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I was sitting on the roadside, watching cyclists pass the finish line happy and exhausted in their colored wool jerseys when my eyes fells on a banner hanging from a railing that read: “Eroica produces joy and friendship.” They could have written “Eroica dispenses joy” or “Eroica brings friendship.” Instead, they wrote “produces.” Is Eroica a “factory” then? “Yes,” I thought, it’s a factory that may not produce material objects but something more precious: ephemeral and necessary goods such as joy and friendship. These were the feelings with which I’d been overwhelmed during the previous few days with the Amatori Verrazzano, a team of amateur cyclists who feel more like a crew of pirates and a group of friends, and who know how to enjoy the pleasures of sharing and being together.
For seven years Luigi Cappellini has organized with his crew their participation at Italy’s Eroica with the aim of spending unforgettable days seasoned with good food, excellent wines, music, bicycles and a lot of heroic spirit. But what exactly does heroic spirit mean? I put this and related questions to Luigi, the owner of Castello di Verrazzano and founder of Amatori Verrazzano.
How did the idea of founding the Amatori Verrazzano team come about?
A few years ago, as the result of an injury, I started cycling and I immediately fell in love with it. Among all my activities it was the one that suited me best because when I came back from my outings I always had something to tell; and I noticed with pleasure that people around me let themselves be fascinated and involved so much that I thought of creating a team with all of them. At the moment, the team is made up of about 50 people.
What unites you?
We are animated by the pleasure of pedaling, by the romanticism and beauty of these bicycles with simple mechanics where, with a few simple gestures, everyone can fix or modify them. Then there is also the communion that bicycles create among people, such as meeting up with friends to make plans during the year, relate their different experiences, share the effort and at the same time the challenge—as the motto of the Eroica says: “The beauty of the effort and the taste of the challenge.” Of course, we don’t want to become athletes; our goal is to share this passion in a romantic dimension, made up of territory, people and stories.
You mentioned territory. What role does the Chianti area and Tuscany play in all this?
Italy and Tuscany lend themselves very well to cycling. The bicycle has the necessary delicacy to ride through these places with the respect they deserve, silently and slowly; only in this way can you notice the thousand shades of a changing territory that change every 100 meters and that know how to continuously offer you new landscapes. Riding a bicycle, you have the right perspective to realize the differences that characterize the manor houses, because each is built with different stones; if you eat a fig in Gaiole it’s different in taste and organic properties compared to a fig from Greve; and it’s the same for grapes, obviously. But from a car or a motorbike it’s more difficult to notice these details—so I invite everyone to have this experience and to come and ride around here to notice the variety that this land offers.
Last year Eroica was canceled due to the pandemic; how did you react?
Yes, this was the edition of the rebirth. It was a year of emptiness, but not for us because in hiding we found ourselves here and we rode on our own. It was raining and it was a very intimate experience; we can call it the Eroica that wasn’t there.
Do you organize dinner next to the route every year?
How can our Eroica exist without the hospitality of a table laden with food, wine and stories? We don’t come here to start/pedal/finish. For us, there is a before, there is a during and there is an after. Friends, the market, arranging bicycles together…we consider Eroica a wide dimension of experiences. To make you understand how much we care, I just tell you that the Castello di Verrazzano remains open 364 days a year; we close one day only, for the Eroica.
What’s your relationship with vintage bikes?
I love them, especially the Italian bikes and those of the Florentine artisans. They are pieces of art with a soul, full of personality and authenticity. You know, when you listen to a vinyl record, the sound is a little dirty, rough, but when you find the right turns they touch you and excite you. These bikes are not just objects to collect but to use, to live, to handle; you travel with them and make you dream. There is a relationship and an involvement that excites me a lot.
Luigi is a regular guy who still knows how to get emotional. With his sensitive and profound personality, he was able to convey to me the meaning of the heroic spirit. Here in the Chianti hills, you can breathe the smell of time and in these days become a place of the soul. Eroica is an act of love not directed toward a sport or toward the bicycle itself, but toward a lifestyle made of genuineness and simplicity, of encounters and stories, of friendship and sharing. Between these hills, a time gap opens to a place without social differences, nationalities or athletic levels; it’s a place where you can forget about your mobile phone and where you realize how good is the silence of a pedal stroke instead of the roar of an engine. In an increasingly hectic and chaotic world, Eroica shouldn’t last just two days, but six months. That banner hanging on the railing was right; Eroica is a dream factory and the crew of the Amatori Verrazzano still know how to dream.