Rockville – Singlespeed Cyclocross in Italy

This was my third successive visit to Rockville (a.k.a. Villarocca) and there’s a good reason I keep going back year on year. Sure, it’s a fun CX course and always a hard, competitive race – but mostly it’s for the food… Well, that and the group of guys and girls who call themselves Los Lobos del Bassa. We’ve become friends over the years, since I first met Stefano of biciclista (who produce my clothing) at SSWC Stockholm in 2006 when I was there with the very first Swift prototype. We’ve had lots of events and good times together in Italy since then, so I keep going back for more.

Rockville takes place every year on the last day of Christmas, epiphany, January 6th – which is a public holiday in Italy. It is the biggest event in what (incredibly) is a series of singlespeed CX races across northern Italy. Most of the locals will have had the whole 12 days of Christmas off work, though it doesn’t necessarily translate that they are bloated and indolent from a fortnight of sloth and gluttony such as we manage to cram into a couple of days here. At the front of the race the elbows are pointy and the pace is hot. This is helped by a regular lively contingent of Germans and generally also a smattering of Swiss.

After my bike not arriving at all two years ago, then forgetting saddle and seatpost last year – this time I triple checked everything and took the easy route in getting a hire car from the airport. I arrived on Friday around lunchtime and was intending to get out for a little spin but the weather was hideous.

In fact it stayed that way for pretty much the whole weekend…. Fortunately the ‘Lobo’ with an affinity for the track, Guido, had arranged for a few of us to head over to the nearby Velodromo Montichiari. Amazingly there is no accreditation needed, not even a briefing,  you can just rock up and ride. Which makes it all the more interesting getting on the track with maybe 60-70 people out there with a wide range of abilities and speeds. Still, really good just cracking around for a couple of hours in the warmth and dry and improving the track skills.

Guido strikes a pose in his striking skinsuit and colour coordinated Crocs – yes, he is Italian

Saturday lunch time a big group of us headed to what is quite possibly my favourite restaurant in the world. The Trattoria dell’Alba is an unassuming place with incredible food and the perfect level of service. We were a bit restrained and had only four courses; antipasti, pasta, cheese and dessert over a very leisurely four hours.

Sunday a ‘crossfondo’ ride was planned,  but shortened a little due to the horrible weather.  We did about 30k in two hours,  never fast enough to warm up. Additional frequent regrouping and navigation stops meant I, and pretty much everyone else,  was absolutely frozen and rather unhappy by the end. Fortunately a hearty soup waited for us on our return to warm our bones. Dinner that night was a mega pizza and beer fest, both of which were excellent though I was attempting to moderate my indulgence in both. New for this year we even had a band on (Isaak) who were pretty good in an Italian hard rock kinda way. Managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour around 11.

Thankfully the persistent rain of the previous 3 days  cleared overnight and we woke to lovely sunshine. When I say we woke to I mean it quite literally,  I was sharing a room with four others and a bed (well, two singles side by side) with Francesco – a man with a beard to put Ed Oxley to shame. Well, as they say, when in Rome (or Villarocca)….

The start was scheduled for 11, though that was a very italian 11 and only allowed to occur after copious coffee and a typically underwhelming Italian breakfast of dry bread and jam. Gradually everyone readied, coalesced, milled about for a bit and then headed down to the course for a lap. Most everyone was there at the start finish area, when the shout went out we were to return to the Agriturismo for a pre-race briefing.  Much groaning ensued but we all dutifully returned to resume milling. Then there was no briefing but we all rolled back to the course together only to have a briefing on the start line. It’s such mildly controlled chaos which lends charm to the event, but you could tell the substantial German and Swiss contingent were getting tetchy.

The usual le mans start was replaced by what was dubbed the ‘Braveheart’ start with everyone lined out across a field for a mad dash onto the course. Given how boggy the field was and that it was laced with corn stubble I elected to run. A few guys had found a firmer line on the left so I entered the first corner in around tenth.

They may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!

The course was tough. Mostly either up or down with one steep run up and entirely covered with a deepening and thickening mud – save for a grassy section near the start/finish with a spiral of death. This meant the fast line was changing from lap to lap as was the point at which you decided to run rather than ride. So a proper tech cross course, many bikes getting so gooped up the wheels stopped turning. The ‘scoop mud out of your chainstays while running with your bike’ maneuver was a very valuable one to have in this race.

Mario in his one-off Singular/biciclista skinsuit

I was locked in battle after a few laps with an old stalwart I’d seen at previous races who they say was a national champion in his day and though now around 60 is still super fast, and a Swiss guy who I think was second last year. So I was feeling pretty good about my position.  We came through the line to a ringing bell and shouts of ‘ultimo giro’ so I hit the front of our little group and punched it as hard as I could.  When I looked back I couldn’t see anyone so kept riding hard through to the line. Arriving pretty spent and with the expectation of  cheers and adulation though instead being told ‘no Sam, one more lap’ I was not happy. There may have been some language parents would be unhappy for their children to hear if they understood English, though the vehemence with which they were shouted probably negated the need for translation.  When the same thing happened at the end of the next lap I was really unpleased. So when it happened a third time I was pretty much expecting it. On one of those last two laps, I can’t quite remember which, teammate and friend Mario came past me and I didn’t have any kick left to go with him. It turns out that while organiser Stefano decreed we were racing an hour plus a lap, the guy counting laps thought we were doing 45 minutes….  Lesson learned – wear a watch 🙂  So Mario and I finished 6th and 7th, or 7th and 8th, depending on who you asked, and we were pretty pleased with that.

Getting muddy…

The field came in, bringing most of the course with them, and we all headed back to the Agriturismo for sustenance. One thing the Italians definitely do right – a three course meal with copious wine and beer. There was also a table groaning wih generous prizes from the many sponsors. Such is the nature of singlespeed events the winners received a beanie (wooly hat – though hand crocheted and lovely) and the random prize draw threw up the best loot. I was a happy winner in receiving a lovely pair of Levi’s commuter jeans and a t-shirt thanks to my bearded bedfellow Francesco who turned out to be the Italian boss of Levi’s.  The crowd seemed to dwindle faster than the prizes as people with journeys to make headed home so those who stayed did the best. Most everyone left with something in hand, and if not they certainly left with memories of a great day.


Enormous thanks to Stefano and all the ‘Lobos’, looking forward to 2015 already.

All pictures with thanks to Claudio Angelini

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