Bah! Kids these days...

"I think the boom in the economy affected things a lot. The Irish riders of the past few years are just not hungry enough, and things have got a lot easier in life. Back then...we had to pack up in February and go to France, find a team and come back nine months later. There was no flying back and forth; it wasn’t possible. Now, riders come back and forth, and young riders ask for too much. We even get riders at the team house who can’t boil an egg; they can’t even use the washing machine. They’ve been too well looked after, and it says a lot."                                                                       - Sean Kelly, VeloNews interview May 16, 2011

Thanks Sean.  Nothing like my main man to snap me out of post Giro d'Italia detox.   My family was starting to get a little concerned that it was affecting me a little too much...

For the entire month of May, the Giro d'Italia provided the media its annual opportunity to bombard the faithful with all the sensory beauty of the peninsula's version of cycling culture.  The magazines - both print and web - were filled to the brim with with Il Grande Ciclismo - Eye-talian style.

They brought out annual black and white photo reprints of the great Fausto himself, articles about new US pros talking about why Lucca is the new Girona, sidebar features on cappuccino lifestyle, tourism oriented stories of how killer the climbs are.  And of course, page after page of beautiful but ridiculously expensive carbon technology, artisan designed in Italia, increasingly mass-produced in Asia.   Every one a must have bargain between $5,000-$10,000.   And for that, of course you need bib shorts that will set you back $300.

It's an annual sensory overload sufficient to send even this rabid glutton for all things Euro-cycling into a kind of burnt-umber shaded, quasi-tuscan, bici-coma.  A torpor like state where one buys into the concept that beauty and elegance is nirvana, and style personal and product, matters.  A lot.

Or so they'd have us believe.   Cutting a bella figura, just like Cipollini.  Ciclismo as a lifestyle you can acquire with plastic.  A new diviso,  a new bike, and cap it all off with a trip to the promised land filled with spectaular roads, great weather, and beautiful people to watch.   Who wouldn't be seduced?    Who riding on increasingly undermaintained US roads that our new American society collectively can't seem to afford to fix, wouldn't die to live in that ciclismo?  Bello, no?

Don't get me wrong.  I may be a paddy, but I do really love Italy, the Italian people, and Italian cycling culture.  I covet opportunities to go there, and drink it all in.

There's just a little problem though.  Where do the kids fit into all this?

Against this backdrop of visual beauty so seductive to aging boomers with disposable incomes, Sean's broad Irish, 'tell-it-like-it-is-ma' quote somehow shocked me away from the candy storefront like an ice cold Sligo rain down the back of the neck.   His words speaks volumes, strike close to home, and starkly point out the story that most of last month's Italia-fest of content seemed to miss.   Here's more context from King Kelly:

“Cycling as a recreational sport is now huge in Ireland, they get 5,000 riders for some rides. There are lots of people racing too, but they’re mostly over 35 and lower category, which is good — but these guys are not going to go on to the Tour de France. Cycling Ireland (the national governing body) keep saying they have lots of members, and they do — but they’re day licenses and recreational riders taking membership for insurance, which is good. But, they’re not young riders, they need to do something at grass roots to attract riders.”

(two decades ago) “We had so many juniors and promising young riders. We had the Junior Tour of Ireland, and it had 250 starters, and 200 of them would be Irish. Now, it’s often 25 juniors at the start of a race.”

So where are the kids in all this?   Well, they're certainly not on $6,000 bikes.  Or even $2,000 bikes.  My first second hand race bike was just over $100 back in 1976.    And I could make that go 30mph good enough.  This industry is misaligned with its future.  

So, let's go ask the icon:  What would Fausto say about all this?    

I'd wager he'd agree with Sean, and remind us all about the truth of what was 'great' about cycling back when it developed its own greatest generation, in the 40's and 50's.  Back when Fausto himself was taught the sport by a guy named Biagio Cavanna.  Back in the days when kids still rode their bikes places.

As many of you probably know, Biagio Cavanna was the blind sorcerer who discovered Coppi as a skinny salami delivery boy in Novi Ligure.  This former boxer who became a famous cycling trainer went blind in middle age.   Cavanna ran a low -to-no budget cycling school, a boarding house for aspiring riders, in Novi Ligure.

