Posts Tagged ‘Florence’

The tifosi at the World Championships

October 4, 2013

toscana 2013 finishing gate at road race

Me and Jen are in the seating area by the finish of the World Championship road race, surrounded by hundreds of bellowing Italians. It’s the final lap of the 16.6km circuit, and they are chanting one name: “VIN-CEN-ZO! VIN-CEN-ZO!” Determined Nibali, with the hopes of the host nation resting upon him, has refused to allow Joaquim Rodriguez to escape on the descent of the Fiesole. Earlier, there were long, deep groans followed by much emphatic gesturing towards the video screens when the Giro d’Italia champion slipped on the tarmac, as if the rain’s treachery had caused a deep, personal offence to each and every one of the tifosi here in Florence. “If Nibali wins,” Jen says, stifling a laugh at the very un-British outpouring of emotion, “we’re going to have to run for cover.” I get the feeling we may have to do the same even if he doesn’t…

Such passion is a contrast to four days earlier when polite applause greeted the competitors as they turned into the corner of the time trial circuit that took them north away from the bank of the Arno. Marco Pinotti got a big cheer, as did podium boys Cancellara, Wiggins and Martin, but that was about it. A bewildered Japanese lady got Jen to explain to her how a time trial works after enquiring in broken English if the event was “a European match”; a British woman who had probably wandered down the road from the Uffizi asked two men if they could move out of the way so she could take a picture (the tabards should have been a giveaway: they were press photographers, dear). It’s fair to say these were not big cycling fans.

But seated here at the incongruously named Nelson Mandela forum, it’s clear we are among those who know their Fabians from their Nairos. When Mark Cavendish slows down at the 150m sign moments before becoming one of the 146 riders to abandon, the Italian crowd instantly give the former world champ a rapturous round of applause; some even stand up for him. (A side note on Cav: I would love to know what an annoyed-looking Geraint Thomas said to the Manxman around half an hour into the race as Great Britain needlessly wasted their energy leading the peloton on the 100km-run to the finishing circuit.) One fan who gets to his feet is a testy blond fella in the front row who is not at all pleased that some of those in the crowd from the seats behind him are now politely jostling for space by the barrier. At one point he has a loud argument with one of the attendants. I’d like to tell him he should cool it: he’s in the one sheltered area of the circuit, unlike the poor wet sods on the other side of the road who have to endure diluvial conditions for hours. But I don’t speak Italian, and he’s got a Vinokourov-like pugnacity about him, so I don’t.

The haves and the have-nots: we have a roof, these poor drenched souls do not.

The haves and the have-nots: we have a roof, these poor drenched souls do not.

Each time the race rushes towards us, I experience a measure of what it must have been like when the first cinema audiences saw the Lumiere brothers’ locomotive seemingly burst out of the screen. One second they are televisual images, the next they are right in front of us, like Morten Harket stepping out of his rectangular, one-dimensional prison into the real world. By the time poor Purito becomes flesh and blood for the last time, it’s clear he is about to lose. The Italians yell and cheer, but they’ve stopped banging on the barriers. There’s a sullen silence moments after Rui Costa raises his arms in victory and then everyone begins to shuffle off, except for the Italian Vinokourov. He’s staring into the distance, making a quintessentially Italian hand gesture: thumb, index finger and middle finger pinched together, tapping the side of his head. The azzuri: what were they thinking? Minutes later, as Jen and I trudge with the crowd under the finishing gate, I want to know what the tifosi are thinking too.

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The bicycles of Florence

October 2, 2013

I’ll be writing something soon about what we got up to during the World Championships. In the meantime, here’s a quick post about a few of the bicycles me and Jen saw in the shops and restaurants of Florence.

Lots of businesses put on special bike-themed displays.

shop window in florence with bike

My favourite was in Obika, which is apparently a “mozzarella bar” (not sure how that works – “A pint of cheese, please barman!”) nestled amid a number of upmarket shops on the Via dé Tornabuoni. Rather than put bikes behind glass, they stuck their vintage machines in the courtyard which serves as the main dining area.

obika florence bianchi

obika florence bartali bicycle

It was a bit weird going in there, gawping at their Bianchi and Bartali bicycles and leaving without actually ordering anything. My nerves got to me, which is why one of the pictures came out a bit blurry.

obika florence l'eroica

I’m sorry, reader. I’m so, so sorry.

If the bikes in Obika represented one identifiable aspect of Italy – the love and respect of tradition – then the machine in the window of the Salvatore Ferragamo outlet represented the country’s opposite trait: the unashamed pride in showing off. Behold, reader, a gold bicycle in all its glory…

salvatore ferragamo gold bike

Jen wasn’t impressed. That’s her on the left, looking bored. Each to their own.

I’ve written something for the latest issue of Cycling Weekly

September 26, 2013

I wasn’t going to do any blogposts this week as me and Jen are in Florence for the World Championships. So this is just a quick note to say that my review of the Challenge Vercors is in the current edition of Cycling Weekly. I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently it’s in the sportive round-up and it looks something like this…

cycling weekly challenge vercors review

It’s got snow, a gorge and I dun rote it. What else could you possibly ask for? Buy your copy today! (Or tomorrow if you’re busy.)

