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In memory of Luciano

September 20, 2017

It has been little over a week since we received the devastating news that our friend, hero, and true cycling great Luciano Berruti, passed away on his bicycle while out training near his home in Chianti, Italy.  It shocked us that this vital man, always filled with energy, was taken from us so suddenly, but we're sure that all who knew him would agree - leaving this world on his bicycle is the way he would have wanted to go. Godspeed, Luciano. You will be dearly missed. 
 
Our good friend Nic Grobler had the fortune of spending an eventful few days with Luciano when he visited South Africa last year for our first Eroica on African soil. While Nic and Luciano faced a language barrier, and a noted age difference, it did not stop these two kindred spirits from connecting on a deep level. All could see their broad smiles and arms around each other's shoulders, and we knew they shared more than a wordless love for cycling... below Nic remembers Luciano, and the time they spent together.

Luciano Berrutti, the true embodiment of the spirit of ’L’Eroica’ and the heroic cyclist passed away on Sunday the 13th of August whilst riding alone in the Italian countryside - doing what he so dearly loved and devoted much of his life to. They found him and his bicycle, spent, both on the ground halfway up a climb. The knowledge that he was out riding provides some consolation with the devastation and sadness from his sudden departure. He was approaching old age in years, but definitely not in spirit and physical capability. Even though I spent only a day or two with him when he came to take part in the inaugural Eroica South Africa in Montagu, he left an impression that will surely stay with me forever. It became clear to me that it is not that he just loved riding his bicycle - he loved and appreciated being alive and lived accordingly. 

I was dreaming of one day being able to have a proper conversation in Italian with Luciano, but up till now our often jovial and precious interactions were mostly without language. The one thing I do remember him saying in English from time to time, is ‘Thank you’, or rather ‘Tenk you’. Those simple two words, often taken for granted, but the way they were said by Luciano Berruti - something stayed with me. He was always gracious, always curious and present. 

From the moment we met at Cape Town airport till we said goodbyes in Montagu time was filled with many jovial moments. We stopped on top of Franschhoek pass for a picnic lunch, and Amedeo, one of the Eroica organizers translated for me that Luciano is loving it so much, he exclaimed that we are going to come back to this exact same spot and have lunch before the event next year - and then for the next ten years! As we drove on further down the pass and then along Theewaterskloof dam we hit the worst storm I’ve even been in whilst in a car, we had some real hair-raising moments with relentless gale-force winds and rain. The rain was literally raining upwards from the bottom of the pass at one stage, and the wind even took out one of our window wipers along the way - luckily the passenger seat side. Luciano kept wiping the windscreen for me and he and Giancarlo Brocci, the founder of Eroica, would bring some motivation to the situation and burst out in song from time to time. Grown men basically serenading each other, whilst I’m fearing for our lives trying to make out where the road is! Just perfect.

In Montagu itself it was such a rare treat seeing a few of the dedicated old Italian cyclists and their rare and beautiful bicycles. Luciano, who maintained the bicycle museum back in his home town Cosseria surely had many great options for bicycles to bring along, but as always he chose to ride on his now famous 1907 Peugeot. Luciano rode this time-machine of a bicycle, with the original wooden rims and all, at the age of 73 for a distance of 90km along some bumpy dirt roads - always looking like he is floating somehow with some type of poetic pedal movement that is hard to describe.

In the middle of the ride we learned that his bicycle’s brakes were giving in - and this just before a climb and hair-raising descent! As always he was adamant to keep rolling, and said that he needs a wooden stick to use as a brake onto his tire - just for backup. I honestly thought we might witness a serious crash that day coming down that mountain, but Luciano knew what he was doing. 

A friend of mine sometime after the event remarked that Luciano appeared a bit like a cartoon character - with his giddy smile and his perfect vintage outfit - looking like a time-traveller abducted him from a 100 years ago. Sometimes these vintage themed events might appear to be somewhat of a dress-up to some outsiders - but I can guarantee you that Luciano was the real deal, a man of passion, a real hard man, someone with immense integrity and an unusual amount of tenacity. 

He cared about the nature of cycling, dedicated himself to make a difference, and he truly did. 

Luciano, I promise to return to our lunch spot next year!
 
Nic Grobler
Cape Town, South Africa
20 August 2017


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