The Strade Bianche

When the boys from Maserati Cycling descended towards Siena’s famous central square, the Piazza del Campo, Sunday morning, a dark cloud hung over the city. Raindrops battered the old stone streets, forming icy rivulets, which flowed past empty storefronts towards the sound of a PA system, black-and-silver, then, by one window, a glistening gold. A cafe was open. Inside, men and women in winter tights and jackets were huddled around tables, drinking their final coffees. It was warm and dry. The hiss and thunk of an espresso machine, excited conversation—there was half an hour before the start.

For the past few days, they’d been enjoying the food, roads, wine and sun of Tuscany, enthralled by the landscape, the sweet life. They had watched the professionals race the day before. Alongside the road, with thousands of ardent fans, they’d seen the most beautiful finale in the sport.

Ah, ciclismo, la dolce vita—they’d believed it would be fine out. They’d had faith. Now, when they looked outside, they were secretly filled with dread.

The group ahead began to move. Shivering from the cold and the caffeine, the boys clicked into their pedals, shifted gears, and began to weave through the enormous crowd. They tore down and out of the city. Screeching brakes and shouting—it was chaos. Within minutes, they were soaked to the bone and could hardly feel their hands. Then, they hit the mud.

It filled their noses, their ears, pasted their teeth. It covered their glasses, their beautiful clothes, their bikes. They slipped and skidded. They could hardly shift or brake. They dodged past riders and watched riders dodge past them. It went on and on. It went up. They gritted their jaws. They gasped. Their bodies filled with acid. They climbed. They passed slower riders and tried not to get passed. It was cycling, just as they knew it. It was beautiful, but it hurt.

It was a little more beautiful though. As the day wore on, and they stole glimpses across Chianti, with its lush green hills and gorgeous old villages, its white paths and vineyards, while racing down twisting descents in the rain, they realised that the sweet life is not just fine wine and meals and kit and lazy rides in the sun, although it is those things. It’s about pushing yourself and doing what is hard. It’s life. Like cycling, it is what it is.

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FOOTNOTES: Photography by Ian S. Walton / Words by Keir Plaice. Thanks to Maserati & Squadra102