On a hot day at the end of August we met the man we can define as the father of mountain biking in Europe and Garda Trentino, a journalist of the German magazine Bike Magazin, creator of the Bike Festival of Riva del Garda and of the Bike Transalp stage race. Who are we talking about? Of course, Uli Stanciu. Perhaps, introductions are unnecessary.
Anyone who has the slightest interest in mountain biking cannot fail to know this name.
Between a glass of bubbly (Trento doc, of course!) And an amuse-bouche of carne salada, we find the time to be definitively enchanted by Uli’s story about the birth of that “flow” of young outdoor enthusiasts who, from Germany and gradually from all over Europe, learned about the overwhelming beauty of this territory and how it was ideal for sports such as windsurfing first and then mountain biking.
Everything comes from… freedom. And, you won’t believe it, from the desire to “imitate” life overseas. The 1960s, Uli tells us and teaches us about history, were years of rebellion. The young Europeans of that complex and at the same time very lively historical period had the desire to go against the tide with respect to their parents, to live perhaps emulating that sense of freedom that came from America and the “American dream” that at the time was well represented by a specific sport: surfing.
Certainly the high waves of the ocean were not easy to find in Europe. But thanks to the wind it was possible to take advantage of sailing on a surfboard to create a similar sport much more suited to European climatic conditions. Thus, windsurfing was born. The certainty of finding a regular wind, the enchanting landscape and the excellent infrastructures already present in Garda Trentino gave birth in the 1970s to the first flows of sports tourists with windsurfing in their hearts. Torbole thus became the home of this sport right in the middle of Europe.
From windsurfing to mountain biking
One day in 1985, Uli tells us, he saw a mountain bike for the first time. Before that, racing bikes dominated the market. Bikes that needed appropriate clothing and, of course, also a very specific posture. Two wheels made for training rather than for fun. But those young people from 1968 still wanted to play and to find, in addition to windsurfing, another sport they could really enjoy once the board was put away. A sport for any time of the day, even in the rain. An outdoor activity without those strict rules that the racing (or road) bike had and which, once again, instilled in each of those young people a strong sense of freedom. In 1989 the magazine Bike was born in Germany thanks to Uli Stanciu and hence the need to test the MTB and then tell the readers all the news of the market.
So where should mountain bikes be tested?
Gran Canaria beat all the other competitors but, due to the prohibitive costs of transporting 30 mountain bikes from Germany to the Spanish island, the destination was changed. A friend of Uli, a motorcyclist, suggested a place: Tremalzo. The first photos of this group of enthusiasts, free and happy, in the middle of winter in t-shirts, pedalling on a mountain bike with a breath-taking view and an intense blue sky behind them, left his readers speechless. Soon the word spread that right here, on Lake Garda, holiday means freedom: from windsurfing to mountain biking. The many surfers who already knew the area bought mountain bikes and thus started a “fashion” that will never leave Garda Trentino. The holidays are thus marked by a double rhythm: that of the wind that blows regularly and of the free and happy pedalling along unpaved and panoramic paths that gave that same sense of freedom.
Little by little, fabulous paths such as Monte Brione, the Altissimo, Monte Velo were discovered together with a mild, Mediterranean climate, hotels and restaurants ready to welcome the flow of tourists on two wheels.
The Bike Festival – the most important MTB event in the world
It all started with the desire to let all readers of Bike magazine try new bikes and new products at the beginning of the season. Since then, the mountain bike season begins every year with the Bike Festival at the beginning of May, accompanied by the intense blue of Lake Garda: the event has thus become a fixed appointment at a national and international level that totally involves the MTB world, bringing over 45,000 fans to Riva del Garda every year.
After having concluded our very pleasant chat, we said goodbye to Uli Stanciu and his wife Giovanna, two volcanoes of ideas, two inexhaustible eternally young people who, perhaps, will never grow old because they are bearers of that incredible desire for freedom, fun and light-heartedness that characterizes every traveller and every outdoor enthusiast who finds his paradise here in Garda Trentino.