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. 


(left, above) A vintage bicycle with matching owner, enjoying the attention; (center) an Italian cycling devil;
(right) a local inventor expounds on his ingenious (but aesthetically disastrous) creation.
(below right) A bicyclist passes through an 800-year-old gate on his way to shop at the weekly outdoor market in Cittadella  

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 wew kids and followed their progress up the ranks. They have fan clubs organized by proud and adoring neighbors, friends, and family. They're guys-next-door, and everyone has ridden with them at one time or another. Some past Veneto riders of note include Giovanni Battaglin, Eros Poli, Flavio Vanzella, Dario Bottaro, Nicola Minali, Andrea Chiurato, Bruno Cenghialta, Massimo Ghirotto, Roberto Pagnin, Marco Zen, Stefano Zanatta, Marzio Bruseghin, Alberto Ongarato, Pietro Caucchioli, Filippo Pozzato, Fabio Baldato, Mirco Lorenzetto, Andrea Moletta, Simone Cadamuro, Francesco Bellotti, Giorgio Furlan, Carlo Finco, Massimo Strazzer, Endrio Leoni, the late Denis Zanette, Michele Gobbi, Alessandro Brendolin, Devis Miorin, Marco Fincato, Andrea Ferrigato, Andrea Ballan, Alessandro Ballan, Cristian Salvato, Giacomo Battistel, Stefano Casagranda, Mariano Piccoli, Gianni Faresin, Silvio Martinello, Davide Casarotto, Stefano Cattai, Mauro Battiston, and Moreno Pezzè. (Linguistic note: surnames ending in "n" are typically Veneto).

See the page dedicated to our current VENETO PROS.


Pasta Zara-Cogeas, the professional women's team is headquartered in nearby Cornuda. 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 have raced for the team. Diana, now the DS, has been a familiar sight on our roads since the days of the "dream team," Acca Due O/Lorena, and has been "adopted" by the locals, who proudly claim her as one of their own.

Everyone fondly remembers the Acca Due O riders, several of whom lived in a house 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.

(above) Nonna Marcellina's house in Cornuda, decorated in the rainbow jersey colors in celebration of Diana Ziliute's victory in the world championships. It was similarly decorated for her Grand Boucle victory.


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. 2002/2005 Giro champion Paolo Savoldelli, 2004 Giro stage winner Emmanuele Sella, and 2004 Giro winner Damiano Cunego 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.


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.

Ciclo Ombre

The word ombra means "shadow," but in 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-up of choice cream.

at left, 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 1986 he climbed the Stelvio when it was 10 degrees below zero (centigrade) and covered with snow--in 2 hours and 20 min.
• in 1989 he climbed the Stelvio on a bike without handlebars or brakes in 1 hour and 17 minutes.

Visit his site to see more photos, and a list of his 12 Guiness World Records.

photo at left from (the mountain in the background is the Sassolungo, as seen from the Sella Pass)


One Sunday afternoon as I was standing on a hairpin curve on the Rosina, waiting for a pro women's race to come by, I noted a descending rider headed straight for the apex of the turn...he hit his brakes hard...his rear wheel came off the road, and--"ooooh nooo!" I thought, cringing in expectation of what would happen next. What happened next was that he rounded the turn on his front wheel! "Did he do that on purpose," I wondered, "or is he just an extraordinary bike handler...or very lucky?" I decided to change my viewing spot and went back down the hill a bit. Soon I see the same guy riding back up the hill...pulling a wheelie! I hear people shouting his name, cheering him on. A photographer next to me, who snapped this photo, tells me he's Simone Temperato...and then it clicks: why, he's the guy who climbed Monte Grappa


riding a wheelie--while carrying a bike across his shoulders! He's our local legend: Magico Tempe! I later had a chance to chat with him, and he told me that he'd been a champion bike trials rider. People said, sure you can do that trick stuff, you have a special bike. Ha! At that point, he decided to strut his stuff on a road bike. The only thing people can say now about his exploits is: unbelieveable! He even amazes himself, he told me. Check out his website and see for yourself.


