It was not the first time for the town to host this kind of event: cycling sports in particular have always had an important impact on the area, where cycling talents grow and are“cultivated” in a territory perfectly fit for training and cycling tourism. The Cycling World Championships stepped into Imola for the first time in 1968, when Vittorio Adorni won the world title: this victory transformed the sport, making it famous even to the ones who never rode a bike.
While riding a bike in the Imola town center, the connection between the town and great cycling is very clear on the many cycling paths of the town. Most of the cycling paths have been named, in fact, after some of the great cyclists native to the area. By following these traces, it is possible to discover Imola and its foothills on your bike.
The cycling path starts in Via Graziadei, a street that runs along the Santerno River. It is easy to reach from the town centre and the train station: when in Piazzetta dell’Orologio turn left from Via Appia, take Via Emilia and left to Via Manzoni. It crosses via Graziadei: turning right, you’ll be riding along Santerno river.
This path is dedicated to Diego Ronchini (Imola, Dec 9th 1935 - Imola, April 18th 2003), road cyclist winner of Giro di Lombardia and Italian Champion in 1959, in the same year he placed 3rd at Giro d’Italia and 5th at the World Championships in Zandvoort.
Crossing the bridge over the Santerno River, the cycling path continues along Via Pirandello and Via San Benedetto, around the town centre. The path turns to the right connecting to Via Emilia. Take the shortcut in Via Santa Lucia on the right and reach Osservanza park.
In 1921, the main sport society in town, Unione Sportiva Imolese, organized a recreational cycling race from Imola to Castel del Rio and back. In the first part of the race, Antonio Placci died due to a collision with a cart proceeding on the road: in those times, the roads were kept open to traffic during cycling races. To pay tribute to the memory of Antonio, USI decided to organize an annual event. During the spring of 1922, Coppa Placci was born. Coppa Placci became evermore important during the 60’s, year after year. When Unione Sportiva Imolese stopped its activity, Coppa Placci saw the end of its history.
Reaching Via Emilia, on the West side of Imola, a long cycling path runs along the road up to Toscanella, a small fraction of Dozza. This is a perfect itinerary to reach the evocative village of Dozza or have a tour of the Imola hills. Uphill lovers will enjoy Via Montecatone, then Via Zappa and Via Bel Poggio, a ring route leading to Via Emilia again.
This “stage” in Dozza bears the memory of Luciano Pezzi (Russi, February 8th 1921 – Bologna, June 26th 1998). Professional cyclist from 1946 to 1959, he won a stage of Tour de France in 1955. After his retirement, from 1960 to the end of his life, he was sports manager for many professional teams. Nicknamed “Stano”, Luciano Pezzi was an active partisan in Romagna: he joined the military in 1941, and once German forces swept up most of his companions, he decided to join the Resistance by running away riding his bicycle towards Russi. He lived the last part of his life in Dozza. Since 1999, the Memorial Luciano Pezzi has taken place: it is a juvenile race (15 and 16 years old), starting in Toscanella and ending in Dozza.
From Via Pirandello, it is possible to keep on following Santerno River – instead of joining Via Emilia- thanks to Canale dei Molini cycling path, starting from Imola Fortress and reaching the Santerno Cycling path with an underpass. Riding your bike towards the south, you’ll ride along the whole Santerno Valley, with a little uphill until Castel del Rio.
On these roads and paths, two of the greatest Italian cyclists rode their two-wheels.
Angelo Fausto Coppi (Castellania, September 15th 1919 – Tortona, January 2nd 1960) was a road and pistard cyclist. Professional from 1939 to 1960, nicknamed “Campionissimo” or “Heron”, Coppi was the most famous and most winning cyclist in the Golden Era of cycling, and considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. He won Giro d’Italia 5 times and Tour de France twice, becoming the first cyclist to win the two races in the same year. His rivalry with Gino Bartali was legendary, splitting in two Italy during the post war period. Coppi is also known for changing the approach to professional races, with his attention to diet and nutrition, to his training methods and sports medicine.
Gino Bartali (Ponte a Ema, July 18th 1914 – Florence, May 5th 2000) was a road cyclist and sports manager. Professional from 1934 to 1954, nicknamed “Ginaccio”, he won Giro d’Italia three times and Tour de France twice, along with many other races from the 30’s to the 50’s. Bartali’s career was strongly conditioned by the Second World War which came in his better years. In 2013 he was declared Righteous Among the Nations for his activities in favor of Jews during WWII.