It will cost you €100 to stand on one of the best spots of the World Championships’ course

September 4, 2013

Jen and I have been planning our trip to the World Championships, which takes place at the end of the month. We figured it would probably be a right old hassle to get from our hotel in Florence to the Fiesole, the longest of two climbs on the closing circuit, so we decided to fork out €100 each for seats by the finish line. And I’m pleased that we did, because we’re going to be in row ‘A’! Woo-hoo! That’ll be a prime perving spot for Jen, especially if David Millar turns up.

As far as I know, getting into the grandstand at the finish of the Worlds usually involves opening your wallet – there was certainly a charge last year in Valkenburg, and I’m pretty sure that was also the case when Cipollini triumphed at Zolder in 2002, although I was on a press trip that year so I was too busy scoffing vol-au-vents in the VIP area to investigate. What has surprised me this time ’round is that the Italians are also charging €100 to watch the race on the Via Salviati, the finishing circuit’s short, punchy climb… and you don’t even get to park your bum on a plastic seat.

So, basically, that’s €100 to experience what most of us expect to do for free: stand by the side of a public road and watch a bike race. That sounds a bit rubbish, doesn’t it?

To be fair, the climb is only 600m long and it appears to be quite narrow, judging by footage three enthusiastic Americans have made of the circuit…

uci worlds circuit 2013 via salviati

…so ticketing is probably an effective way of limiting access to what appears to be a restricted space. And the price gives you three days’ access, which covers the men’s, women’s and juniors’ road races.

But even so, it’s £84. Access to Box Hill, the centrepiece of the 2012 Olympic road race, only cost 15 quid. Why so blimmin’ high, UCI?

Not talking of Michelangelo

February 19, 2012

Last summer, I was sitting by the pool of a modest three-star hotel in northern Italy when a clubmate mentioned riding to Florence. A few dozen of us were going to participate in the Nove Colli, a 124-mile bicycle ride through the late Marco Pantani’s hilly backyard in Cesenatico, and Florence was another 90 miles away. Would I really want to sacrifice vital pool-lounging time to ride an extra 180 miles? A silly question: of course I would. We’re talking about Florence, the city of angels and gods, a place where centuries-old representations of divinity are scattered around cathedrals, churches, public squares, everywhere. It is a place of gawping and wonderment, even if you never get to see the poised, uber-human form of Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia – and clomping around a gallery in cleats is an impractical idea anyway, even if we did find somewhere safe to leave our bikes. But we’d be tired after such a long ride, and we wouldn’t have much time to spare, so I asked what in particular my cyclechums planned to see.

The answer? Nothing. The idea was just to ride there, have a coffee, and ride back again. Experiencing Florence for what it is – the world’s most abundant repository of beauty – was simply not on the agenda. But coffee was.

So if, by some miracle, this colourful fragment of the blogosphere’s fresco is being scrutinised after the apocalypse, I would like to suggest to the scholarly descendants of the few who survived that the collapse of civilization did not begin with the groan and judder of the global economy, but with the notion that we didn’t need to bother with the heart-stopping awesomeness of art; we could make do with crushed beans, boiling water and hot, frothy cow juice instead.

I realise that some of the flat white fraternity may lob the ugly accusation of anti-coffeeism at me, so let me just say for the record that some of my best friends are black-liquidistas. And, as a modern cycleperson, I have been known to happily participate in the simple post-ride pleasure of a coffee and a chinwag. But I find it baffling how drinking coffee has been stealthily elevated from banal ritual to cultural display. Plugging his new e-book in The Times last week, Will Self noted that art, film, literature and theatre once constituted culture, but thanks to an emergent interest in dining out, “all you needed to be cultured in the late 1990s was a small bowl of extra-virgin olive oil and some warm Italian bread to dab in it”. Now, it seems, the notion of culture has devolved even further: I have friends and acquaintances who talk and tweet about bean water with the same passion and enthusiasm that was once reserved for books, movies and music. In fact, I can’t recall any of them being as excited about, say, a new album or novel as they have been about a newly-discovered coffee outlet or a half-decent barista. The brewed awakening of the early ’90s, which began when American coffee shops appeared on British streets, gave us beverages that tasted better; perhaps it also inadvertently eroded some people’s willingness, in the cultural sense, to cultivate taste.

But hey, you don’t need art when just sitting in a coffee shop can make you feel all arty and creative. Chris Ward, a man who I have spent many a mile pedalling alongside on London Dynamo rides, has written a book about working from coffee shops, in which he notes that “writers, actors, artists etc don’t work in an office – so why are you?” Perhaps one response to this conundrum is that many Starbucks-bound writers would love an empty office to work in, and you can’t rehearse a soliloquy or create a sculpture in the middle of Caffè Nero. But if you want to feel really clever, why not visit Prufrock? The name comes from a T. S. Eliot poem – you know, the one that goes: “In the room the women come and go, Talking of Michelangelo.” I just hope that the eponymous narrator – a sexually frustrated social inadequate who measures out his life “with coffee spoons” – doesn’t reflect how the company views its target customer. Or maybe they’re banking on their punters not knowing too much about poetry.

As for that bike ride to Florence… well, we never went in the end. I guess the appeal of coffee, even to its most ardent fans, has its limits after all.