I have always liked to have people around, but the circumstances of life are such that I find myself more lonely than I used to be. Fai di necessità virtù, they say. I still dislike loneliness; but there is one specific instance when I can appreciate living on my own (Dee do de de dee do de de I don’t have no time for no monkey business) and that is when I am on a bike.
So here we go again. At the crossroads of Valais and Ticino, the Granfondo San Gottardo is one of the hardest cycling sportive events of the year. For me, this race had a special gist for three additional reasons: (i) it takes place in Switzerland, where I have been living for a few months this year; (ii) it is harder than the other races I have done before, with 110 km and three mountain passes to climb for a total of more than 3000 m of elevation; (iii) Nicco and Giallu had decided to come with me, so we could be together just like last year in Trentino. To this, it must be added that I am in the middle of a tumultuous process of moving out from my home: I was relieved to have such distraction.
Onto our road trip with Nicco and Giallu then! We drove from Florence to Ambrì and we planted our tent in the airport. After a very wet and sleepless night we got up at 6AM, had a heavy breakfast and started our race at 8AM. Up to San Gottardo, Furka, and Novena. This is how my race went on Strava; and this is how it went in pictures.
It went pretty much as we expected. San Gottardo is smooth and pleasant; Furka is long and steady; Novena is consuming and never-ending. But we finished! Even Nicco, who got a flat tyre on the descent from Furka and spent about 45 minutes looking for a pump. I rode my bike for 4 hours and 42 minutes, with two long breaks at the feeding points, crossing the finish line at 2:40PM.
In the evening we drove to Neuchatel and the next day we visited Montreux and cruised through the San Bernardo pass, Aosta and Genova. We arrived in Florence in the middle of the night and I have been packing up my belongings ever since.
Racing a Gran Fondo was one of my resolutions for 2016; I have now raced three. This is it: all my aces are on the floor. In the coming months I won’t have time to train properly and I won’t have the determination to do all the sacrifices that the preparation for a Gran Fondo requires. So farewell to my bike and all of that: what a ride it was.
Neuchâtel, 26 giugno
Giallu, Nicco, Ivan, Alvise.
Quest’anno ho imparato che per prepararmi a una gara è necessario leggere e studiare il mondo della bicicletta. Non si tratta solo di curiosità: lo si fa per motivarsi e vivere con entusiasmo queste scorribande. I giorni scorsi mi è stata regalata una bellissima rivista di ciclismo, dalla quale vi inoltro la seguente citazione estrapolata da un racconto il cui protagonista si cimenta in un fine-settimana ciclistico in Scozia: I was in the middle of a year devoted to exactly this sort of trip – micro-adventures, I call them – and it was proving to be much more rewarding than I had anticipated. Since I began taking on these provocatively mundane expeditions, I had discovered that coming up with an interesting plan (and committing to making it happen) virtually always guarantees a challenging and rewarding experience. All you need is something difficult, somewhere new and a bit of imagination. For someone cursed with eternal ‘fernweh’, a beautiful German word meaning a craving for distant places, the year of micro-adventures was an excellent, regular tonic.
Eccomi dunque con un programma interessante per una micro-avventura. Il 23 luglio partiamo in macchina alla volta di Airolo. La sera dormiamo lì – in casa? in tenda? Il 24 luglio gareggiamo nella Gran Fondo del San Gottardo (daje!). Speriamo di arrivare in fondo davanti alla macchina-scopa. Poi guidiamo fino a Neuchatel: lì dovrei riuscire a garantire un alloggio gratuito per tutti e forse anche una cena da amici, etc. Notte di riposo e rientro in Italia il 25 luglio. Diamoci come obiettivo quello di fare, anche per conto nostro, almeno 350km nelle settimane tra il 2 e il 23 luglio.
Update, 2 luglio: nemmeno il tempo di rientrare in Italia che siamo già in sella. Alle 6:30 siamo partiti da Firenze, alle 8:00 arriviamo all’Impruneta, alle 9:00 a Panzano, e alle 12:00 siamo sparaparanzati a mangiare schiacciate farcite in questa famosa pizzicheria di Chiesanuova. Vamos.
Lucerne/Olten, June 26
This morning I hopped on a train. I had decided to spend the entire day roaming randomly from one town to the other, familiarizing to a very Swiss habit: living on a railway. I though of this as the proper opportunity to wish farewell to those things and people that have become part of my life in the last three months, since the moment I first moved here. So I am going to do it now: this is what comes to my mind when I think back of my time here.
Trains, indeed. Switzerland is a country of commuters. Trains here are a bit like the tube: people use them every day, because they are so comfortable, frequent, and fast. And, of course, Swiss cities are on average pretty small, so it’s easy to walk everywhere once you are in the train station. So trains, that’s one thing I will miss. I, myself, traveled to la-Chaux-de-Fonds, Lausanne, Zurich, Bern, Geneve, Lucerne, Interlaken, and a lot of small towns. These were silent, peaceful, and scenic rides. I hope more of them will come in the future.
I will remember the army kids in the train stations. They are so many. I guess that is because each male citizen below 35 has the duty to serve for something like three weeks each year. This must be reason why youngsters in their uniforms are a common view in this country. They keep their hands in the pockets and smoke, talk, drink. It is a funny contrast, because their youth and small rebellious acts defy the nature of the uniform they wear.
I will enormously miss the Black Office and regret I did not spend more time there. It is here that I learnt the basics of how to fix a bike and it is also here that I was able to exercise my proto-French without much fear. I have great respect for the idea of helping people to fix their bikes and the sense of community based on good-will I found there.
