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Sicily, a land of cycling aces

23/09/2021

Even if it took a while, Sicily is slowly becoming a major centre of gravity for Italian cycling. How can you tell? For starters, the Giro d’Italia is increasingly trying to make the island a feature of its route (although logistically challenging), as in the “Grande Partenza” of 2020. What’s more, many cycling aces were born and raised here – Vincenzo Nibali, to name but one. And finally, think of the Giro di Sicilia, one of the rare short Italian stage races devoted to just one region.

Additionally, Sicily has become a favoured destination as a winter training camp for many teams owing to its mild climate. In the past few months alone, Trek‑Segafredo, Bardiani‑CSF‑Faizanè and Vini Zabù came to the island to get ready for the new season. As a matter of fact, Sicily offers a wide range of trails and terrains, and the temperatures are in line with those that you would find in Tenerife or Mallorca, where the riders love to spend the winter months to escape the cold hinterland of Europe.

Not coincidentally, Sicily was home to some of the most successful riders of recent years. Admittedly, one of them is the greatest rider of the last decade, and a legend of this sport, Vincenzo Nibali. The Shark from the Messina Strait needs no introduction. His career achievements speak for themselves: his greatest accomplishments include two victories at the Giro d’Italia, one at the Tour de France, one at the Vuelta a España, one at the Milano‑Sanremo, one at the Lombardia and two at the Tirreno‑Adriatico. Born in Messina, he relocated to Tuscany when he was a teenager to train and compete at the highest level, but he has always acknowledged that being born in Sicily has been instrumental for him to get as far as he’s got.

The same can be said of Giovanni Visconti, from Palermo. Before turning Professional, he held centre stage on the national U23 scene, together with Nibali. In the top circuit, he scored 34 wins overall, including two stages at the 2013 Giro d’Italia, and notably the one under the snow at the Galibier. At the ripe age of 38, he is now one of the most experienced riders in the peloton, and a great advocate of his homeland, Sicily. Whenever the peloton hits the island, the public always cheers for him.

In 2021, however, most of the headlines were for Damiano Caruso, who won great glory as the runner‑up at the Giro d’Italia. He was born in Ragusa, but unlike his “compatriots”, he still lives in Sicily: “Life is great here. Summer lasts until November”, he said in an interview last winter. “I didn’t go on holiday at the end of the season. However, when you live in a place like Sicily, you don’t need to go far to see wonderful places. Moreover, this year the weather was mild, and I could train in short sleeves throughout November. Here, cyclists can find both mountain and flat terrains, and the roads are not crammed with traffic. I think this is just the perfect place to be. When I turned professional, I made a bet with myself: I wanted to come back home, to my place, to the people I love. I had to prove to myself first, and then to others, that coming back to Sicily is indeed possible. Today, I can say I have won that bet.”

And it is nice to think that even the marvellous Egan Bernal, the one who beat him at the Giro d’Italia, is deeply tied to Sicily. In fact, this is where he took his first steps when he left Colombia and moved to Europe to pursue his dream of becoming a racing cyclist. He spent nearly one month in Pedara, near Catania, with his agent, Paolo Alberati. There are many interesting stories about those days in Sicily. “Egan couldn’t swim. He had never touched seawater”, Alberati said in a beautiful interview with meridionews.it. “That’s why we rode to the Lido Azzurro, and I took him to the fish marked in Catania. Halfway between Isola Bella and Taormina, he saw a deserted house. He told me he would have loved to buy it one day. And maybe it won’t be long before he can actually buy it…”

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