He'd take in the poorest, hungriest teenagers, and turn them into pros, profiting on transfer fees when they went to the pro teams.   He ran the whole show virtually on peanuts, but a lot of passion.   Cavanna was well connected with the pro teams, he'd been behind Giradengo and others, and had his finger in a lot of pies.  A kid who made it through his camp, well, the racing perhaps was easier after that.

The book, Gli angeli di Coppi (buy it here) by Marco Pastonesi is fantastic read if you can read a little Italian.  In it, Coppi's teammates and competitors provide interviews about their experiences riding and racing with the Campionissimo.  Several relay their memories of the 'raw' reality of what it was like doing a glamourless apprenticeship with the SIOF team of Biagio Cavanna.    Here's some briefly translated excepts of what three of them had to say about that time...

Franco Giacchero,  pro from 1951-1956
"one year later, I went to Biagio Cavanna, first with the Alessandrina team, then with SIOF (his elite amateur feeder team)  With Cavanna, you breathed ciclismo.  You were there to learn.  There were Milano and Parodi and Carrea with me.  We'd eat together, sleep together, and pedal together.  Every morning, at 5:30, Cavanna would beat on the door with his blind man's cane.  More than beat on it, he'd almost knock down the door.  We'd go do a 60km time trial, then have breakfast.   Then, another 120 km of training.  

In this appartment we lived good.   He who got up first got dressed, the last was left to arrange the room.  You needed to give everything you had in your body.  If you retired from a race, the next day Cavanna would make you do 200km.  

Wherever there was Coppi, there was also Cavanna.
With Cavanna, you weren't overdriven.   One loop around Sasselo, one loop around Castagnola, for every loop a fixed number of kilometers, for every loop an amount of time that you could be a little under, but never a little over.  And at the end, he'd touch you in certain places that made you jump.  And to Favero:  'Hey, why is you back still dry?' and without waiting for a response would send him back out on the road for more.  And at night we didn't sleep, but studied what might happen in a race.  Cavanna maybe didn't see very well, but he provided for us just fine.  And Coppi learned everything from him.   "You need to have bad legs to put everything in place."

- Michele Gismondi - Pro from 1952-1960
(4th in the Lugano '53 world championship won by Coppi)
"In march of 1950 I arrived in Novi Ligure, as always with Mannocci, destination Cavanna, where Cavanna first wanted to feel and hear how I was made:  Neck, Kidneys, Arms.  "The neck should be big" said Cavanna, "to support the effort. A chicken neck isn't good for anything.  The kidneys are everything for a racer: it's the base of the scatta - the jump, the 'magazine' of energy.   The arms should be muscular, because this is a sign of one who has already worked in life."

When Cavanna talked, you listened.  Or else.
Cavanna didn't waste words.  'Neck, kidneys and arms are the base.  Now you need to learn how to go on a bike.   And learning to go on a bike means learning how to do as little work as possible.' 

After all the time passing touching and talking, I'd almost lost hope of being chosen.  Instead he said: "The boy will come with me."   I took my clothes up to the 'albergo' with my colleagues.  And after two months, Cavanna said to me I no longer had to pay the rent.

We all lived in a big room.  To tell the truth, it was better to close your eyes.  We had Landi and Maestri, Zanelli and Ghisolfi, and the old guard, Giacchero and Parodi, and also Filippi.  We'd go training every day, and the training was harder than the races.  In the morning, 120 km agile, then we'd eat, take a nap, and in the afternoon, 60 km time trial.   One night I was so exhausted that I asked Cavanna:  "Is my skin worth more to you dead or alive?"  A few times Cavanaa would sent me to a dormitory at his home:  Up at five am, 60 km time trial, then breakfast and training with the others.   You know that Jacques Anquetil, at 19 in his first season as a professional, came to Cavanna.  He didn't last long.  "I can't stay here five minutes longer," he said as he went back to France.  

But it was the best school.  Cavanna was a great master, and a great masseur even though he couldn't see.  He'd send you to your death, and then he'd know just how to revive you."

- Pierino Zanelli, professional from 1953 to 1956.
"I was from San Giuliano, just like Ettore Milano.  I really started to race seriously with SIOF living the collegial life under Biagio Cavanna, in Novi Ligure, in via Cavour.  Two rooms.  I slept with Ciacchereo.  Milano in the room with Maestri, and Carrea alone because he didn't want a roomate.  The prime money you'd give to Canana to pay room and board, and massage.