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.

(right) A cicloamatore race for gentlemen (masters 48+) and supergentlemen (56+)


For everyday riders like us there are two kinds of licenses available, cicloamatore (competitive) and cicloturista (touring). The former entitles a cyclist to enter any kind of race (road, 'cross, track, MTB), as well as gran fondos 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.

The tiny winners of a popular race held every year in my town


Here the sport of cycling is respected, esteemed, revered, even venerated--but it's not considered cool. It's just another mainstream sport, with no particular aura or mystique. It's not a cult or a clique, nor does it have an elitist, snobby, or upscale image--on the contrary, it has traditionally been the people's sport, practiced by working class guys, tradesmen, artisans, small town merchants, and farmers, not well-to-do professionals with university degrees. With Italy being the affluent country it now is, today's cyclists may come from any profession and socio-economic group, but the humble and down-to-earth image of the sport remains, and that's just the way everyone likes it. Even most of the pros are regarded as regular, hard-working guys, in contrast to the rich and glamorous stars of sports such as soccer and Formula 1. Pros are down-to-earth and accessible and we ride the same roads they do--even with them, sometimes--so there is a special bond between them and their fans that exists in no other sport.

There is a great deal of camaraderie and solidarity among all members of the vast cycling community. Cyclists will always stop to give other cyclists a helping hand (and motorists often will too).

Italians are fond of saying that "cycling is a school for life." One of the first lessons is humility, and here it comes naturally. With so many great riders on our roads, only a fool would have any illusions or pretensions about his own greatness or importance in the cycling scheme of things. Poseurs can't fool anyone for long. Everyone knows how hard the sport is and can appreciate and respect the efforts of other riders, regardless of their riding level, attire, gender, age, physique, or bike. There are no bike fashion police or silly sets of rules concocted by self-proclaimed "purists" who like to think they're in the know and feel superior (such as not wearing pro team jerseys, not carrying a saddle bag, wearing black shorts and white socks only, wearing sunglasses over helmet straps, etc). There's no term corresponding to "fred." You'll see plenty of cyclists wearing the jerseys of their favorite teams and others decked out in the latest fashionable kits, but you'll also see overweight old guys with jerseys stretched to the limit and blown out, droopy lycra shorts, riders wearing outdated, mis-matched pro kits and sneakers, and riding hybrid bikes, folks wearing t-shirts with bib shorts straps over them, and infinite combinations and variations of the above.  The fact is, there are simply far too many cyclists for anyone to take particular notice of anyone else, or for anyone to stand out in a crowd. Everyone just rides his own ride, content to enjoy the sport in his or her own way. Italians will certainly admire a beautiful frame with intelligently chosen components (and they will ask questions about, discuss, and even critique your choices), but just having a top-of-the-line famous-brand bike will impress no one. Italians will compliment a cyclist's elegant riding position and graceful pedaling style, or her grinta, determination, and savvy on a climb, regardless of her speed. But forget about impressing anyone with your exploits: there's nothing you can do that hasn't been done--and outdone--many times over. Someone will have climbed the mountain faster, ridden more passes in a day, suffered even more extreme weather conditions, or won harder races...thus, most cyclists here are a modest and unassuming lot...and that includes the pros.


Italian cyclists aren't into projecting an image or broadcasting their membership in the cycling fraternity. This form of "self-expression" is just not part of the Italian character or culture. Besides, no one cares if you're a cyclist anyway--there are thousands of others, everywhere you look! Therefore you won't see cars displaying cycling-related stickers, folks wearing cycling t-shirts, neckties, or bike chain bracelets, nor using bicycle-shaped pizza cutters, Christmas tree ornaments, or similar gadgets and do-dads, nor sporting Campagnolo tattoos (Italians are more likely to use Shimano or SRAM componants on their frames, anyway). Cycling is as commonplace as baseball and basketball are in the US. It is not an exotic sport from a faraway land. Campagnolo is just a local manufacturer of bike parts, not cult objects inspiring veneration. That flashy jersey on a passing rider might be advertising nothing more glamorous than a local muffler shop or beauty salon. Romance is in the eye of the beholder.


