How this Canadian cyclist is dealing with being on lockdown in Italy
“In the space of a week, things have escalated to unprecedented levels”
Editor’s Note: This is one cyclist’s personal experience while in Italy during lock down. We at Canadian Cycling encourage everyone to follow their local government’s health guidelines regarding COVID-19.
Adam Millar, of Toronto-based team Ascent Cycling, left Canada for a three month European cycling trip in January. He’s been travelling around Spain and Italy smashing long rides and huge iconic climbs on what can only be described as a cyclist’s dream vacation.
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At first, the spread of COVID-19 first only made small impacts on his plans, but throughout the past few weeks an idyllic trip has turned much darker than Millar ever expected. Regardless, he still remains determined to make the most of his situation.
The Strade Bianche
Millar had made plans to watch the Strade Bianche in Siena, Italy. In the weeks leading up to the race, there were only 30 or so cases of COVID-19 in Tuscany but as the number of cases rose throughout Italy, teams started to boycott the race.
He was nervous about whether the event would happen. “My gut feeling was that they’d run the race, but maybe the big teams and riders wouldn’t be there,” he says. “It wasn’t until the day I rode the Strade Bianche course that Italian government banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people and instituted a one meter rule.”
RELATED: Strade Bianche cancelled due to the spread of coronavirus in Italy
Ultimately, RCS cancelled the race. “I was gutted, honestly,” says Millar. “When I initially decided to do the trip, the very first item on the calendar was to be in Siena on March 7 to watch Strade Bianche. I planned everything else around that. So to find out it was cancelled was pretty heartbreaking. But obviously, in the days and weeks following that decision, it seems like such an insignificant occurrence.”
Millar had begun diligently washing his hands, but wasn’t very nervous about the virus. The morning of March 8, he was en-route to Sanremo in the province of Liguria when Prime Minister Conte announced a lockdown of northern Italy. “That scared me a bit,” he says, “but Liguria was relatively unaffected by the virus in comparison.”
Far from the lockdown zone, he chose to stay in Italy instead of flying home. The next day the Italian Prime Minister announced the total lockdown of the country. “This changed things quite a bit,” says Millar.
“Currently, the streets of Sanremo and the Ligurian Coast are almost completely deserted,” he says. “Supermarkets and pharmacies remain open, but that’s all. Anybody that you see walking on the sidewalk has a mask on, which is responsible. Cars are infrequent, even in the usually-bustling city centres of these beautiful beach towns.”
Millar describes the feeling as similar to going for a ride at 5:00 a.m.— you encounter one or two people but streets are mostly deserted at every hour of the day. Riding on the roads in the Ligurian Mountains he can go hours without seeing another car or human. “I haven’t seen a fellow cyclist in three days maybe,” he says. “I can’t recall the last one I saw. It might have been Mark Cavendish actually.”
As for why he’s still cycling despite the Carabinieri (government military police) enforcing the lockdown, “I’m in an Airbnb by myself, three kilometers above Sanremo in the quiet hills,” he says. “I leave the building once a day to go for a bike ride by myself, during which I most certainly do not come within one meter of anybody. If this isn’t self-isolating, I don’t know what is.I don’t actually think I could be arrested or fined for riding my bike alone, but who knows. I’ll stick to the rural hills as much as I can to avoid law enforcement.”
Many Italian and cycling authorities along with professional cyclists have recommended against breaking lockdown to cycle outside, as there is a risk of crashing and putting unnecessary strain on an already overwhelmed system.
“It’s entirely my risk here,” Millar said in an Instagram comment. “I don’t have health insurance nor cell phone service to even call an ambulance. I’m riding cautiously in the remote hills, free from the biggest danger on the roads – cars.”
Still in Italy
For now, Millar plans to stay where he is. “The impact of COVID-19 has only just begun in Canada,” he says. “There’s no sense in me flying into the fire all over again, crossing paths with hundreds if not thousands of people in the multiple airports along the way.”
“The thing I’m currently dealing with is trying to cancel my three remaining flights, but my phone doesn’t have any minutes left on it to call the airlines. The Vodafone store in Sanremo is closed by law, and the website isn’t cooperating in my effort to add minutes to my phone plan.”
A word of caution to Canadians
“I’m far from a scientist,” says Millar, “but I’ve seen first hand the impact that COVID-19 is having on Italy. The devastation and disruption here has been so bad in large part because Italian citizens didn’t take this seriously at first. I cannot imagine the sadness and grief and hopelessness that the families and medical professionals are feeling here.”
He warns Canadians to take the situation seriously and exercise all necessary precautions. “Canada has only just begun to be shaken by this thing, so everyone needs to prepare and not underestimate the potential severity,” he says. “You may be a healthy individual who can shake off a respiratory infection with ease, but there are countless people who cannot, including your loved ones. Stay at home if you can, wash your hands and make sure your elderly loved ones do the same.” Millar mentions a phrase circulating Italy right now, ‘Andrà tutto bene’, meaning everything will be alright. “I hope so,” he says.
Follow Adam Millar and Ascent Cycling for more updates on Adam’s situation.