Cycling in France or Italy is on the bucket list for most Australian cycling enthusiasts. Croydon Cycleworks tours have been running for some years to France and now Italy. Here is a little background on my passion for the cycling culture in Italy and why it draws me back.
You may know a little about the Croydon Cycleworks/Pick-a-Part cycling team captain, Tom Leaper. Tom is now 39 years old and still racing strongly, but did you know during his professional career he raced the Giro D’Italia in 2000 and 2001 for the Italian team Panaria-Gaerne?
I asked him about his recollection of racing the Italian grand tour…
“ The 2001 Giro (my 2nd) started with a flat and straight prologue in Pescara on the central east coast of Italy. I was lean and strong and started the prologue fast averaging 60km/hr in the tailwind, just fading in the 2nd half though to finish mid-field. Rolling back to the start house, Mario Cippollini was on the ramp ready to go, dressed in the infamous “muscle” skin suit with no helmet and a fabio hairstyle he looked like something out of a horror movie. Stage 2 took us into the rolling hills before several flat stages for the sprinters. The fans would line the roads to see the local heroes, their favourite was clearly Marco Pantani. Every stage the roars for Pantani and Cippo were deafening. The colour of the Giro and the beauty of the country were amazing. The people made it even more special and the racing was harder than I’d ever experienced. Too hard as it turned out, I ended stage 12 with pneumonia and a trip to hospital. My Mexican team mate Julio Perez later won a stage and my team Panaria-Fiordo now known as Bardiani – CSF has had much success at this race over the years. Although I didn’t finish the race that year, it is something I’ll always remember. The Giro may not be as big as the TDF but it is the most beautiful race in the world. “
Nowadays Tom is a committed family man, and as leader of our NRS team sets a great example for our younger riders. Tom is still a force on the bike as many local Elite riders will attest to!
While not on the same level as Tom, shop owner Mick Jamison has his own Italian connection. Selected for the 1991 national mountain bike team to race the UCI worlds which that year were held in Italy, Mick was billeted with the rest of the team to a mountain village near Lucca (in Tuscany).
“Racing and riding in Italy was an amazing experience. We were treated like kings in the village we stayed in (Coreglia Antiminelli) and the lead up to the worlds was very exciting, with lots of racing and hard training on the most beautiful country roads in the hills of Tuscany. The locals were very friendly and gave us lots of support and encouragement, and even tried to teach us how to play volleyball! One of the team members and my training partner back in Melbourne (Scott Steward) had raced with the Fanini road team in Italy following being signed up after representing Australia in the road race at the Seoul Olympics, and so had plenty of local knowledge. The actual worlds didn’t go great for the team, handicapped with a starting position a long way from the front row on a course with limited passing opportunities. Even so it was amazing to be part of this event with the huge crowds lining the track making a deafening noise! Scott rode well working his way through the field to finish 20th, and with a decent starting position would easily been in the top 10. My race finished on foot with a broken rear deraileur on the last lap. Mind you we were up against it, I remember peaking inside the Italian team motorhome the day before our race and seeing an Italian team rider hooked up to a blood bag hanging beside him. It didnt stop American mountain bike legend John Tomac taking the XC gold medal, much to the chagrin of the euro brigade. Tomac was a fantastic rider and a true gentleman. He nearly doubled up by taking a silver medal in the downhill a few days later. In those days it was still common for riders to race in both disciplines.
Racing, riding and living in Italy for this short time was an unforgettable experience. I cant wait to return to Italy to see the Giro in 2015. If you are interested in joining a small tour group to see the Giro and ride the famous climbs of the Dolomites, please register your interest at Croydon Cycleworks. Click here for more information on our tours.