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Thursday, March 5, 2015

The REAL racing season starts

We're off to see Strade Bianche this weekend.

As the REAL pro racing season ramps up this weekend with Strade Bianche in Tuscany, far too many of you in the USA will despair of seeing these great races. Check HERE to find out how to get 'em on your computer, then hook it up to your big-screen TV, make yourself a cappuccino, then sit back and enjoy.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Roman Holiday

Last Saturday was our 25th wedding anniversary, but both of us were feeling the effects of a whirlwind tour of Sicily and didn't much feel like celebrating. So we put things off until this Saturday, feeling good enough for an assault on Monte Mario!

There are not many big climbs here in Rome but this one features some steep switchbacks as well as a cobbled surface as you can see in the photos. While likely never more than an 8% gradient, bouncing over the stones make this more challenging and a place you want some fat tires...

...making the fatties we have on our ancient MTB's just about perfect. Fast-rolling on the pavement but adequate for unpaved surfaces while being soft and grippy for climbs like these. This climb is long enough to get in some sort of rhythm and feel like you're doing something, especially with the surface, though if you're clever you can ride on the edge where smoother blocks serve as borders. No matter what you do you'll be forced to ride over the big stones in the switchback turns as you see above.

Eventually you get to the top and enjoy this view. Some challenging single-track can be found after this, making a good loop, perfect for working up a lunch appetite. After lunch we settled in front of the TV to watch the pros bounce over some similar stones at the Het Niewsblad. We get both Eurosport and SKY's Bike Channel here at the academy as well as RAI Sport so we shouldn't miss a race.

In the evening it was time to CELEBRATE! Above you see us with our old friend from Viterbo, Luigi Picca, now delighting diners at his place here in Rome, still called Enoteca La Torre.  We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with Luigi in Viterbo so why not live it up again now that he's in Rome?

It was a spectacular evening of great food and wine in a special setting made extra special with friends who take such good care of us.

Now we're making plans for next week's Strade Bianche race in Tuscany.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Milani Cycles Part 2

Regular blog readers might remember Part 1? If not you can get caught up by clicking on the link. "Better late than never" as they say! After Part 1 we kind of lost track of Celeste, one of those "he was busy, we were busy" kind of things that happen too often.  But in December of last year while riding around the Villa Borghese park on his ancient MTB, who should Larry see doing the same thing? You guessed it....our friend Celeste Milani! Plans were soon made to get together....but....

....the Pope needed a Milani Cycle among other things and Celeste was seemingly always moving between his HQ near Milan and his other home here in Rome - the reason Larry ran into him back in December 2014 in the first place. Above you can see Papa Francesco and Celeste as they discuss his new bicycle.

But finally....after a couple of failed attempts we were able to enjoy the dinner invitation from Celeste & Paola who you can see here with daughter Isotta and her Milani bicycle. They were kind hosts and we spent an enjoyable evening that passed way too quickly. Next up was a ride together.

Which FINALLY happened today! Larry shows up on his ancient MTB figuring Milani will be doing the same, but instead he rolls up on a state-of-the-art MILANI Cycles machine complete with super-duper, carbon-fiber, tubular, aerodynamic wheels! Mamma Mia, how is Larry going to keep up with this? Larry insisted Celeste take it easy so they cruised around, enjoying the sights of the old Olympic Village from the Rome 1960 Games before rolling along on the pista ciclabile as you see here, where we posed at the far end near the GRA.

The RAI TV headquarters is out here too so Celeste took Larry for a tour around the huge complex, explaining why the hell it's RAI instead of RTI for Radio Televisione Italiana? Celeste said originally it was Radio Audiovisione Italiana. 

During the ride back into Rome Larry was able to get some more background on Milani Cycles. Celeste's father Natale turned off his torch in 1995 like so many others in Italy when bikes welded from aluminum began to dominate the market. These industrial products required far less time-consuming finish work like filing brazed lugs or pinned joints, so their profit margin could be higher, driving most of the traditional lugged-steel framebuilders out of the trade unless they wanted to join them. 

