Letters From the Front: Slowtwitchers in Italy

I spoke to two business entities in Italy, both with a connection to triathlon. The first is an endurance training facility and bike tour producer in Florence, Italy. Then I spoke to the co-owners of 3T Cycling. Both these enterprises are adapting: One by taking its classes digital; the other by switching to a wartime footing, making sub-assemblies for ventilators.

Matteo Venzi is a triathlete. He runs a bike touring company in Italy, along with a fitness center for endurance sports. His physical location headquarters is in Florence, in Tuscany. His company is Rolling Dreamers. I spoke with him via Zoom.

ST: You have a rent to pay every month. In addition to the bike tours. And your facility is I assume closed.”

MV: Yes.

ST: What has been the disruption to you and your customers?”

MV: Since the breakout of Covid-19, all bike tours are canceled for the whole season. On the gym side, we had to close to our clients, 15 days ago, on the 9th of March, because it was mandatory in Italy. Training centers were among first activities that were closed. Since that time we started a tutorial for our clients, on-demand video sessions. We began livestreaming lessons one week ago. Classes. Mobility classes. Indoor cycling.

ST: Are you using a particular platform for indoor cycling?

MV: Our multi-use set-up includes Wahoo indoor trainers, 3T Bikes, and Zwift. And Zoom.

ST: You use Zoom with everybody on a screen?

MV: Exactly.

ST: Is there a chance that the govt might rescind the order to cancel all tours and races for 2020?”

MV: In Italy, the most important sport is football [soccer]. We know that when football will resume, everything else will as well. The beginning of June is when the football championship is supposed to resume. We think in September we can race again, and when amateurs can take part. But the situation is developing quite fast.

Matteo explained how Italy got to its current state of lockdown. “We started with theaters, training centers, swimming pools. Then restaurants, bars. Now manufacturing. We hope this is the final step. Only supermarkets and pharmacies and other essential services are open. We can’t leave [home] except for extreme needs.”

I told him that we’re in the position, in California. Not all states have identical policies. But, we are allowed to go outside to run, and to ride our bicycles, just, we must honor social distance.

“In Italy, this was possible ‘til last week. As of last week we could run. We couldn’t ride, because the Italian federation said we couldn’t ride. Because if someone crashes the hospitals are already in trouble. They asked us not to ride. The only chance to train outside was to run. But since last weekend, running by yourself is forbidden. We can go outside for a little bit of fresh air. But not for sport. In some regions in Italy, you’re allowed to go a max of 200 meters outside. This is mostly in the north.”

ST: Do you see more Italians online? On Zwift or Rouvy or other platforms?”

MV: In Italy Rouvy is less popular. Zwift is more popular. Nowadays everybody is on Zwift. All our customers call us, ask us how to make an account, which trainer to use. And it’s good for cyclists and triathletes. The runners, it’s very difficult, simply because very few people have a treadmill in their homes.

ST: Is there anything else our audience should know?

MV: Hospitals must choose who can live and who can die. Doctors are getting very angry, because a lot of money was taken from the budgets of hospitals and now we are paying the consequences for these decisions. And we know this is going to last longer. We don’t know about the lockdown. After the lockdown you need to wait two weeks to see the peak. We have no idea which activities we can start again. We have many friends who have hotels, they are sure this season is completely lost.

I spoke to both Gerard Vroomen and Rene Wiertz, co-owners of 3T Bicycles. 3T is at ground zero of the Italian medical crisis, in Bergamo.

Santini apparel was the first cycling company that I heard was moving to a “wartime” manufacturing footing, beginning to make masks for medical use. Now, 3T is also going to mobilize toward this, to the degree it has the tooling and capacity.

Kilometro Rosso is a kilometer-long building for innovation in the Bergamo area. They put out a call for 500 sets of ventilator valve sub-assemblies, as you see in the digital poster further above. 3T Cycling will 3D print in its Bergamo factory, 50 valve sets this week. A sample just out of the printer is just above. It is presumed 500 total, from all vendors who heed the call, will be made by the end of this week. These will then combine with an existing Decathlon diving mask.

At the end of the tube would be a ventilator. A number of companies are retooling to produce ventilators, Ferrari among them.