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Raising a glass to Team Cinzano

You'd think that discovering that the team behind the name on your favourite jersey were a bunch of cheats would be enough to sever all ties – but then again, if every fan followed suit then no replica jerseys would ever be worn.

 

You may laugh but sickly sweet vermouth used to be one of my favourite tipples.

 

Yes, yes, I know – it's a spirit more readily associated with Joan Collins and the late Leonard Rossiter than people of my generation, but when living it large in a Parisian bolthole in my mid-20s rarely would a night pass without an aperitif of Cinzano Bianco (or Rosso – I wasn't fussy) on the rocks.

 

Little did I know that years later I'd find myself cycling around Europe bedecked with full vintage Cinzano garb. 

 

 

That blue and red jersey and its matching shorts helped me through the Pyrenees, up Mont Ventoux, over the Alps, and through the rolling hills of Piedmont and Tuscany, via the jagged peaks of the Apennine backbone of Italy.

 

It wasn't until I'd returned to the UK and started researching and writing my subsequent book recounting my journey (Climbs and Punishment: Riding to Rome in the Footsteps of Hannibal) that I actually learned about Cinzano's place in cycling folklore.

 

Team Cinzano was a little-known Italian professional cycling outfit during the 1970s and early 1980s that was renowned for its performances in races as for its cameo appearance in the classic 1979 Oscar-winning coming-of-age movie Breaking Away.

 

 

The film's lead character is Dave, a gifted young cyclist from rural Indiana so besotted with Italian culture that he greets everyone with a 'Ciao' and even pretends to be an opera-singing Italian exchange student to win the heart of the girl he has fallen for.

 

When Team Cinzano come to town to take part in a series of local races, Dave is ecstatic – not just because it means he can draft one of their trucks at 60mph on the freeway. Effortlessly latching onto their train during a training ride, Dave chats away in their native tongue with puppy-dog enthusiasm despite their clear annoyance (one of the 'Italians' is actually portrayed by the father of retired American pro cyclist Christian Vande Velde).

 

 

Irked by his sandbagging, the Italians resort to underhand tactics – inviting their unsuspecting tormentor to pull on the front before thrusting a pump in his spokes. Crumpled in the grass verge after being catapulted over his handlebars, Dave is left both disillusioned and downbeat by those he previously viewed as heroes. In what would prove an uncannily prophetic commentary on the state of cycling in the years to come, he concludes that "everyone cheats" – most notably the very people he worships.

 

You'd think that discovering that the team behind the name on your favourite jersey were a bunch of cheats would be enough to sever all ties – but then again, if every fan followed suit then no replica jerseys would ever be worn. In fact, quite the opposite happened: Team Cinzano took on an entirely new allure.

 

Funnily enough, despite flying the unofficial ambassadorial flag for Cinzano, I've yet to watch the entire film that etched the brand's name in cycling history. Which is why I'm really excited about the forthcoming screening of Breaking Away in London cycling cafe Look Mum No Hands on the eve of the 2016 Giro d'Italia. I'll be there, quite the groupie, in my Cinzano get-up.

 

I've read that Dave's bad experience with Cinzano (we've all been there, my friend) starts a whole new cycle in his life. Apparently the film ends with our hero winning the Indiana University endurance cycling event before taking a fancy to a newly arrived French student and discovering the delights of French cycling culture. In the film's symbolic final scene, Dave greets his astonished father at breakfast not with a 'Ciao' but an enthusiastic 'Bonjour, Papa!'.

 

Now I wonder if they make a Ricard cycling kit... I've always been quite partial to a Pernod.

 

Breaking Away is shown at Look Mum No Hands (49 Old Street, London EC1V 9HX) on Thursday 5th May at 7:30pm. Tickets are free but you must register here.