by Isacco Biurlei
In 2002, a group of friends sat at a bar in Cremona, Italy, a small city located along the Po River only 45 minutes east of Milan. They discussed the new 24 hour mountain bike race that was going to happen that April and decided to race it on singlespeed bikes. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, these friends were perhaps the first singlespeed mountain bikers in Italy. For a country of tradition, singlespeeding on mountain bikes was certainly a change. As the years went on, single speed mountain biking began to grow and grow in Italy and eventually the Mountain Bike Singlespeed Italian Nation Championship race was created to help bring riders from around the country together.
Thanks to the website singlespeed-italy.com, created by Stefano Spedini, a singlespeed enthusiast and one of the members of the original 24 hour team, Italian riders had an internet platform available for them to reach information and find events through.
It was in 2006 that a local rider posted photos on an Internet forum showing a Cross Crusade Halloween race, asking, “When will we have something like this in Italy?”
Stefano Spedini replied, “How about January 6th?” A venue would be needed of course, but Spedini already knew the perfect location.
In a small farming town not far from Cremona, a rich family had a huge villa built in the 1700s. It’s a massive structure with countless rooms, halls, servant quarters, towers, and terraces. Evidence of the visionary characteristics of the original family can be still seen on the grounds. There are the ruins of a greenhouse and in the gardens, plants from all around the world are still thriving; cedar trees can be found in one area of the grounds and bamboo in the next. Various owners have inhabited the villa throughout the centuries (the last owner being the Bishop of Cremona), but by 1980, the villa was deserted completely. The building was simply too massive to be reasonably taken care of and was entirely out of place in the small town of Villarocca. Since the 80’s, the villa has been looted and thieves have gutted the interior, taking even statues that once guarded the outer doors from their posts.
To the group of singlespeeders from the Cremona area, Villarocca was a part of them. They had played in the villa in their youth, exploring the rooms and witnessing the decay of the once powerful building. The sprawling grounds and gardens of the villa provided a perfect venue for a cyclocross race and it didn’t hurt the villa’s structure would provide an impressive backdrop.
On January 6th, 2007, 40 racers showed up in Villarocca for the first Rockville Cyclocross race. While some people showed up on serious cross bikes for the singlespeed cyclocross race, a large majority rode on converted bikes.
The bikes ridden at Rockville have changed over the years, but the spirit of the event has not. The race is largely a social event, people travel all from all over the word to meet up here once a year to see old friends and catch up. Respect is given to the riders who race to win, it’s not easy to win Rockville; the course is tough, and with racers coming from all over the competition is always steep. Riders meet up at a nearby farm pre- and post- race; breakfast is served to racers in the morning and lunch after the race lasts for hours. If you come for the Grand Fondo ride the day before you can eat dinner at the farm. In true Italian fashion, the quality and quantity of food is of utmost importance, with a minimum of a three-course meal with wine and beer most riders leave satisfied.
This year was the seventh Rockville race. 133 riders lined up at the start line, representing nations from all over the world. People came from the U.S.A, England, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Denmark, and, of course, Italy. Although 133 people on one course sounds like a traffic jam, the course was wide enough and long enough for racers to spread out and to pass with ease. Riders found that the trail, a once fast and twisty track that wound through trees, over small creeks, up and down hills, and spiraled through a lawn, had become a mud bog. Four days of continuous rain turned the trail to slick muck. The day of the race itself, however, was blessed with sunshine.
The general atmosphere on the course is one of a party. Riders cheer for one another and even passing around bottles of wine. In the men’s category, Isaac Burleigh mashed pedals and ran through the mud to take the win, while in the women’s category, Elena Martinello had victory, continuing her domination in the Italian Singlespeed Cyclocross Series.
In its seventh year, the spirit of Rockville remains the same as it was in its first year. The celebration of friendship and camaraderie shared between riders continues to grow, just as the Italian singlespeed community grew out of a small group of friends who decided to race differently. As Stefano Spedini puts it, “Our main goal with Rockville is that riders leave happy and want to come back next year.”
This has certainly been the case. The growth of Rockville was never planned: it has never been promoted with more than word of mouth and on Facebook. It has truly grown only because it’s a great race. People come, they love it, and they bring more friends next year. Sponsors continue to show support because they trust the passion of the organizers and understand what the event is about more than people racing in a circle, its about the friendship, the community, and the shared love for cycling. This year, sponsors included various bike shops from around Europe, Biciclista, three European bike companies (Legor and Zullo of Italy and 8 Bar of Germany), Cinelli, Chris King, Levi’s, and the good folks at Cyclocross Magazine to name a few!
As the event grows, riders and promoters both share the idea that as long as the spirit stays the same the event will continue to happen. It is a single speed cyclocross event that brings together an international community of riders joined together by friendship, good riding, and of course excellent food. By the looks, of it Rockville will be around for a long time.
For more information on Rockville, check out this short film about the race made two years ago:
Continue to check updates about singlespeeding in Italy at www.singlespeed-italy.com.