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The Italian Job (1)

by Uli | May 24, 2017 | Uncategorized

by Chris Geiser

One cyclists story of the adventure of a lifetime in Italy. Traveling with Vito Valentini, Michael Lyach, Tom Niccum, Chris Torella, Aleksandra Sydelko, and Jenny Zarzuela to Terracina, Italy to attend the GFNY Italia camp and three-day stage race. Side trip taken to Milan, to visit Cicli DeRosa.

Sincerest gratitude to the grace, and class, of the DeRosa family during our time in Milan, and of course, the SK!


Life Starts at Fifty

It all started with the green meteorite I found in the backyard. Oh wait, somebody else’s thing started with that. Our thing started with the Strade Bianche — yes, let’s start there. Saturday, March 4, 2017 — at Gavia. The weather was well, let’s just say “go home March, you’re drunk!” (I wish I could take credit for that — thanks Jared). So we rode indoors and found a way to enjoy the Strade Bianche live. Several of us were headed to Italy the following week, and there was quite a bit of buzz about it among the entire group. As we got through the workouts, and closed up the studio, (damn you Team Sky), there was a rush to get up and get out. I had a fiftieth birthday party to attend. My own. The adventure unfolding here, was all part of the celebration.

The Gavia Cycling Warriors in between Sufferfest workouts, marveling at Strade Bianche on the big screen.

Pigs, Three Different Ones

…but not in a Pink Floyd sort of way. Watch for our three pig references, the first two come and go quickly. The last, left a more lasting impression. Our varietals for this story are as follows:

  1. Stuck
  2. Suckling
  3. Wild (we can translate later)
Left index finger, six stitches, no waiting. Thanks CityMD!

Lets start with stuck. Making my way back to the Rock (Staten Island) from Gavia Cycling in Fort Lee, there were the usual traffic dodges and hang ups. I had seven things to do. Clean the car, eat a sandwich, shopping trip to freshen up the wardrobe, maybe get the car washed, load the gang in the car, pick up my parents, and head to the soiree. Operating out of order, the sandwich came up first. In a “do as I say, not as I do” type of moment, I found a lovely baguette, some prosciutto, and alas, no bread knife. Grabbing the closest next best thing, I proceeded to slice right into the core of my index finger. Yelling “I DID NOT JUST DO THAT” I applied local pressure, grabbed my car keys, and headed for the urgent care. I was bleeding like a stuck pig! BAM! There it is! 6 stitches later, I was back on the street. Knowing now that I would have 350+ miles of Italian soil to cover on a bike with a giant finger bandage. 7 things still to do, I was now down to eating a sandwich and getting everyone to the Bowery.

A Night at DBGB

Hey I promise we will be in Italy — soon — but first — a fabulous celebration. My wife, Alicia, put together an amazing event at DBGB downtown. There was food, friends, family. The gratitude I felt was overwhelming. And the food, well — that brings us to pig number 2. Or actually, pigs 2–7, and they were fabulous.

Fabulous suckling pigs prepared as part of the DBGB “beast feast” — a great way to ring in fifty with family and friends.

The next day, we were back at it. Treating the Gavia Warriors at the studio to a section of the course that we would be riding two Sunday’s later in Terracina, Italy. With the trainers all responding perfectly, the 20 person group felt every kick in the terrain, and got to pedal through every downhill. The group got through the first forty KM or so, and then it was time for — oh wow — another birthday cake — hey I am getting a lot of mileage out of fifty!

A Quick Actual Birthday Later…

By Tuesday, my actual birthday, my seven things to do from Saturday looked like a cake walk. Even with the finger. Getting through a busy work day, and on to a small family celebration and send off, left me with packing and organizing to get out for a 4PM flight on Wednesay.

My and my gals putting a capper on the birthday! You can see the beginnings of a gnarly beard cranking up.

On Wednesday, March 8th, I would be traveling with my teammate, the incomparable Michael Lyach. Michael has won bike races as a pro, all over the world. He has coached the US Junior team, and has more palmares than I have had hot lunches. I was looking forward to spending time with him, working on my Italian, and hearing as much as he was willing to impart in cycling and life wisdom. He did not disappoint as you will see.

The Italian Job Begins

My bike case in the back of the Pilot. My brand new and fabulous Chrome bag. Me and the legend, ready to head to Italy.

