Thursday 6 December 2012

Is the grass greener in Milan?

I always thought being in Italy would be great for cycling.

On a number of occasions I’d been on cycle tours or taken part in cyclosportive events wishing I could have stayed longer – even done a full racing/cyclopsortive season in Italy.
So coming over to Milan on a one-year work assignment filled me with excitement at the prospect of being able to join a team, wear snazzy kit and even get fitter.
My racing bike was one of the first things I put on my packing list.

Where are the cycling Tifosi?
On my first weekend in Milan, the Milan-San Remo cycle race took place. Living a short distance from the Piazza Castello I went to watch the rider presentation and the start of the race.
I felt quite lucky to witness the fanfare, even if the vast majority of the spectators were Italian blokes of a certain age.
Yes, that’s one thing noted. Following professional cycle racing in Italy is still a minority activity just as it has been in the UK - and it is heavily male dominated.

When I told my colleagues I’d be going to watch this race many of them didn’t know what it was about – and they were even born and bred Milaneses! The main sport around here is “calcio”, and maybe Formula 1. Not many people do cycling as a sport it seems.

Ditto for the Giro. If you think that Italy’s biggest professional cycle race will be the talk of the town, you are mistaken. More people talk about fencing!

Can’t join a club, won’t join a club
So, after a few forays riding along introductory routes around the Navigli between Pavia and Bergamo I though the time had come to look for a cycling club to join some club runs. A lot of the “clubs” on the website are more like racing teams. That means I would not be able to join up if I wasn’t near the top of my game.

There is one team in Milan that boasts of having a significant women’s section. Apart from that club, none of the other teams in the Milan area seemed to have women.
I was a little mystified by this. I’d met cycle racing women from Milan in the past on cycling holidays to Italy. Where were they hiding now? As it happens, many of these “Milan based teams” are based in the outer suburbs - a fair distance from where I lived, in the centre.

To join any cycling club/team in Italy you need to have a codice fiscale – something you need in order to do most things in Italy. Luckily my employers had organised that for me. You need a medical certificate that specifically mentions that you are healthy enough to take part in competitive cycle races. You get this from a sports doctor who charges around 70 euros a shot. This has to be done annually. You can then pay your membership fee, which includes a racing licence. So for around 140euros you can join a cycling club, and then pay the extra 50 euros to ride in club kit. This amount of outlay and procedure doesn’t really allow for people to just “turn up and have a go.” You need to do all of this before you can join the group rides. And you have to do it in December/January as your licence and membership runs specifically from January to December only.
So, when I decided to join a club in July, I realised I was a bit late. I didn't fancy paying over 140 euros to join a club for less than 6 months!
And what about group rides?

Group rides are not openly advertised. To turn up on a group ride you need to be “in the know”, and also feel confident enough that you can keep up with whatever pace is thrown at you. This didn’t fill me with confidence.  In fact, I was quite self conscious at the prospect of turning up, being the only female and being summarily dropped once the paced picked up to anything near male club-cyclist speed.
In fact, when I asked about group rides at my local bike shop the shopkeeper said that the pace was very fast and the few women who did turn up were very fit. If he was trying to deter me from joining the group he definitely succeeded!

The Grass only looks greener!

So, with all the fiddlinesss of trying to adapt to the new conditions described above, it’s not surprising that this year I have ended up not doing much club cycling at all. I am am probably now at my most unfittest as a cyclist. And don’t even mention cyclo cross or track cycling. They don’t do that in Milan.
I now realise that in London life was certainly easier when it came to getting involved in club cycling. Not only do many clubs and organisations offer group rides for new riders and women, but costs to join cycling clubs are accessible – around £25. You then purchase optional membership to British Cycling or a similar organisation for £25. If you do decide to race you can purchase an optional 12-month racing licence which runs for 12 months from the time of purchase, and without the need to undergo a medical examination. You also do get 12 months worth of racing because there are moutain biking and cyclo cross events that take place through the winter months. If you don't buy a year-long licence you can just purchase a day licence as you do each race.

Hmm, club cycling in Milan has not been so straightforward - contrary to how it appeared when I used to come over here as tourist.

As we approach the start of a new calendar year I have started taking steps to join a cycling team. I have seen one that looks quite dynamic and interesting, with lots of female riders. I hope I do get to enjoy cycling racing as much I did in London.

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