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Notes From the Chianti Desk

I’ve always wanted a desk made from Chianti bottles

Chianti and cycling
Gabriel Bouys, Getty

So many little odds and ends to cover as we take the cycling season up past eleven, all the way to twelve...

But before we go there, the name of this post. This weekend’s Strade Bianche could also be called the GP di Chianti, a celebration of the subregion of Tuscany by that name. The race winds in and around various Chianti region vineyards, and we all jump up and down and shout about how awesome the course is, so really we are celebrating a bike race about Chianti. Yeah, it’s cool that the roads are white, but it’s a lot cooler that they are old, unpaved, pretty much never flat, and twisting and turning through an amazing landscape.

But the “White Roads” is a handy shorthand. Chianti is not exactly the world’s most famous name, and I wish I could say I liked Chianti wine more than I actually do. Well, cheap Chianti anyway, and isn’t that what we’ll always remember Chianti for?

Chianti ad

I know it’s what I will remember. Wine bottles in straw baskets. My Abruzzese forebears defo had wine in straw baskets around, and somewhere along the way I picked up on the fact that my more modern parents had zero interest in this wine. The wine in question was almost certainly Chianti. Nowadays Chianti comes in a variety of bottles, including very pretty ones, and when I started trying to discover wines I regularly asked for Chianti. I felt just a little bit sophisticated and in touch with my roots at the same time, and who doesn’t want that? I’ll tell you who: a person who then goes on to try a really nice Bordeaux and realizes that the Chianti he was drinking wasn’t all that good.

One problem with the Chianti is that it’s made from nobody knows just what. Sangiovese probably makes up a lot of it, if the internet is to be believed, but maybe about five different other grapes too. So it’s an amalgam. Nothing wrong with that, as anyone who has ever paid for one of those DNA tests will tell you. Anyway, Tuscan wine, of course, comes in some really nice flavors, but they get names like “Super Tuscan” so people will try them with higher expectations, and pay higher prices when they turn out to be delicious. So in that way “Chianti” is what’s left over from Tuscan wine after they’re done handing out fancier names.

A meeting of the Italian National Cycling Federation, 1932
Getty Historical

My favorite reason as to why Chianti is bad is the straw basket though. It’s probably a pretty cool idea, because most alcohol gets worse when exposed to light, which is why we have darkened bottles, but even those let some light in, so wrapping the thing in straw (or paper or a box or all of the above if you’re selling it in Japan) is a pretty good way to preserve quality. But the Italian word for that straw wrapping is a fiasco. Now, a while ago that was just the Romanization of the word “flask,” but somewhere along the way “making a bottle” (fare fiasco) became theater lingo for turning out a terrible performance. Maybe it was because the image of smashing a bottle was symbolic of bad times, or maybe it had to do with someone losing a bet and having to buy the next jug of Chianti, and fiasco became synonymous with “a costly mistake.” Nobody really knows.

All we do know is that you can’t name your event after something that includes a fiasco. Some Chianti still comes in fiaschi. So any problems with your bike race or with your team’s performance and you can be guaranteed to know what every headline writer will be thinking. Just don’t go there. Don’t give the bastards the satisfaction.

[You’re welcome, Quick Step.]

Back to cycling, you already know about all the big World Tour events happening this weekend (and yes, I did a little victory lap when I saw some other news outlets calling the Strade Bianche the next monument. I assume the checks are in the mail.) But it’s that time of year where there are tons of races happening. Here’s a couple more.

Andrea Fedi decries his tactics
Tim De Waele

GP Industria e Artigianato

A pretty short bike ride from Siena is the town of Larciano in the Pistoia neighborhood of Tuscany, and that’s where a decent chunk of the Strade Bianche field will be on Sunday. That’s actually a funny story, but we will get to that in a second.

The GP of Industry and Artichokes (not really) is a race consisting of two different circuits around Larciano, one kind of flat that they do four times to get loose, and another with a big climb in the middle which they do four more times to get in some hill reps and also decide the race winner.