And then there are all the other small things that are so stereotypical and true: the cows I met during my long rides across Romandie; the watch-makers in La-Locle; the weird blend of languages, which I find somehow exciting; the general sense of hospitality; the rare days of sun on the lake; the local beers, like BFM; the green fields and the mountains, which unfortunately I have not explored; the bizarre monuments in the cities; the Portuguese immigrant community of Neuchatel, providing each morning pastel de nata and coffee; and the counter-cultures, like the anarchism of the Black Office, the bike messengers, the rural communities of Jura, and the urban movements of Zurich.
I will remember fondly the office and the environment that welcomed me there. I got a lot of work done and I like to say that it is because there is not much social distraction in Neuchatel. But this was also because the nccr has provided me with so many resources – it was a genuine pleasure to dig deep into them. Apart from work, many colleagues also proved to be kind friends. Running the risk of not making justice to all, I will remember Marco, Stefanie, Flo, Eva, Valentin, Robin, David, Rorick, and Alice. And, of course, Jean-Thomas, who has done much to integrate me, both professionally and socially. I already knew his attitude; but it is only after these three months together that I have come to know his values and personality. It has been an education.
In the end, my most vivid images are those created during my long rides in the countryside of Romandie. Neuchatel was much more alive seen through the lenses of two slim wheels. Perhaps I, myself, am a bit like a bike: balance only comes when I am in motion. So there I go again, off to new uncertain beginnings. Because without them the heights would not feel so great, would they?
Alright – one more post about bikes because this year cycling is the thing that keeps me going – quite literally. So upon my arrival to Neuchâtel I bought a second-hand race bike from the 1990s, a Scott that I could not use right away: it had some mechanical issues and had to be fixed. Last Sunday I brought here my old Bianchi that I had used until 2013. At the same time I also fixed the Scott, thus passing from having zero road bikes available to having two. And I went nuts, biking every single day and riding up to over 100k.
On Thursday afternoon* I decided to take a tour of the entire lake of Neuchâtel, which is – surprise, surprise – the biggest lake of Switzerland. I took a few pictures on the way; unfortunately I could not, however, take photos of the kids waiving on the street and of the cat that had a funny look after I got lost right in front of him – or her?
Today I decided I would go up on the mountains, so I climbed the Chasserat, which at 1.600 m stands as the highest peak of the area. It felt like travelling back in time, when I had an old bike and I used to ride alone in the mountains, surrounded by snow, pine trees, and bees. It was a pretty emotional ride.
With these two improvised rides I sailed through the cantons of Neuchâtel, Vaud, Fribourg, Jura, and if I were brave enough to ride 30K more I could have crossed the border with France. So many invisible frontiers all together.
* it was a bank holiday, here. This is something which keeps happening to me:in the last few years I managed to be in the UK for the UK Early May bank holiday, in the Netherlands for Queen’s Day, in Spain for the Semana Santa, and now here for whatever it was vacation of May. Too many undeserved days off.
I have received a few messages from readers complaining for the abrupt interruption of publications on this blog. To be honest, it is mainly relatives worried about my health – a reasonable concern in light of recent events and previously expounded theories. Unlike my blog and Aston Villa, I am still doing fine. In the last few weeks I have been traveling. Let me sum up so I myself can keep track.
First off to Spain. It is a shame I do not have a good camera, because there are so many vivid imagies I should have captured. Instead I only took a picture of a book which I found in a museum of photography. I thought it was funny that it appeared randomly open on a picture of South Tyrollean valleys. Anyways. I was in Madrid for work and I stayed in a room in Lavapies, arguably one of the city’s most vibrant, alternative, and popular neighbourhoods. My stay was courtesy of Pedro, whom I hope to meet soon. Then down to Sevilla, also for work: I could barely appreciate La Giralda, el Alcazar, la Torre del Oro, el Guadalquivir, which I had already seen in 2009 in a torrid day at around 45° when I was living in Granada with Anna. This time my mind was closed, much more closed than it used to be, so I only had a remote glimpse of the exotism, the monuments, the women, the fiestas. As a sentence written in a lost book, todos hellos parecian confabulates para arrastrar a los centavos mas alla de lo que los limited que podian proportioner una domesticate imagination.
Then back to Florence. Unfortunately I had to cancel my participation to the Florence Gran Fondo which took place today (sic), because I am away. However, I still managed to go on a couple of long rides with Giallu and Bjorn. It is probably safe to assume that I have ridden more kilometres in 2016 than in the previous three years combined. And it has become somehow addictive.
Cycling is really becoming a thing for me. I am spending too much money buying fancy outfits, too much time watching highlights of professional races, too much energy studying stories of old champions.
The video above is about the story of a Swiss rider, Hugo Koblet. And it is probably fitting, since I just moved to Neuchâtel to work on my PhD dissertation – hint: that’s why I had to miss today’s Gran Fondo in Florence. Here, again, I have to thank Jean-Thomas, who made my stay possible and provided such gorgeous looks on the lake.
Yesterday was a grey, chilly and cloudy day over Florence. In spite of these supremely sub-optimal conditions, Daniel, Jonas, Bjorn, Benedikt and I went to Arezzo by bike – about 90k in 3 hours and a half. It was frigid, painful, and amusing: we shall go again.
Ah – when we arrived in Arezzo we had lunch in this place, where we were the only customers. The owners were very nice to us, gave us excellent and elegantly prepared food. They did not pay me for advertising the place, but I will do it nonetheless.
(I could have thought of a more original title for this one).
Giulia, Dani, Ada, Vivian, Anna, Fabio, Giallu, Martina, Mariana, mamma, babbo, Johannes, Mariam, Fatima, two random kids, Nele, Chloé, another random kid driving a yellow car in front of an elderly guy with funny socks. Santo Spirito, Livorno (and cacciucco), Lucca (and the Comics), San Miniato, Fiesole. 2015: join me for a very Tuscan Fall.