Sunday, March 7, 2010

Strade Bianche: The Hell of the South?

Strade Bianche (White Roads) is Italy's newest answer to the cobblestoned spring classics of the north. Yesterday, in the third edition of this young race, riders covered 190 km, much of them comprised of steep white gravel paths made from the indigenous marble of the gorgeous Tuscany region in which the race is set.

Why would I would want to travel to Tuscany in March? After all, it's the chilly off-season, not much warmer than New England right now. Well, clearly the beautiful countryside, so popular in books and movies of the last few years, is one reason, not to mention those infamous gravel roads.

But I'd point you to the last 5:30 of the video below to show you what really attracts me: Locals crowding the boulevards, side streets and arches of ancient Siena, jostling and gossiping in the cool spring air, waiting to see the multicolored peloton whizz through the canyons. See that "cafeteria" right by the finish line? You'd find me right around there, warming myself by wrapping my hands around a demitasse of perfect espresso, grinning and cheering.

If you prefer to do your cultural appreciation from the saddle, complete with vintage kits, goggles, 70-year-old bikes, and metal water bottles rigged to your handlebars, go ride the gran fondo version of Strade Bianche, called L'Eroica (The Heroic -- don't miss this fun Outside article on it, with great pix). It covers many of the same roads, and takes place every fall. (In fact, L'Eroica predates Strade Bianchi by a number of years, and was the inspiration for the pro race). The tourist version was meant to raise awareness of the need to protect Italy's storied white roads, as it was those perilous byways on which the giants of old rode their heavy steel bikes day and night in races that would have the hard men of today forming picket lines and sending whimpering protest tweets.

Just another Euro-lust post, brought to you by Velophoria, the nostalgia-fueled blog you love to love.

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