Monday, September 12, 2011

Giro della Toscana 2011

There's my team, as we departed for what was my third time participating in the annual "Giro della Toscana". I completed the medio fondo loop through Chianti with great company, perfect weather and the grape harvest taking place in the background. There were 900 participants, among which there were according to the organizers,  a "discrete" number of women particpants.  I counted fewer than 20.  In Tuscany, cycling is a male dominated sport. (Meno male?)

What pleases me so much about this genre of cycling events in Italy is that you ride for your team and win with your team, not for yourself.  These non-competitive rides are very different than anything I know of in the United States. They are hosted by a bike team and are never-for-profit.  In order to participate, you must have a license and be a member of a UISP-sanctioned bike team, requiring that you pass a drug test, stress test and medical exam. The entry-fee is nominal, usually less than  €10.  What you get is worth 10 times that.

You must wear your team jersey.  Everything is done as a team. You win as a team.  Points are awarded to the teams, based on number of team members participating and the aggregate distance that you ride.  And you win for food.  The winning teams are awarded trophies, but more importantly, entire prosciuttos, both crudo and cotto, local cheeses, pasta and bottles of wine.

The itinerary is replete with refueling stations, at which you pause to eat assorted local specialties.  At our rest stop in Panzano, Dario Ceccini, the world famous butcher was out there with his crew, carving up salami, finocchiona, pecorino, shiacciata, and serving crostini with truffle oil.

There's no such thing as a "race face" here. The teams have tremendous child-like passion and they are not afraid to show it.  Everyone smiles and chats, even the men with hard bodies.  You see alot of older, very happy men, but they all have one thing in common. Passion.  You feel it all around you, it's contagious.  At the end, there is a pasta party, of course, this is where it was invented. We started out with baseball-sized mozarella balls, prosciutto and melon, salami, and then on to the pasta and dolci.

As if this were not enough, each cyclist receives an amazing pacco gara, (a goodie bag brilliantly designed to wear on your back so you can carry it while biking back home) filled with Italian energy food and a book of art and culture in Tuscany. 

In addition, the women participants received something very special!  A glittery silver, sequin-trimmed make-up bag with sunscreen, anti-aging cream, makeup, deoderant and soaps.  It was truly a lovely way to acknowledge and encourage us women to keep on coming.  How very cool.