Meanwhile Celeste was working in what we'd call the "luxury goods business" one where he learned that clients would pay good money for products made with passion and authenticity. In 2005 he decided to give his father's (who passed away just three months later) bike company a rebirth to cater to those who wanted something more than a mass-produced, industrial product. He's been at it ever since, now assisted by nephew Filippo who runs the operation day-to-day up in Gallarate while Celeste divides his time between there and Rome.

We're making more plans to enjoy time with our friend, perhaps going to the upcoming Strade Bianche race together next month?

Grazie Celeste e tutti!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Marco Pantani "Il Pirata" 1970-2004

On this day in 2004 "Il Pirata" Marco Pantani was found dead, alone in a hotel room. Americans and English-speakers in general don't seem to understand what The Pirate meant to Italians. I asked a few during this past week and for many the day they learned of his death was one of those "where were you when you heard?" moments, like when a president was assassinated or planes hijacked by terrorists flew into buildings in New York City.

To most English-speaking cycling fans Pantani was little more than a thorn-in-the-side of BigTex and when Tex was finally disgraced Pantani's legacy went with it.  But Pantani is remembered here in Italy in a way similar to Fausto Coppi, another cycling hero who left us at a young age, another one who will never get old.

English-speakers dismiss Pantani as nothing but a doper, as if all of his performances came out of a syringe. Perhaps they don't know, since to them he was little more than a foil for BigTex, how many times The Pirate climbed out of a hospital bed after a crash that was not his fault to return to the top levels of cycling. That drive, passion and courage to try again does not come out of a syringe. While Coppi was physically fragile due to early years of malnourishment, perhaps Pantani was (like many gifted climbers) mentally fragile, since when his world collapsed around him in 1999 he took solace in cocaine. Even after this he came back to the top of his sport. Drug use doesn't erase the things he did or the dreams he created. For this reason he's still revered here in Italy, in ways some can not, or will not, understand.

This monument is on the climb to Passo Mortirolo. The plaque reads:

You cyclists!!! To everyone who passes by!!! I ask only a small gesture, a small greeting, a little thought to this great man who liked us to dream, we pay tribute to the PIRATE! And remember this is his climb, his summit, his way to make us feel emotions, real emotions, emotions we felt only as children, YOU’LL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN!!!

This memorial (above) is atop the Colle Fauniera, another scene of Il Pirata's exploits,

This treasured image (above) was created by our friend Marc Reynolds.

If you'd like to know more, we suggest reading BOTH of the books listed below, as we believe the true story is somewhere in the middle.

and finally...

RIP Pirata

Monday, February 9, 2015

Giro di Lago Bracciano

I guess you could call this another in our "Sunday in Paradise" series.

On a cool but clear Sunday morning we jumped on our road bikes (whee!) and after a cappuccino stop zipped down to the St. Peter's train station and hopped on a train to Anguillara. You can get on the train here with your bike though there's supposed to be an extra charge. We didn't pay it since we couldn't figure out exactly how it's done, but on a quiet Sunday morning nobody (including the ticket-taker) seemed to care, so we just parked our bikes inside the doors and held onto them for the short ride. Above you see Heather as we get off the train near Lago Bracciano.  Water from this lake flows into the Fontana Grande, just steps away from the Academy. If you've seen the film La Grande Bellezza, you've seen this fountain.

We rode up into the small village of Anguillara in search of a place for lunch. Some things must be secured in advance! The place Larry had chosen turned out to be closed for vacation but Heather spied a nearby place with a panoramic view of the lake, but no place to park the bikes. This was quickly handled when the nice lady inside told us she'd open their across-the-street (and by street we mean vicolo - barely wide enough for one medium-sized car) storage room and lock 'em up in there. Perfetto! A quick pose for a photo on the way out of the town center as you see above and we were on our way.

This being February we were bundled up with tights, long-sleeves and windbreaker or vest. No toe covers or full-fingered gloves, but we were happy to be in the sunshine as the shady spots were rather chilly. We were lucky there was almost zero wind after the low-pressure we'd been under for most of the past week had finally moved on.

