Explore: Riding the Strade Bianche Gran Fondo with Enough Cycling
Alternative racing team Enough Cycling are doing their best to change the face of the sport. Rachel Jary caught up with them at the Strade Bianche Gran Fondo to understand their vision and ethos.
Cycling can be many things to many people. It can be hopping on a town bike to get something from the shops, or commuting to and from work. It can be heading out on a social ride with friends on a weekend. It can be loading a tent and bags onto a bike to disappear into the wilderness for days on end. It can be pinning a number on a jersey to race a local criterium or time-trial, or it can be riding in the WorldTour peloton. Such versatility and variety in the sport leads to vast possibilities.
This is the message that Enough Cycling, a multi-disciplinary team from Italy, are trying to spread. “Everything started on a bike ride right after the lockdown,” explains the team’s co-founder Federico Damiani. “We went for a ride and really wanted to enjoy it. It was me, Mattia De Marchi, and Jacopo Lahbi. We came from different backgrounds. Mattia came from a professional rider background, I was coming from a marketing and commercial background in cycling, and Jacobo was barely even cycling at the time, he was a professional track and field athlete.
“Mattia had had enough of professional cycling, Jacopo had had enough of professional track and field life and I had had enough of just being in an office. We did that super chill ride, no racing or anything, and we just talked and decided to do something different together.”
The mission that the three founders set out for themselves was not to win races or gain results, but instead to create a project which would inspire more people to ride bikes in any way, shape or form. It wasn’t about intense racing and heading straight home to recover, but about building communities, connecting with others and sharing stories.
“We want people to see us and say, okay, this is cool, I want to do that as well,” says Damiani.
In 2023, Enough Cycling is made up of 10 different riders, all from varying backgrounds in cycling. There are people like De Marchi, a former professional cyclist who has won some of the biggest gravel races in Europe, such as the Traka, and finished in the top 15 of Unbound Gravel last year, or those like Anna Kollmann-Suhr, who has only ever raced once in her life and discovered cycling as a means of transport during the covid lockdown.
“I ended up joining Federico for my first ever bike-packing experience with no prior experience, no gear. They were like, it’s fine, we’ll show you the ropes. We have everything for you. They made me feel really comfortable and I liked their vibe, so that’s how I ended up here,” says Kollmann-Suhr.
Damiani explains that the team is trying to strike a balance between enjoying the experience of racing and soaking up the landscapes and the social atmosphere, but also ensuring that they get some results.
“Results are not the main point, but to give credibility to our message you need results,” he says. “If someone who isn’t even finishing races starts talking about the things we talk about, it’s not as powerful. Getting results also helps us to reach a wider audience.”
Partnering with global brands such as helmet manufacturers Kask, who have considerable worldwide penetration and credibility in road cycling, is also important to Enough Cycling to allow them to spread their ethos.
“You need to work with the industry. There are probably many groups of people doing what we do, but for the message to be mainstream, you need to work with the mainstream brands to get the message out. That’s why we like to work with companies like Kask or Pas Normal Studios, for example,” says Damiani.
“We work with brands that have built an audience in road cycling over the years and we have brands that build an audience in gravel or exploration and adventure. This year, we started working with the Crank Brothers, which is a mountain bike brand, because we are interested in spreading the message in mountain biking as well. I want to reach different audiences that I would never do alone.”
Damiani and Enough Cycling are adamant that having fun while cycling and getting race results can exist in harmony. This is something that De Marchi, who spent years living as a professional cyclist, felt was missing when he was competing on the road. He explains that since riding with Enough Cycling, he’s been able to rediscover his love for the sport.
“Before, I would just go to the race and the main focus would be on performance, then I’d just go home and have the result,” says De Marchi. “Now, I go to the race and stay in a house with everyone before, do the race, then we’ll have a bit of a party. This is a totally different experience.”
The team argues that taking a more relaxed approach to races has a tangible impact on performance, too. “Last year, Mattia won the Traka in Spain. We went there super relaxed,” says Damiani. “Then we went to Unbound and everybody was super stressed because we’d gone all the way there, it was the USA, the gravel scene is there and everything. In the end it was shit. We need to not be stressed, that is the most important thing. In road racing, they get it completely wrong. If you just get measured on performance, you get stressed about that, you’re not going to perform. We are talking about marginal gains all over the place, but there’s a huge, huge gain that you can get just by having a clear mind.”
