What does the humble bicycle mean to you?
To me, it’s many things: discovery, freedom, enjoyment, pain, exploration, emotion and excitement. It is the humble bicycle that has allowed me to see thousands of kilometres of backroads around tens of different countries. It is the bicycle that has given me some of the greatest thrills and spills that I’ve had in my life.
My point is, riding a bike is much more than simply pedalling. It is a way of life.
In my five years of racing internationally, I’m lucky to have witnessed some pretty incredible places on the bike. There’s my current home of Girona, with some of the most beautiful roads in all of Europe. There was my year living in Chambery, at the foot of Mont du Chat. I discovered the Tuscan roads of Italy at a training camp and raced up and down a winding road to an old castle in Brescia.
Riding a bike is always fun, but it’s even better when you’re doing it somewhere new. One of my favourite moments on the bike is a random day out in Tuscany on training camp last year. We were staying on the coast, near a small town called Castagneto Carducci. Right on the coast, the roads aren’t quite as good as they are deep into the Tuscan Hills, but we weren’t complaining. Scratch that, we probably were complaining because we’re pro bike riders and that also makes us professional complainers.
Anyway, everyday we rode out on this same road, and there was an old castle sitting on top of one of the hills. Around halfway through the camp we had a rest day, and while rolling past the castle for what felt like the hundredth time that week, one of the boys suggested we ride up to it.
The tarmac road turned to gravel and then we’re met by a big fence. Now, I’m not advising that you should climb any fences, as it was probably private property, but that’s exactly what we did in search of this castle. With our sense of adventure on overdrive, we climbed up a little further and were met by an incredible view. Ride a little further, now on mud rather than gravel, and we’re met with the crumbling castle walls. It’s not exactly what we expected, but the views from the top were well worth it.
A very sketchy descent back down followed. A couple of boys got in the car to not risk crashing, a couple threw caution to the wind and rode down it FAST, then a couple of us half waddled, half pedalled down.
From a training perspective, it was pointless. I imagine we did close to forty hours training over the ten days we spent in Tuscany, but the moment that is imprinted on my brain is that short off-road detour in search of a castle. Sometimes the road less travelled is the road you should take.
There are many places still to cross off my bucket list. I want to ride in the cycling crazy country of Rwanda. I want to explore the mountains around Vancouver and Colorado too. Closer to home, I want to tackle the Dolomites.
The Dolomites scare all cyclists. They’re ever so long and ever so unpredictable. I’ve watched the battles happen at the Giro d’Italia and there’s something about it that makes me want to try it for myself. Cycling is different in Italy. They say Belgium is the homeland of cycling, but you could quite easily give Italy that title too.
Italy once ruled the cycling scene, both from a professional and amateur perspective, but in the 21st century it seems to have been overtaken by other nations. Maybe it’s because there isn’t an Italian superstar like Pantani or Cipollini. Maybe it’s because there isn’t an Italian super team like Mapei. Maybe this, maybe that, Italian cycling fans are still up there with the most passionate in the world.
Ironically, for a nation steeped in cycling traditions, Italy has embraced gravel racing like no other European nation. You could argue that gravel is the new kid on the block, you could also argue it’s a harp back to original road racing that was done on broken roads. From Strade Bianche which is practically the sixth Monument, to the Gravel World Champs which is the start of something new. Italy is embracing it.
Want to explore Italian cycling culture for yourself?
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