For the pro cycling fan, as we head into the final weeks of spring, the demented mayhem of the one-day classics give way to the slow-burn tension of the Grand Tours; three-week races of mountain and valley, skirting the very edge of what a man on a bike can endure.
And in May, of course, this means the Giro d’Italia.
The opening stages of the race, il Grande Partenza, set the scene and give us an early leader-board. Often this takes place on foreign roads. In recent years we’ve had little mini-breaks in Belfast, Appledoorn, and Jerusalem, allowing others to bask in a little Giro romance before the race returns to il Republicca Italiana.
But for me, wherever it starts, Italy is where the race begins.
The Italian-ness of the Giro is what I like.
I want towns and villages of impossible beauty, local delicacies on display, culture and history seeping from every town square, and break-neck racing as Italian riders on Italian teams show their colours.
Bello. Frenetica. Furioso.
And for 2019, this what we get. An Italian affair, rolling out from Bologna; this year, they’re saying, we’re keeping the Giro to ourselves.
The region of Emilia Romagna is about to place itself in our eyeline as a cycling destination par excellance. Home of Marco Pantani and Davide Cassani. Of Medieval cities and gastronomical delights. Where coastal roads give way inland to rolling hills and mountains.
And I – taking one for the team, you might say – am about to head out there and check things out for your reading pleasure, as a guest of Cycling Emilia Romagna and with the complicity of Terrabici; providers of cycling holidays through their chain of bespoke hotels.
I will attempt to officially ratify Emilia Romagna’s status as an emerging cycling destination, and confirm their claims to being the food capital of Italy – which is, let’s be honest, quite a claim!
As the second most popular region in Italy for cyclo-tourists (according to visitor numbers) Emilia Romagna is, certainly to me, a bit of a hidden gem. Without perhaps the big-name celebrity mountain passes of the Alps and Dolomites but with a genuine and definable cycling heritage.
And, I’m told, plenty of stunning roads.
At this time of year, early season, as any cycling related social-media feed will attest, the Balearic island of Mallorca is the go-to destination for so many cyclists. And I get that. I understand why. It’s convenient. The weather is good.
But, and at the risk of committing heresy, is the cycling culture of Mallorca not a bit false? Fake? A sort of sanitised playground of road biking, big on smooth Tarmac and scenery but lacking a little in adventure and culture?
Maybe I’m being unfair. There’s room for all sorts.
But Emilia Romagna promises something different.
(Top Image: By Terensky, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52470067 | Bologna Image: via pixabay.com)