Every day, on the bike.  In summer we'd get up at 4:30, 5:00 am the latest.  Cavanna said it was so we could train in the cooler air without consuming too much energy.   And it was he, Cavanna, who come to get us up: Walk over and beat on the door with his cane.  We'd get up, wash our faces - there was no bath but just a tap, and go to his house for breakfast.  Caffelatte, bread and jam, two sandwiches put in your pocket and away.  

Squadra Siof (photo: Giovanni Meazzo,
And Cavanna would decide what loops to do.  Depended on the day:  Certain days we'd work on base miles, other days speed.   One of the preferred loops was that of Sassello:  Giovi, Castagnola, Creto, Bocchetta, and the Turchino pass.  It was forbidden to return to the house all together.   "It's impossible that you all go at the same speed" he'd say.   When we'd return, he meet us and touch our jerseys.  If there wasn't enough sweat for his taste, he'd send us on a 60km time trial loop:  Novi, Spinetta, Tortona, Serravalle, Novi.   It would happen to all of us, four or five times a year.  A beautiful punishment."

And a night life of retirement.  In Novi, everybody knew everybody, woe if you stepped out of line:  people would have talked and there was always Cavanna who, cane in hand, would come to control things.  SIOF was a squadrone... the big team.  We won the Coppa Italia four times, the biggest amateur race for team."

So what's my point of all this?   Just this.  I'd wager that any one of them on their old steel four speed s***box would outdistance most amateur riders today up the Turchino pass.  

No carbon fibre.  No SRM.  Definitely no glamour, a life further from La Dolce Vita than Boston is from Bergamo.   Just hard work, minimal good food, and hard rest.   Sacrifice.   You can't buy it.  Or put it in a glossy magazine.

What's missing in the picture of 'Il Grand Ciclismo' today ragazzi?   The kids.

Where's the kids?  

Any ideas, cafesupporters?  


  1. Yes - time for you to start Flandria Cafe U23 Team. Team members buy the frame and jersey and learn to build their own wheels and assemble the bikes from start to finish. Equipment can be donated by local shops or from older riders or even getting NBW involved - I think the Narraganset Bay Wheelmen would love the concept and there are many riders there that would like to get their kids involved - but currently there is no such program here.

    I could contact my friend at Blackstone Valley Tourism Council to see if he would be willing to be a co-sponsor (he himself just got 4 cities and towns (Cumberland, CF, Pawtucket and Providence) to agree on a sharrow bike lane and paid for it from the BVTC funds - this is not rhetoric - the sharrows are already painted!

  2. Ted has a great take on the what, but the question is the where. U23 is not youth, not juniors.

    Where are the juniors?

    Mine played football with the Portugese,thanks. Never wanted to turn a pedal over; they'd watch PR, Liege, the Tours with me, but never got the passion.

    I looked up PJ Moore, Bill Yabroudy and others EBCC helped along. They are raising their own kids now. THAT'S where it will have to start.

    They may not be able to boil an egg, but the kids these days can still run and jump, move around like the little chaos cubes they are-and in their 'tweens parse data, code quickly and accurately, and do other things that are -to them-basic as egg-boiling.

    Context; things change, and a sport that built itself by promoting the resilient, taciturn stoicism of the heroic roleur is surely in flux.

    What the founders of EBCC--Paul Domingue, Barry Spadea, the great and good Ted Furtado-- had, and followers-on like me helped prolong, was a genuine affection for and interest in the kids themselves.

    It takes people with trusted connections to the kids to start it off. In this age, we do not seem to give the kids the recreational slack we enjoyed, the liberty to ride from here to there on a whim and like it. We, who had so much room to roam, limit our kids and their need to move.

    We organize "activity"; if it's organized, is it really an activity?

    Ted Furtado always preached that the first maxim of the Church of Merckx is, "I am willing to suffer because I love to ride and win."

    Just my 2-cents. YMMMV.

  3. Actually there's still plenty of time to put a junior team together for the Tour of L'Abitibi - the most prominent race in North America for Juniors. I was on the winning team with matt Eaton - dare I say in 1979. Coached by Ted Furtado and the legend Stan Swain from the Raleigh boys - and Chris Chance as the team mechanic. Experience of a lifetime!!!

  4. Brilliant. I want a poster of the Edo/Fausto photos to inspire me in my training room.


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