The city of Imola is ready to become the centre of world cycling as it welcomes the UCI World Championships from 24 to 27 September, 52 years after the glorious 1968 performance of the Italian Vittorio Adorni, winner of the rainbow jersey in the men’s road race with almost 10 minutes’ advantage. Imola is in Emilia-Romagna, one of Italy’s most cycling-friendly regions where the bike is the preferred means of transport for many of its inhabitants.
In terms of cycling tourism, Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s second busiest region after Trentino-Alto Adige, with 300,000 annual bike tourists contributing to a total of around 1.4 million visitors. What it offers suits every kind of rider, from sportsmen and women to cycle-tourists and mountain bikers, thanks to 8000km of road routes, cycle paths and dirt tracks, all usually low-traffic. The tracks, found across the nine provinces, are diverse in their length and climbing difficulty.
We talked about cycling in the area with Andrea Corsini, Emilia-Romagna’s Councilor for mobility and transport, infrastructure, tourism and commerce.
How is the atmosphere on the eve of the UCI World Championships?
Andrea Corsini: We have great feelings. We are very busy organising what usually takes three months, while we only have 20 days. We are paving all the roads and we can take advantage of the logistics hub of the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, which is already equipped with all the necessary services. It’s a precious resource for us, since it regularly hosts major events and it was decisive for the choice of Imola.
Emilia-Romagna’s facilities are used to hosting these events...
AC: As more days pass, the expectation also increases for tour operators: hospitality will see a great economic boost generated with the hotels in Imola, Faenza and Bologna. From 11 to 13 September we held the Italian Bike Festival in Rimini which was a good way to get into the right cycling atmosphere. And after the UCI Road World Championships we will also have three stages of the Giro d’Italia in October.
How heavily was Emilia-Romagna’s summer affected by COVID-19?
AC: We were forced to cancel all of our six gran fondos after trying to reschedule them in September and October, but that wasn't possible; the dates are now for 2021. It’s clear how much damage was done, but we have found an important flow of national visitors, especially on the Apennines and on the hills with bike tourists on roads and trails. There was almost no tourism from abroad, which has always been an important component for us, but we are ready to relaunch in the best possible way from the UCI Road World Championship and beyond.
What does ‘slow tourism’ mean for Emilia-Romagna?
AC: Slow tourism is a principle that we have been following for years, promoting contact with nature and the environment, enhancing the characteristic identities of the territories. We focus a lot on maintaining cycle paths and trails, we have a large network of bike hotels that offer all the services for bike tourists and there are consortiums of bike-friendly hoteliers in all locations. We have been investing in communication for years, talking about the wonders of our territory ranging from the sea to the mountains, and from the hills to the ancient villages, always paying particular attention to the great variety of food and wine.
What does the bicycle mean for you, as a citizen?
AC: Like most of the people, I use my bike every day to commute, especially in spring and summer. I live in Ravenna, just 1.5km from the city centre and it’s the best way to get about. We have a nice tradition here: in the summer all the families go to the seaside directly from the city using a cycle path that's less than 10km, all riding calmly together.
Investment paying off
Ten per cent of travel in Emilia Romagna is on two wheels, compared to 5% for the rest of Italy. In recent years, regional cycle paths have been built (Destra Po, Adriatica, Francigena, Sole, Emilia) which, combined with the city cycle paths, total more than 1,120km – of a total planned length of 3,800km.
The Region has injected 17.2 million euros into projects co-financed with local authorities, for a total investment of 36 million euros; the overall aim of reaching 20% of all the area’s travel on two wheels is a target set by the Integrated Regional Transport Plan (Prit). Existing routes are made safer with the objective of halving road deaths and more structures are being built, such as velostations and parking lots for storage, rental, repair and other services. Each new road will have a new cycle path, even if it’s not directly adjacent. Significant investment is being made in cities for storing commuter bikes and to facilitate safe parking in residences.
Three major tourist cycle routes (Ciclovie), currently under construction, will pass through the region. They are the Ciclovia del Sole being included in the European route from the North Cape to Malta, which will pass along the disused Verona-Bologna railway line, descending along the Reno valley to the Tuscan border; the Ciclovia Vento from Turin to Venice (over 700km long); and the Ciclovia Adriatica from Venice to the Gargano in Puglia.