Best of PEZ: Inside Italy’s Red Zone Under Full Lockdown

The COVID-19 Red Zone: Italian cycling ground to a halt as it was about to burst into spring blossom with some of the best races of the season, but there is more to life the bike racing, especially if you live in a ‘Red Zone’. Italian PEZ-Man, Alessandro Federico is in Lock Down, there will be no Strade Bianche and no Milano-Sanremo for him in 2020, but life must go on. Here’s a glimpse of life in a Red Zone as the corona virus takes over Italy.

Italy – The Red Zone

There was a time…
It was this time of the year, and it seems now centuries ago, when I was meeting Ed in Milano to chase our favourite Classic: La Primavera. It hasn’t happened since WWII that this race wasn’t ridden and, personally, I never thought I wouldn’t see her on the calendar. Maybe postponed, maybe never, we don’t know, but simply the Milano Sanremo won’t be La Primavera in 2020.

A few days ago I was terribly frustrated by the cancellation / postponement of the entire Italian March cycling calendar. This is usually my best period, with a lot of races in my country and a great opportunity to meet friends, chase races and take pictures. No chance, everything cancelled.

The cameras will stay in their cases for Angelo and Alessandro.

Now, I’m not frustrated anymore, everything changed in the last 2 or 3 days so fast that it seems weeks have passed, and my point of view is really very different. I even don’t care anymore if the Giro d’Italia will take place or not in May, it is not an argument anymore. How did it happen? I will try to bring you with me, inside the red zone.

The streets will be empty

The cycling season preparation
It was the beginning of January when I though 2020 was arriving as a great cycling year for me. On 5th January I completed my first randoneé ever: 193km starting in the dark of the early morning and finishing in the dark of the evening. More than 8 hours in the saddle (less than 10 in total) to complete my best day ever. A great adventure with great friends known and just found on the road. I was very happy for my result and I decided to participate in another adventure of this kind, so that gave me the strength to continue to ride despite the bad weather, the cold and the will the stay in bed at least on Sunday morning.

On the other side I started to prepare the Spring cycling season, full of great events here in Italy, from Strade Bianche to Tirreno Adriatico and Milano Sanremo. Preparing for those events means to work with the camera for some time, recover the ability to use it, and shot hundreds of boring pictures for test. The best is to shoot a seagull: if you can do that you can’t fail with cyclists!

On TV we were informed about a new fever which was devastating an area of China which was not know to me. It was somewhere very far away, like one of those movies that you watch some time for entertainment. Not my business, I thought, and I kept going with all my stuff.

The view will be missed

The credential time
When I start to ask for credential from RCS for the races, that means that the winter is almost over. Other people don’t feel the spring coming, but I do because of credential applications. I know that in a few days I will start to see first flowers and when credentials are accepted the first almond flower is already out. Bike tours become great because you have better time and longer days. It’s not that frustrating to wake up 6:30 am on Sunday because you can listen already to the first bird song out. Everything really changes very fast.

An annoying, continuous news from China was also coming from the TV news in those morning with the disease spread into South Korea, which is far enough. Another world. Yes, the world is small nowadays, but I live in a little town of 40,000 on the east coast of  Italy, in one of the most unknown region of this country… why do I care?

The white roads

And What of Strade Bianche?
Everything was ready. Just a week to go to Strade Bianche. The full plan for the race ready and in contact already with friends to chase this fantastic race. We have always the same plan, which is great, because we know already how to deal with all the last moment issues, and we are able to shoot the race as many times as we like. Great places, great shots. This race is the most iconic, the most wanted, and we have followed it since 2010; we feel at home.

Like thunder it came; the news of the first case of covid-19 in Italy. That’s the name of the Chinese flu, which I didn’t know two weeks ago. A single case is nothing, I thought, and this was very far from my town, anyway. Not my business again.

In two or three days everything changed. Since the 20th February till now every single day in Italy is the same as a week elsewhere. Since that day everything flows at full speed. The spread of the disease, the news, the deaths. Someone started to put under question this edition of Strade Bianche. I thought they were completely mad. For a flu. The politicians were contradictory: someone saying it was dangerous, someone else saying it was just a flu. My only thought was Strade Bianche, not to miss it.

One of my Strade Bianche pictures, a race I love. Do you want a cycling portrait for your home? Just mail to

Strade Bianche – The Day Without
It was just last Saturday, it seems to be two months ago. It was Saturday 7th and it was supposed to be Strade Bianche day, but it was not. I wake up at 8 am, when I usually I wake up 5 am to drive to Siena. All day long I was watching the time and I was wondering where I should have been chasing the race. 12 am, on the first gravel sector. 2 pm on the top of a gravel sector climb, with the first selection. 3 pm in Siena on the famous Santa Caterina climb. It was devastating. This stupid flu. Still insisting on that, I was kind of blind…

The only way to feel better was to plan a great ride for the next day on Sunday with friends. Let’s do our Strade Bianche.

No peloton in the ‘Red Zone’

Le tour de la zone rouge
Last Sunday with my entire area under the “red zone”, just declared during the previous night by our prime minister, we met with friends for the classic ride all around. The red zone was declared during the night between Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th. Our little town in our remote region is part of it. There are many cases of disease in town, but still the feeling was that this is not my business, I go for a ride. What’s wrong with that?

Me and my friend Angela at the end of our randoneé, it was January 5th 2020

It was a great ride, with two of my best friends: Angela and Giovanni. We were in the hills surrounding our town on a great spring day and we enjoyed every single metre of road. We were supposed to ride out of the red area but we decided to do not come out and to stay inside: there’s still a lot of space!

We were always respecting a 1 metre distance between us, during the ride and during our pause time. We were feeling we were ok. We were still blind.

A red zone is a red zone. But it saves life (maybe)!
Again, it was just 3 days ago but seems weeks. My perception of things changed just after my ride, once back at home. My wife told me about one of our friends whose mother, father and son were affected. Father (aged 70 years) and son (aged 40 years) are serious. Son is very serious. When it happens to someone you know, to someone you met just few days ago it changes. When you listen to their voice, when they tell you it is not a flu, the people get sick very fast, they can’t breath. They can’t breath.

They can’t breath.
They can’t breath.
They can’t breath.
They can’t breath.
They can’t breath.
They can’t breath.

Do you understand? It is not a standard flu. I know you can’t because I was in your position till three days ago. There will be people, also politicians, especially politicians, telling you that is just a bad flu. But this bad flu requires hospitalization. Weeks with a machine, helping you to breath. Or your son. Or your dad. Or your mother. Or your wife. It’s true that not everyone is getting it bad. The young seem to fight it better. But is a 65 years old, really old? How many do you know? That was the moment when I started to realize what does it mean to stay in the red zone. What it means to stay at home. No cycling, because you could fall, and hospitals are very busy. Your stupid fall would cause an additional problem!

Our last ride (for now) in our red zone. This little town is Colbordolo

To live in the red zone means to be responsible. And means to look out of it and know the other will not understand and will continue to live as this is not their business until this will hit that nation, or that town. And it will be too late.

The Poggio will be quiet in 2020

I wrote this piece on March 9th and today, March 10th, the whole of Italy has been declared a red zone. This is the only, tragic weapon we have against the covid-19. And we have to use it. Please take care, just slowdown your life. I know it seems impossible, I know it seems far from you, but it’s not.

The 2020 will a year without spring here. But now we know for sure how life is beautiful.

# You can see more from Ale on his Istagram page HERE. #

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