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 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)
They used to be known as "amateurs," but they're actually semi-professionals. Most aspire to become pros, though some are content to stay in the dilettante ranks, where they can sometimes make more money than entry-level pros do. One of Italy's most renowned and successful dilettante teams has its home in Castelfranco Veneto: Zalf Désirée Fior has produced many Olympic and "amateur" world champions, including Daniele Pontoni, Cristian Salvato, Kurt Arvesen, Mirko Gualdi, Giuliano Figueras, and Ivan Basso, and continues to send many of its riders (more than 55 over the years) to the pro peloton: Vanzella, Fondriest, Zen, Piccoli, Bertolini, Palumbo, Leoni, G. Zanini, Lanfranchi, Zanolini, Serpellini, Finco, Trenti, Bruseghin, Derganc, Cauz, Quinziato, Faresin, Colli, and Pozzovivo. Giro champion Paolo Savoldelli, Giro stage winner Emmanuele Sella, and Giro champion Damiano Cunego are alumni too! Current riders include Sacha Modolo and Gianluca Brambilla.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.
These are the true amateur racers: guys and gals with jobs and families, who race each weekend strictly for the love of it (hence amatori). The racing is, fast, serious, and competitive. 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, serious, expert recreational riders. Gran fondo riders also fit into this category.
are serious and 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 language it has come to mean a nip of one's favorite alcoholic beverage (Prosecco 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!
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, including pros. 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.
The late Ginesio Ballan is known as the man who climbed Monte Grappa two thousand times, in every season of the year and in all kinds of weather. His garage door company was also a sponsor of numberous cycling teams, including (we actually bought one of their garage doors because of that!)
CLUBS, FEDERATIONS, and LICENSES
There are approximately 900 cycling clubs in the Veneto region. They range from small, informal groups whose members do their own thing to large, super-organized outfits with their own well-equipped vans for transporting riders and their bikes to events, and acting as support vehicles at large organized rides. They will often charter buses to attend distant events so that family members can come along, go sight-seeing, and share the inevitable post-ride picnic or dinner with their cyclist spouses/parents. Young riders are not lacking in support either--there are clubs which supply them with virtually everything they need (bikes, kits, helmets, warm-ups), organize their physicals, winter preparation, and training rides (accompanied by an adult and/or following vehicle), and transport them to races.
Clubs are sponsored by local businesses both large and small, and by such disparate groups as AVIS (blood donors), railroad workers, hospital personnel, and so on. The team's name is usually that of its sponsor, or in some cases, of the town where the members live. Club names are preceded by any one of a number of abbreviations, the most common being ASD (Associazione Sportivo Dilettantistico). G.S. (Gruppo Sportivo). Others you'll see are G.C./C.C. (Gruppo/Club Ciclistico), U.C./U.S. (Unione Ciclistica/Sportiva), V.C. (Veloce or Velo Club), S.C./S.S. (Società Ciclistica/Sportiva), and A.C./A.S. (Associazione Ciclistica/Associazione Sportiva). "Team" is also quite popular.
Some clubs are oriented towards road racing, others towards gran fondo competition; some are dedicated to touring events, and still others towards MTB racing or MTB gran fondos. Then again there are numerous riders who enjoy doing all of the above. Federation licenses are valid for both road and MTB events of all kinds. The "official" national federation is the FCI (Federazione Ciclistica Italiana), which issues licenses to, and sanctions events for, children, cicloturisti, cicloamatori, dilettanti, elite, and pros. Only permanent residents of Italy may belong. Another important federation is ACSI (Associazione Centri Sportivi Italiani), which is exclusively for cicloamatori and cicloturisti. It is more responsive to their needs (more races for their categories, e.g.), and ninety percent of cicloamatore competition is under ACSI auspices. It also sanctions road, TT, cyclo-cross, track, and MTB races, road and MTB gran fondos, and touring rides, rallys, and competitions. Foreigners are allowed to hold licenses. There are still other federations, such as UISP (Unione Italiana Sport per Tutti). Races are only open to members of the sanctioning federation, but gran fondos and most touring events are open to members of all federations.
For everyday riders like us there are three kinds of licenses available, cicloamatore (competitive), ciclosportivo, and cicloturista (touring). The former entitles a cyclist to enter any kind of race (road, 'cross, track, MTB), as well as granfondos of any distance (he or she will be timed and placed in the classification), and touring events. Holders of cicloturista licenses are permitted to enter touring rides and competitions, and are permitted to ride the short courses of gran fondos. In some cases cicloturisti may not be timed or appear in the GC. (Note: although a gran fondo is by nature over 160 km long, the term is sometimes used loosely and applied to rides of a shorter distance. See the Granfondo and Organized Rides section for more about this topic).
Obtaining a competitive license requires a physical exam by a sports medicine specialist, including a stress test done on a computerized stationary bike. A tourist license requires only a certificate from the cyclist's regular doctor. The license also provides the holder with supplementary medical insurance which covers him/her even while he is training-- as long as he's wearing a helmet. Some people take out a license just for this reason.