Such a diverse team with varying ambitions and the desire to keep the racing relaxed and fun means that gravel races and Gran Fondo events are the perfect opportunities for Enough Cycling to spread their message. The mass starts in these races and the fact that they are open to all, regardless of if you want to win or just are there to enjoy the scenery, make them more inclusive than most road cycling events.
“When you go to Unbound you are on the start line with Lachlan Morton or with Mattia. If Peter Sagan is there, you start alongside him,” explains Damiani. “Even if you cross the finish line last, or you only bought your bike yesterday, you still start with them.”
I’m speaking to the Enough Cycling team on the eve of the Strade Bianche Gran Fondo, at the back of a traditional Italian restaurant in Siena. Candlelight illuminates our table and the eyes of Damiani, De Marchi and Kollmann-Suhr are sparkling from the glow of the flame. They are clearly invigorated by their vision and the thought of the race the next day. Despite their shared excitement for the event, their goals vary. De Marchi, for example, will be aiming to cross the finish line first in Siena and win the race, while for Kollmannn-Suhr it will be her first experience of a competitive cycling environment.
“Cycling can be very intimidating from the outside and you can get that imposter syndrome, but I think that’s what drew me to this team – I didn’t have that feeling,” says Kollmann-Suhr. “I felt like they were excited to show me something new and teach me what they already know. That made me feel secure, like I can take the next step and try a race and see how it goes, without any pressure.”
“I wanted to make this to involve new people and help them,” says De Marchi. “I want to share my experience so that maybe someone like Anna can try a Gran Fondo first, then maybe she’ll want to do an event like the Traka.”
Damiani is quick to point out that not everything Enough Cycling does is race-focused. “We do social events that are all about staying together and then having a party at the end. For us, these are as important as races like the Traka, even though they aren’t competitive or well-known.”
Enough Cycling will also host their own 700km ultra-race later this year in Italy, with shorter route options for those who don’t want to compete in the full distance. Damiani explains that the event will be a mix between a bike race and a festival, while also taking in some of the history of the area, which was the front of the First World War between Italy and Austria.
“A bike is a special tool to explore a place and to enhance our capabilities of knowing places and people,” says Damiani. “Also from a mechanical point of view, it is the fastest tool you can use without an engine to get around. So from that point of view and from a cultural point of view it is enhancing our way of seeing the world.”
The day after our conversation about the team’s plans and ethos, I saw Damiani and the rest of the Enough Team again in the Piazza del Campo at the end of the Strade Bianche Gran Fondo. They were caked in dust and exhausted, sitting on the hot pavement slabs, baked in the Italian sun, eating tomato pasta from takeaway boxes. De Marchi didn’t win the race, finishing in fifth place after suffering from a crash and a mechanical failure. Kollmann-Suhr was happy with her top-10 finish in the women’s category, a solid performance for someone new to the sport.
However, what’s most notable to me isn’t the results they’ve achieved, but the smiles on their faces and the relaxed nature of the setting. There’s no rush to get home to shower or rest. No scrambling around for recovery shakes or protein bars, just a sense of calm and happiness about being in this historic place, surrounded by the quaint buildings and white dirt roads.
It was at that moment that I began to fully understand Damiani’s vision for the team and what they are trying to accomplish. For them, cycling is a tool to achieve something bigger than results or wins. They are using the sport to spread a message of inclusivity, to try to change the narrative so that the barriers which have long put people off from entering cycling are broken down. It’s about making bike riding warm, welcoming and fun, rather than scaring people away with unwritten rules, aero gains or a serious approach.
“The cornerstone of our way of thinking is that cycling needs to make you happy,” Damiani said to me. “We’re not looking for strong riders on our team, we don’t need that. We need people who understand what we’re doing and want to come on the journey with us to spread our message. It’s about meeting someone and thinking about who they are and what they want to do. That should be enough.”