first time for curiosity misses. Cycling is made by very few winner and many many domestiques,
in the end it is thanks to them if the first one are glorified. This is my condition: age and build just allow me a certain type of performance, let us say a 60 out of 100, so here it is the competitive attitude and being deeply into this passion makes that 60 becoming 70 or sometimes 75. That hidden last option that brings out a performance even you could not imagine possible, this is – in brief – riding a bike.
You attended all editions, what are the moments you remember as the most pleasant? On the other side, the biggest disappointment?
Well, let’s start from the end, the biggest disappointment at the moment has been when decided to cancel the “last chance race” at this edition in Milano. I was sure I could do a great race, I had great feelings about it and even if I would not be one of the best 10 who could get the final, it would have been absolutely exciting because I had to race against people at my level, it would have been challenging and the result was not taken for granted at all. About great memories, there are a lot, the 2010 edition because it the first one and you cannot forget it, in 2011 because it was totally a close the gap race with someone who is a good friend now, Paolo “Bludado” Bravini now in the Cinelli-Chrome Team, in 2012 I was even put in the RHC website as one of the 20 potential winner and last year I was in the final despite the difficulties of qualifying laps. But above all, what really shakes you in the bones are the seconds just before the start, when your heart beats so fast even if you are still standing in the grid, yes, that is the deepest emotion you can feel.
This year you also were in Barcelona, you take part at CX races, alleycats, criteriums, you go up climbing mountains, on track…How much time do you spend on your bike? What is your favourite discipline? Even if I expect you will say all of them!
You are asking me if I love the most mum or dad, how can I answer to this quesion!? What I think important is taking the bike all year long, road or CX or just going to work, if mums with children do that in Copenaghen, we can do it in Italy, no excuses, you just have to be prepared and you can always ride! Honestly I dedicate a great part of my life to cycling, which is my favourite way of moving in town – as you saw – and I do not think about the bike just as sport, it is just a way of living and that is way there are so many people enthusiast about cycilng, if you try once you will never stop.
Did you always love bicycles? When did you stumble upon your first bike?
I still have my first 1998 MTB even fi now it has a child seat and I use it to go out with my children…I had a long period as a motorcyclist, I do not regret and if I have some skills as a driver, I think I have to thank that period, but we can say I have been faithful to bicycles for ten years now, the only wheels that I use have myself like the only engine.
Now the usual stupid question: do you also believe that the perfect number of bikes is n+1?
Well, I cannot say that. I do believe that for every discipline you need the right bike and that there is no better discipline, it can be track, CX, road or city bike. The nice thing to do is also to mix everything and doing crazy thing like climbing Izoard with a track bike or going to a mtb marathon on a singlespeed. At the moment I have seven bikes and I have to say I am really satisfied, but I do want to tell you that 6 out of 7 are made of steel, a really up-to-date material which can give a lot to those who really like riding.

Just after the coffee Marco arrives, with his helmet and his Gaggiano team jersey. He is around for delivering, he can count more than 1000 km in a month, in Milano, just for delivering. In such sunny days I feel a sort of good envy. Just before say goodbye I think about something Riccardo told me. He still misses the RHC in Brooklyn, NY, he says it could be the perfect gift for his 40 years birthday. I just think a little and I realize that it would be for my 45th birthday as well, I am pretty sure I could die on a hairpin turn brakeless, but for an instant I have the same idea. It is just a moment.

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