The late Giovanni "Nani" Pinarello...from maglia nera (last place finisher) in the Giro to internationally famous entrepreneur. He was often found in his store in Treviso, selling bikes to both racers and little old ladies. 



Visiting Americans are often surprised to see so few serious women riders about. (There are 130,000 cicloamatori and cicloturisti in Italy, only 5% of them female). To understand why, we must know a little about the development of cycling here, and to be cognizant of differing cultural concepts of femininity. Until the 60's, Italy was not a wealthy nation, and the Veneto was just another poor region. Bicycles were used primarily for transportation. People worked hard and had neither the energy nor the free time to engage in recreational cycling as we know it today. A Sunday spin with one's family or sweetheart was as far as it went. Of course there were those relatively few hardy and intrepid souls who competed in what was even a more rough, grueling, and gritty sport than it is today: bikes without gears, dirt roads, and no mechanical or feeding support to speak of. It was certainly not a sport for women (although there was one gutsy female who competed in a long-ago Giro d'Italia--see below). As cycling as a pastime gained popularity, women still did not take to it. It was considered a male--and decidely unfeminine--sport, and most women just weren't interested in doing it, any more than an American woman would want to play tackle football. There were few role models for woman cyclists, and little encouragement or support for them. But in recent years, the changing of women's roles, and "glamorous" champions such as Alessandra Cappellotto and Paola Pezzo helped make cycling more attractive and acceptable to women, and in the past few years, I've noticed many more women on the road. (That's not to say there are many of us though--in the 2014 Maratona dles Dolomites there were 8,161 starters, 808 of whom were women, many of them foreigners). Female cyclists, however, do not regard themselves as victimized members of an oppressed minority, deserving of special rights and consideration, and thus are not prone to whining, complaining, and making unreasonable demands. They just go out and ride and have fun.

(right) Alessandra Cappellotto looking good at the '99 Worlds in Verona.


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 just as much 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! As a result, I feel quite safe riding on Italian roads. This situation is changing though, as our immigrant population grow and there are more and more drivers from countries lacking the Veneto's cycling tradition and driver training. Other insidious threats have arrived in the increasing popularity of SUVs, which are simply too large for many of our favorite little cycling roads, arrogant drivers (usually in expesive Audis, Land Rovers, etc) who think they are above the law, and an increasing number of drivers under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or cell phones.

A number of my non-cycling friends have complained to me about cyclists riding two or more abreast and failing to move over (and they are right! I get angry with inconsiderate cyclists myself). I've seen drivers irate when they had to wait in a long line for a raduno (rally) to pass, or needed make a detour because a road had been closed for a gran fondo. One acquaintance said he thought that cyclists looked weird (in our "space" helmets) and pathetic (suffering up climbs), and another said he thought that cyclists were a rowdy and unrefined bunch (true, usually 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, violence, or road rage. 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 (we were on an organized ride on an island in the Venetian lagoon, where there were no bushes to be found anywhere). They've stopped to ask us if us 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. Someone wrote, "In Italy, you are never alone." How true, and it is indeed a wonderful 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. I think they see us as "just folks"--genuine, good-hearted, affable, decent, and non-threatening. They admire our stamina and sense of adventure, and understand the romance of the road that beckons us.


"...poi Dio creò la bicicletta perchè l'uomo ne facesse strumento di fatica e di esaltazione nell'arduo itinerario della vita. ...essa è diventata monumento all'epopea sportiva della nostra gente che sempre è stata aspra nella virtù, dolce nel sacrificio." 

                                                    Bruno Raschi

"...then God created the bicycle so that man could make of it an instrument of toil and of exultation on the arduous journey of became a monument to the sporting epic
of our people, who have always been strict of virtue, sweet in sacrifice."


©2001-2018 The BiciVeneto lion logo and all text and photos on this site are, unless otherwise noted, the sole property of April Pedersen Santinon. Duplication, reproduction, or use of the text, images, and photos without the author's permission is strictly prohibited.

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