Michael and I were ready to get going. After a hectic morning of gathering supplies, securing my international driver license, and meeting Michael, we were finally ready to go. I had two bags to check. My bike supply bag and primary luggage (fondly dubbed “The Sled”, by my lovely wife on our trip to Belgium last year), and my Thule bike case. The bike case, was flying empty. Awaiting the chance to carry something very special home. I was traveling without a bike on a bike trip. Michael was renting a bike in Italy, but I had something different in mind.

Michael and I were leaving earlier than the rest of the Gavia crew, who were leaving on the same flight to Rome on Friday afternoon to arrive Saturday. The plan in the broad strokes, was for Michael and I to fly to Rome, check our luggage into storage, and bring the bike case to Milan, where we would meet my coach and mentor Vito Valentini, the founder of Gavia Cycling.

But first, we needed to tackle JFK. Arriving at JFK I found out that The Sled was overweight. They were going to charge me for both The Sled, and the bike case. With that knowledge, I repacked the bike case to include about 10 pounds of stuff that I knew I would need when I brought the bike case to Milan. (You see where this is going, yes? Empty bike case? Milan?). Both bags checked, and the right price paid, we were on our way.

It was at this point that Michael introduced me to his special knowledge of airport processes and procedures. Without getting into detail, I will only say that Michael’s wizardry made short work of getting us to the gate, and getting on board the plane. We had a sandwich, and a trip to the “cabineto” and got on board. The flight was relatively uneventful. I can only say that you maybe don’t want to watch the movie about the origins of Mary Poppins if you are sensitive dude like me. It just wasn’t what I thought, and we will leave it at that.

Greetings from seat 15J. I fly a lot — and on Alitalia, I am nobody. Alitalia, if you don’t like our service….TOO BAD!


Upon our arrival in Rome, things started to take a turn. A long wait at the over-sized baggage claim revealed that there was no bike case coming. Michael’s fluent Italian, was able to get us some inside dope on what to do next and how to do it. They had no idea where the case was or when it would get here. I provided addresses for both Milan, and Terracina, hoping that the case would not miss me in Milan, and we would have to start all over again. Fortunately, I had no bike in the case. But everything I was hoping to have for Milan, and the team foot pump were all in the case. This could get complicated. Especially in getting back to Rome from Milan.

With my heart in my mouth, we proceeded to store our luggage with the Rome airport luggage storage. It was time to move on to Milan. Terminal 1, back through security, and to the gate. Michael helped us navigate by asking the right people the right questions. Once inside, we were in dire need of coffee. The first Italian coffee of many these next ten days. Outstanding.

While we had coffee and a light breakfast, I learned some new Italian words/phrases from Michael, and figured out where we would be renting his bike from.

Milan, You Say?

Yes, that’s right. We were meeting Vito in Milan. He had been there for a day or two attending a special event put on by Cicli DeRosa. To the uninitiated, DeRosa are makers of very special bikes, and one of the sponsors of Gran Fondo New York. To be able to visit DeRosa was an amazing opportunity. To be doing what I was doing there — even more amazing. A few weeks earlier, Vito and the amazing Thomas Han had measured me and sent my details to DeRosa for a new DeRosa SK Pininfarina. It was also my hope to try and roll some documentary footage at the factory and perhaps and interview or two, but alas, my camera gear was in the bike case. As we touched down in Milan (don’t ask about the flight, we slept through the whole affair), we raised an Uber, and I got a text.

The text from Vito indicated that, today was the day.

No time to lose. Check in, drop the bags, freshen up, and be ready by 13:30. As predicted, Nicholas arrived at 13:30 and we were on our way to Cicli DeRosa. As we arrived, I was floored. The bikes, dang it! The bikes. Each one a work of art. Each for a specific purpose or type of rider.

The array of DeRosa bikes on display was overwhelming. Each one a work of art.

The Moment I Had Been Waiting For

As we were taken inside by Christiano DeRosa and Vito, there it was. My new SK. DeRosa family members going about their day to day business, Christiano himself measured me to ensure the fit would be proper. Using a device that looked as if it came from the Spanish Inquisition, I removed my shoes (cycling shoes were in the damn bike case), and stood in a DeRosa branded box. A metal rod behind me, one in between my legs and one overhead, the top and bottom were pressed down, and goosed up, until it was established that the measurements were correct. “Perfetto” Christiano said, as we moved over to the bike to ensure the fit.


As I looked at the bike for the first time, I marveled at the Campagnolo wheels. As I asked the mechanic (I beg his forgiveness, as I don’t think I was ever told his name), some questions, we got around to discussing the wheels. “120 psi — every day- and all will be good”.

