This October, ultracyclist, adventurer and Scicon Bags ambassador Omar di Felice took on one of his most gruelling challenges yet – Italy Unlimited, covering 3,380km through all 20 of Italy’s regions, totalling over 47,800m of ascent. All of this was covered in just nine days aboard his Wilier Triestina, while travelling with Scicon Bags.
Where did Italy Unlimited come from and what does the achievement mean to you?
This adventure was born out of a dream, a fascination that over several months became reality. But when it was over, the sense of dreaming soon returned to my heart. If I think about those nine long days I almost feel as if I didn’t actually experience the fatigue, given it was so exciting to cross Italy in such a short time. Of course, it marks an important point in my life as a man and a cyclist: from now my limits shift a little higher, and it will affect everything that will aim for in the upcoming years.
My cycling, even if it requires scientific preparation, is partly dictated from my heart and head that often over-rule what’s normal. And that leads to the “Omar Zone”, the time where you use your head and heart to cope with fatigue, and fight against adverse weather and sleep deprivation. All these factors make my discipline “ultracycling”.
How do you prepare for something like Italy Unlimited?
Everything starts with “take the bike and go”, a phrase that I often repeat and apply in everyday life. But this “game” has taken on increasingly serious tones over the years and requires a serious amount of organization. Being able to take on such extreme challenges requires a lot of planning; a dark side that is often not seen. Many people tell me that everything looks tremendously simple, but planning for this adventure kept me busy for a year – from finding the best solution for the route and transfers, to organizing the following team and everything concerning the technical equipment needed, such as bikes, spares, clothing etc.
And what was the result of the planning?
I was given a limit of 3,500km and no more than 50,000 meters of altitude. The only “constraint” was to pass through each of the Italian regions at least once. Even the Giro d’Italia cannot cover all regions during one edition so I wanted to achieve something unique, something never done before. Obviously, I had to make some compromises – I initially planned a route that visited all the places I love and the most fascinating areas, however, the final route would have measured nearly 5,000km!
So I chose some of the historic climbs of the Giro, obviously including the Stelvio Pass, a start and finish in Rome, my place of origin, the Basilica of Superga, and in the south I couldn’t miss the climb of Mount Etna. The final route was much tougher than expected, especially for the first, southern part which had hidden pitfalls and road conditions that are not always optimal.
What was the greatest difficulty physically?
More than ever before sleep deprivation was the great obstacle. The first three days, without having even ten minutes’ sleep, were really tough. I “blessed” the ferry transfer that allowed me to recover some energy. Then on Etna I hit a wall. I tried to sleep for three hours, in vain. On one hand the adrenaline was flowing, but on the other, fatigue was hampering performance and I wasn’t able to pedal at a good pace.
But from Genoa on things started to improve. I entered “Omar Zone” and, thanks to a huge motivation, I was able to keep pedalling for the last four days, successfully maximizing my sleep / awake rhythm.
What were the most beautiful emotions of Italy Unlimited?
I experienced so many emotions. Meeting Tonina (Marco Pantani’s mother), in Cesenatico, was unique. I could have opted for a route that cut off the Adriatic coast, but I longed for a passage in the great climber’s homeland so that was an exception I allowed.
In general, my fans gave me a lot of excitement, often tens or hundreds of people, at any hour of the day and night people rushed into the street. Some people rode certain sectors with me, while others brought me local produce as well as their encouragement.
From the intimate and personal point of view the most beautiful moment was to climb the Stelvio Pass at night with some snowflakes to color my climb.
Which SCICON products did you bring with you and how helped you?
Imagine all the luggage, bike components, spare parts, food and clothing for nine days and a support team of six people – then imagine the chaos that’s possible.
Having everything in order as a team was vital. We achieved this through clever organization and optimizing space. I had two Scicon Race Rain Bags with me, ready with two types of additional clothing – one with my night kit, the other with a complete cold / rain kit – ready to be used in order to speed up the operations of clothing exchange.
In addition, I had two Scicon Pocket Bike Bags with me to quickly put the bike away to carry it in the car during the two ferry transfers between Sicily and Sardinia.
Final words on Italy Unlimited?
Italy offered up new landscapes to me, roads that I did not know, and confirmed how beautiful and varied our country is. I was amazed at some of Sicily and Sardinia, two islands that deserve a visit by bike and not just for the beautiful sea that characterizes them