GP Industria e Artigianato

The map isn’t half bad:

GP Industria e Artigianato

Too bad they don’t go into Pistoia, where my old Viner came from. Viner was the bike company of Viviano Nerozzi, and they got sold or closed or something in 2013, which is OK because after 14 years I finally broke the chainstay beyond repair, but nobody was going to repair a 14-year-old frame anyway. But I digress. The San Baronto climb is the race’s headliner, and you can see more detail at, which gives us the following detailed profile of the generally mellow, but occasionally very punchy climb:

It’s got a nice little nosedive down to Larciano, so the descent might be where things get sorted out once and for all.

Larciano descent

And the people sorting that out? Don’t be fooled by the presence of an “Italy” team and some other small squads like the 0711 and Unieuro Trevigiani teams. Because also on the start list are a few pretty packed World Tour teams, cooling their heels in Tuscany until next week’s start of Tirreno Adriatico. That’s how you can get a thrown-together “Italy” team racing against Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali. [Nibali actually won this race in 2007.] Cannondale are bringing defending winner Simon Clarke as well as Rigoberto Uran and Alberto Bettiol, who would be great for this race if he were showing any form, which he isn’t. Adam Yates, who won in 2014, is back for another helping with Orica, as are former winners Angel Vicioso and Pippo Pozzato, making this one of the most popular races in cycling for riders who formerly won the race. I guess it’s addicting on some level. There are another couple dozen guys who could probably get over the Baronto fast enough to make it into a bunch sprint for the win, so probably someone like that will take it.

Dwars Door West Vlaanderen

Dwars Door West Vlaanderen

In case you were tempted to pretend like the Belgian Cobbled Classics Season didn’t begin last weekend, there are plenty of races on the calendar aimed at keeping your attention focused on the Lowlands continually until Liege-Bastogne-Liege is in the books. [And then there’s ENECO...] This weekend, Sunday, is the return of the Johan Museeuw Classic, which used to be known as Driedaagse West Vlaanderen (three dogs of West Flanders) but is now known as Dwars Door West Vlaanderen (not at all straight across West Flanders).

Like most Flemish classic races the DDWV dates back to 1945 (look it up) and fills in a chapter of the overall Belgian cycling story. Namely, it’s a warm-up act to Gent-Wevelgem, the Super Bowl of West Flemish Cycling. But also like most Flemish classics, its history is all over the map. It was the Omloop der Vlaamse Ardennen for a long time, which is cool but is in East Flanders, which is an entirely different story from racing in West Flanders. So then it became a two-day race, then a three-day race that was moved to the west. And as of this year it’s back down to a one-day race and is rooted to the flat, wind-driven spaces of West Flanders. I am told that the race would like to move up the food chain from UCI 2.1 to 1.1 (where it is now) to eventually a 1.HC race. Since the UCI up-rates Belgian one-day races like giving out lollipops, I would bet on this to happen. And if Andrew weren’t away this weekend, I would be looking for a market for a parlay with Marco Canola winning the Artichoke race and DDWV becoming 1.HC within three years.

Here’s the map:

Dwars door West-Vlaanderen

There are some local loops around Nieuwpoort (Newport) at the end to get it over 200km, which means we are probably looking at a sprint win. But the race’s most delightful feature is a succession of climbs around that little loop at the bottom of the map, which is pilfered from an old version of Gent-Wevelgem. Between KM 80 and 104 the race crosses the Goeberg, Rodeberg, Monteberg, Kemmelberg and Scherpenberg. Of course, G-W does these kind of climbs twice, much closer to the finish, and still often comes together for a sprint. But it’s West Flanders, the weather is supposed to be cold, rainy, and with winds up to 40km per hour. So hills are the least of anyone’s problems.

The startlist features about who you’d expect to find here, namely Quick Step, Lotto, the other Lotto, BMC, and the Belgian pro-conti teams of note. Given the likely wide-open racing, I guess I’d only note a few of the big names and then throw up my hands as far as predicting a winner is concerned. Lotto-Soudal have Debusschere and Boeckmans there. Quick Step are a bit thin, led by Dries Devenyns and Laurens De Plus (I guess?). Dutch Lotto have Amund Groendahl Jansen. Guillaume Van Kiersbulck would be on every favorites list after his Le Samyn win. And a smattering of royalty, like Massimo Vanderaerden, Edward Planckaert, and Oliver Naesen’s brother Lawrence.

That’s enough for one weekend. Enjoy!