“OK, I do that anyway — no biggie” I thought.

“Oh, and only use this glue. Unless you fully clean the rims before putting on the next tires.” Somewhere in here, he apologized for his English, and I for my Italian. But he was doing fine. “Glue you say?”

“Yes, this is the right glue”

“Oh, so they are tubulars?” I drifted across the room to Vito. “Wow tubulars.”

“Tubulars? Really? Do you want me to ask for clinchers?”

“Nah” I said. I was freaking out. I don’t know anything about tubulars. But now, suddenly, Ugo DeRosa is standing 10 feet away. “Um, Ugo, these fabulous wheels, can you please dumb them down for me? Thanks bud!” It really was Ugo DeRosa, and I am NOT Eddy Merckx!

Vito and I went back and forth — should we, shouldn’t we, what next, and finally got to — well I will just learn how to fix tubulars. I am not the only one riding tubulars, right? It will be fine. OK — moving on! I am now a tubular guy and that is it!


The bike was magnificent. Beyond expectations. There I was in one of the most storied bike factories on the planet, wondering how a guy that was 60 pounds heavier and riding a Specialized Allez Triple 10 years ago ended up here.

Left to right, Michael Lyach, Christiano DeRosa, myself, Vito Valentini


So with no case, we moved on to the next logistics issue to solve. With two Campagnolo wheel bags, and careful assembly and disassembly instructions from the mechanic, we were able to get the bike into a DeRosa soft bag. A subsequent conversation with Christiano, and we were able to figure out that taking the train back to Rome would be a better idea. Carry the bike on, Rome in 3 hours, and call it done. We got back to the hotel, and I made arrangements for a Friday train at noon. Made a call to Alitalia and told them to send my bike case straight to Terracina. I wouldn’t have room in our rental car for both the bike and the case, without completely repacking the bike. We were off to have a great dinner with Vito.

The first of many aranciata’s to be had, the DeRosa soft case in the hotel, a great dinner with Michael and Vito.

Trains and Automobiles

After a last look at the factory on Friday, Vito set out with Christiano to the Milan airport to fly home to NYC, while Michael and I headed to the Milano Centrale to catch the train to Rome. We would take the high speed to Rome, and then a regional to the airport. At the factory we got to shop a little, for things to bring home, as well a spiffy pair of DeRosa shoes. Meeting some of the DeRosa family and being able to listen in on the conversation between Michael and Ugo DeRosa, discussing everything from bike racing to politics was a once in a liftime opportunity.

Michael Lyach and Ugo DeRosa
Bonus time at the factory before catching the train to Rome.

Watching Michael and I board the train was like watching Abbot and Costello board a train. With carry on luggage, a bike, and four DeRosa shopping bags, every time we placed an item, another item fell from the luggage rack. We worked furiously to get everything put away before settling into our seats for the trip out. As the train started moving, the chatter on social media indicated that our teammates were on their way to JFK and sweating a snow storm. It seemed that all of Gavia Cycling was in motion. Coach Vito on the way back to NYC, Michael and I on the way to Rome, and the rest of the team heading to the airport. We would see them in the morning, but we had to get to Terracina first. This would prove to be no mean feat.

And we are off to Rome!


We had a relatively seamless connection in Rome to the airport regional. The regional was one stop, and only a 20 minute ride. At that point the schlepping really began. We made our way to the luggage storage and retrieved the remainder of our gear. Packed on to two luggage carts, we began to navigate the ramps and elevators to the rental car area. By this time, we were both beginning to wear out a little. By the time we reached the rental counter, (Maggiore-remember this, it will be important later), Michael realized that I had not eaten yet. He went to the cafe across from the rental counter while I negotiated. Where was the Emerald Aisle when I needed it. Negotiations complete (whole other story), we grabbed my sandwich and headed to the car. One floor down. A sidebar about the elevators at FCO. They seem to fit one person at a time. There was a carefully orchestrated ballet of carts and Michael and I until we were finally on the right floor with all the gear. The bike, had to be walked down the stairs. I picked up the keys and was informed that we had 15 minutes to get the car out of the garage with the parking ticket they gave us. Then we were on the road. It took us 14 minutes 55 seconds to get out of the garage. Once on the road, I plotted our course, but my cell died en route. Bugger! We were now relying on the excellent way finding provided by clear signage and roundabouts. Having been in touch with our AirBNB hosts, we were expected around 7:30. It was now 6:52. We would definitely be late. But at least I had my sandwich. I think that’s what Eddy would have eaten.


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