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Italy is synonymous with so many of our civilization's most glorious and wonderful creations, things that fill our lives with beauty, excitement and joy, and make it worth living. Thus, each person envisions his own fantasy Italy, according to his own pursuits and passions. To some, she is Raffaello, Palladio, and Verdi; to others, Barolo, Parmigiano, and tortellini. To lovers, Italy is a romantic gondola ride. To pilgrims, she is St. Peter's Basilica and the pope. History buffs and classicists stand in awe at the sight of Roman ruins. Sophisticates seek the latest trends in fashion and style, while others thrill to sexy engineering and blazing speed (Ferrari! Ducati!), or the world's premier soccer league. Whatever the endeavor, Italians do it not only expertly and artistically, but with panache and brio. Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of cycling. To the appassionati of two wheels, Italy is cycling: Coppi and Bartali, Il Re Leone Cipollini and Il Pirata Pantani, Dedacciai and Campagnolo, De Rosa and Pinarello, Rudy Project and Sidi, Milan-San Remo and the Giro, cheerful sun-splashed landscapes and mist-shrouded Dolomite passes, the very language itself: forza, bravo, campionissimo, tifoso. Italianicity in all of its manifestations is the ne plus ultra of our sport.

BiciVeneto is a homage to my two greatest passions: bici *(bikes, short for biciclette), and the Veneto region of Italy, my adopted home. It's an apt combination, because contrary to the common perception, all of Italy is not cycling crazy, and there are, in fact, regions where you will not encounter many cyclists at all. The Veneto, on the other hand, is a land of generations-old cycling heritage and traditions, and bicycling in all forms is a way of life. If you ask the Veneti why this is so, they will answer that cycling is a tough sport which demands hard work, stubbornness, and sacrifice, qualities which are an integral part of their character. The Veneto is arguably the most "cyclistic" of Italy's 20 regions:

• There are 20,000 licensed riders, belonging to several federations (in an area slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey, and with a population of only 4.5 million). When the Giro d'Italia enters the Veneto, the announcers always comment, "The race is now entering the homeland of cycling." The province of Treviso, where I make my home, is acknowledged to be "the Province of Cycling," because it has the most cyclists per capita: 90% of the population rides a bicycle!

• Castelfranco Veneto is the official bicycle manufacturing capital of Italy, as it's the headquarters of a designated bicycle production district encompassing the provinces of Padova, Treviso and Vicenza. There are 99 firms with 1,500 employees, producing 30% of Italian cycling products. Padova alone has 64 firms, the highest in the nation.

• Manufacturers include Pinarello, Wilier Triestina, Dynatek, Sarto, Alan, Atala, Battaglin, Fondriest, Bilato, Grandis, Basso, Torpado, Bernardi, Scapin, Olympia, and Bottecchia bicycles, saddles by SMP, Selle Italia, Selle San Marco, Selle Royal, Fi'z:k, and Selle Bassano; Sidi, Gaerne, Duegi, Diadora, DMT, and Northwave shoes, Sportful/Castelli, Alè, and Biemme cyclewear, Rudy Project sunglasses, Elite and Sci-Con accessories, and components by Tiso, Sel.Cof, Gipiemme, Modolo, Miche, and of course, Campagnolo.

• Many riders in the professional peloton (see the Veneto Pros page) hail from the Veneto. World champions include Alessandro Ballan, Moreno Argentin, Marino Basso, Paola Pezzo, Alessandra Capellotto, and Gianni Bugno (he was born in Switzerland and raised in Monza, but his family's from Cavaso del Tomba (Treviso provice) where he spent his childhood summers with his grandparents and other relatives who still live in the area--that makes him Veneto!). If you include the Tri-Veneto, i.e. the Veneto, Trentino, and Friuli regions, you can add Francesco Moser and Maurizio Fondriest.

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