Thursday, May 12, 2011

Giro d'Italia: From Orvieto to Fiuggi Terme and A Grand Old Sport

Today's stage is the one we would have attended, staying in Fiuggi Terme, if there hadn't been so many little trips already scheduled this spring. Fiuggi Terme is up in the hills southeast of Rome. There's a bike hotel there, the Hotel Silva Splendid, where they rent you mountain bikes or road bikes, there are 20 different itineraries, and they have one guided ride that dumps you right out at the Colosseum. Fiuggi is a spa town in the foothills of the Appenines, with natural hot springs, and it has quite a few hotels. It has probably been an out of town resort destination since ancient times. The deal to stay there and have VIP access to the finish line was ridiculously cheap. Sigh....

I want to try to describe the effect of watching team Leopard Trek and Tyler Farrar ride in a straight placid line, silent as churchgoers during the peace, crossing the finish line. My husband and I couldn't help but weep to see it.

Cycling is it is quite and old sport, as modern sports go. It reaches back into the Belle Epoque, when in Europe velocipedes became a craze, and in large and small towns velodromes--giant cycling racetracks--were built and filled by cheering fans. During this time someone decided to build a raised bike highway from Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles.  The path of this highway now parallels the 110, the first freeway ever built. We don't have many other sports that hail so strongly from this era, Cycling retains a chivalry that comes from this time, a philosophy of life I associate with my grandfather Kirk Bell, who was born in 1901—a sense of honor and style from before the Great War. This is the spirit in which the riders rode an entire lengthy stage without racing, to give honor to their fallen comrade. This is the heart of cycling that keeps me captivated. It is so much more than a pack of wiry guys in crazy bright spandex pedaling bicycles across ridiculous distances.

In May 2007 my husband and I cycled out of Mira in the Veneto—the area west of Venice--and started in the direction of the mountains.  The closer we got, the more monuments we saw to the dead of both World Wars. The most affecting were those from the Great War. Lone statues in long sweeping coats and rimmed helmets cocked with a rakish look that must be uniquely Italian, facing the mountain passes where so many died protecting their land from invaders.

Maybe it's because the riders stay greyhound lean and ride for hours and hours, wincing through the pain, determined to finish, sometimes in spite of terrible bruises and road rash and, sometimes, broken bones, but they remind me of soldiers. Later this month we'll see them ride the mountain passes where the Alpini soldiers fought those two terrible wars. And along the route will stand the veterans of wars, still wearing their feathered Alpini hats, alongside the current Alpini, in the same hats, but in full camouflage and weapons, protecting the riders and the crowd.

This sport reminds me on a regular basis that one must be willing to fight for the people and things one loves. The riders fight for glory, to prove they can do it, for the pride of their families and towns and countries, in support of their comrades.  And yes, they are paid, but not very well at all, with the exception of a few rock star riders like Fabian Cancellara. And yes, they answer to the sponsors, but the sponsors change almost yearly. They are fighting for something more.

So I'll keep watching this grand old sport, for the pageantry, the drama, the determination to win against great odds, the old-school honor that elevates sportsmanship to the sublime, because it makes me feel proud to be human.

Viva il Giro! Viva ciclismo!

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