To have an idea of what the white roads are worth, one would need to have been lucky enough to be born in the province of Siena.
The onslaught of asphalt went hand in hand with the explosion of the motor engine, and was then followed by the invasion of automobiles and motorbikes that took over every route of communication. Only in the deepest countryside did the motor fail to arrive.
Before, the white roads were mere dust and mud, synonymous with the traction of cows, donkeys and horses. Of course, that surface was the most suitable for those beasts and their hooves. Work shoes were hobnailed for grip and to limit erosion, and the white roads remained the only connection with neighbouring farms - a universe to explore, mostly on foot.
Then, at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth: the arrival of the bicycle, an instrument of emancipation, a vehicle on which to get to the town markets and dances. First, there was one per family to be used in turn by the more intrepid. Then the bicycle became a piece of sport’s equipment for memorable feats, the only real sport that the impoverished could consider. And that’s exactly what they called the riders who took part in road races without a team.
The white roads told their stories, in a magnificent working class novel involving mishaps, hardships, dust clouds, mud and chance encounters. And a series of legendary, heroic feats were created.
Now that we have brought the white roads back, professional cycling is once again awakening enthusiasm, highlighting technical differences, producing shows in 4G, making certain faces special. Fates are decided on the basis of the weather forecast; from dry, fine, sandy gravel, to slimy quagmires full of hidden dangers, which, at every bend in the road, could determine a new situation, a spurt of adrenalin, a fascinating show.
How can we forget how certain roads and conditions were responsible for some of the milestones in the history of cycling? Alfredo Martini, third in the Cuneo-Pinerolo, or first of the normal humans, after Coppi and Bartali, said that those who designed that stage did not know the roads, they drew it up on the map. The Cannes-Briancon stage of Bartali’s Tour in 1948 produced an impressive verdict, given the horrible meteorological conditions. Bartali, the hero ("he had to uproot his bike out of the mud" they wrote), took home the overall victory, allaying a possible revolution in his home country in doing so.
Today, cycling off the asphalt road, an Eroica idea that is a quarter of a century old this year, will provide plenty of material for the cycling of the future.