It's about 40 kms around the lake, perfect to spin the legs and generate an appetite for Sunday pranzo. The pavement was generally good and we saw plenty of riders on the road, though it's kind of amusing to see how bundled up the Italians always are when it's less than 80 degrees F. Most had balaclavas and bandanas over their faces, as if the air might freeze their lungs? For people who have endured a lot of winters in Iowa it was very pleasant - we didn't sweat much!

We thought about doing a little climb to add to the ride but decided to save that for next time and move directly around to our reserved table for Sunday pranzo. We don't get much seafood here at the Academy so the mare section of the menu got our instant attention. We ordered up a cold seafood selection to start, though the nice folks at Ristorante Belvedere di Mangascia treated us to bruschetta al pomodoro and glasses of prosecco as soon as we sat down. We ordered a bottle of Greco del Sannio once the prosecco was finished, as the local white from nearby Trevignano was so cheap Larry feared it couldn't be very good.

The Greco turned out to be excellent, perfect for the base di pesce (fish based) selections we chose including a tasty spaghetti alla scoglio* you can see Larry waiting to enjoy above.

Followed by this grigliata mista di pesce. Simple but a real treat since we've not had much seafood in recent weeks. We wanted sorbetto di limone to refresh after this but they'd run out. We skipped desert as a result but the nice folks brought some very tasty cookies (think of classic cantucci but soft and fresh) to go with our espresso. Very satisfied, we reclaimed our bikes and rode back to the train station through the huge porta (gate) you see below.

We were too early for the return train from Anguillara so we decided to ride towards Rome and catch it closer to "home". This road was far less tranquil than our around-the-lake route but it was a quiet Sunday afternoon and the ride was far better than sitting around at the train station for half-an-hour. We were back at St. Peter's by 5 PM with just a short uphill ride (much easier than when we're slogging up this on MTB's!) to get back to the Academy. Watching the GP degli Etruschi bike race on TV later that evening completed another Domenica in paradiso!

*this is not the recipe from Mangascia but rather a cute video that explains the idea well.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

CAPS, not hats!

Is there anything that says CYCLIST more than a proper cycling cap? We've been asked a time or two why we don't offer a baseball-style hat, the kind you see everyone in motorsports, golf and even baseball wearing. Here's a good reason. While don't have any caps made by those folks, we DO have classic, Italian-made, all-cotton caps like you see in the photo.

More reasons we like caps HERE.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Saturday in Tivoli

 If you remember we rented a car last weekend. On the Saturday we drove out to Tivoli to visit Hadrian's Villa under gray, rainy skies. Above is a photo of the scale model of the complex. This really must have been an amazing place in its day.

Heather's goal is always to check out the ancient buildings and sculpture while Larry wants to combine this with some eating and drinking of the same exquisite quality. Here in Italy, that's not too difficult. Above you can view a fantastic combination of the two, Ristorante Sibilla .

This was one of those places that (with their stunning location) could probably do very well even with mediocre food. Instead, they create some very nice dishes, some claim it's worth the trip from Rome just to dine here. The special antipasto was a treat, you can see it above. A fantastic artichoke on the second level while below are polenta with a delicious ragu and a little fried dough thing stuffed with ricotta and topped with some heavenly tomato sauce.

The first plate, a pasta with fresh tomato, was lacking something, perhaps just a bit of salt? Not being expert cooks we couldn't say for sure, but after the wonderful antipasto this was a bit of a letdown, though still pretty good.

Our second plates were this tasty salsiccia with what tasted like cicoria and shoestring potatoes. All very good, expertly prepared and presented. We'd ordered their prezzo fisso menu and added the antipasti, so there were plenty of other ala carte menu choices...the ones we saw going past looked very good.

We finished with this tasty and beautiful dessert, a kind of thick, sweet cream, almost a custard, between two layers of heavenly sliced almonds and what might have been corn flakes, drizzled in chocolate sauce and dusted with powdered sugar. Very tasty!!

On our way back to Rome, we stopped by Villa d'Este for a taste of the Renaissance after enjoying the Roman ruins before our pranzo.

We were back "home" at the Academy just after dark, planning Sunday's adventure.