Part Two of remembered tales from Lecchi.
When the Irishman holds the door open for me, gesturing for me to enter ahead of him, I can’t help but like him.
Then he says, “Shit before the shovel, my dear.” And I can’t help but like him even more.
He has the look of trouble and as far as I’m concerned, this is the kind of guy you want to take with you absolutely everywhere. A walking, shit-talking, strangely-charming human party.
Food, bikes, wine. All these things beg for friends to share them with. When the ManGroup descends on Lecchi for a week of the InGamba Treatment, I know I’ve stumbled into something special.
Colly is the heart of our shenanigans, fueled by an endless stream of taunts from Jon, the loafer-wearing investment banker from New York. The two men cannot be more different. On the first day when they meet in the living room of Borgolecchi, I watch the fireworks start almost immediately and think to myself, “This is either going to be really bad or really good.”
It was really, really good.
Here’s the thing: the bicycle is the great leveler. Here in these ridiculous super hero outfits on these ridiculously fast bicycles in this ridiculously beautiful landscape, we are all reduced to legs and lungs and big, beating hearts. We attack on the hillside, we attack on the flat. Occupations, net worth, reputation, pedigree and professional success all falls away. You are only as good as your last pedal stroke, your last acceleration, your last sign sprint. Show me who you are today.
The point of this trip is to ride your brains out. To ride your heart out. To ride until you can’t see straight anymore. To feel good doing it. To remember why you pedal and what it means.
Surrounded by new and old friends, you do battle that feels like joy. Here is a place reserved for people who know the bike as you do: an instrument for living well and learning well. This machine that constantly teaches us, humbles us, amazes us, inspires us, hurts us and brings us joy. We ride them together in a way that is somehow more special than riding them alone.
Cycling with InGamba is not just about the landscape and the skyscape and the scenery: it’s about camaraderie and friendships and memories.
The Philosopher-Shoemaker and other characters
Alessandro Stella makes shoes. Stunning, immaculate, breath-taking handmade shoes. What does a shoemaker have to do with cycling? Nothing. Everything.
One afternoon after riding you go to Sienna to meet him in his shop. He’ll show you his work, show you his process, smile at you and laugh, speak to you in his lovely accented English. You’ll crowd into the tiny space, shoulder to shoulder with your riding mates and marvel at the smell of leather and the aesthetic precision that surrounds you on every side.
If you’re lucky, Alessandro will turn up at dinner later. If you’re lucky, he’ll tell you a few stories from the road. And if you’re really, really lucky, he’ll have a few glasses of wine and begin to talk to you about life in abstract terms: there is a philosopher hiding in this shoemaker. He is a man with lively hands, quick eyes and a generous heart. His home is one of the most beautiful, expressive, humble-yet-heart-stopping physical spaces I have ever had the privilege to enter.
Maybe he tells you the story of what it was like to descend 15,000 feet on a bike from Tibet into Nepal, maybe he doesn’t. What does a shoemaker have to do with cycling? Nothing. Everything.
This is life.
And this is one of many people who make InGamba’s Chianti week more than just a bike tour. Along the way, you also meet Lorenzo the Baker who stands next to his towering ovens feeding you things to show you exactly why baking is the most important, religious activity he could possibly undertake (what is the flavor of passion?). Raul, the Soigneur whom I have written about at great length – a man whose antics and joy breathe life into you, whose hands care for you, whose ride food gives you strength. Lorenza, the owner of Castello di Ama, who shows you how art and emotion and history and terroir and landscape can fit inside a simple crystal glass and fill you with the love of a place.
What do a shoemaker, a winemaker and a baker have to do with cycling? Nothing. Everything.