Meet Grinduro Italy’s race director who’s spearheading a gravel cycling revolution in the heart of Tuscany while bringing Grinduro Italy to life.
There are a few things that you pick up about Thomas Daddi, organiser of Grinduro Italy, in the first few moments of chatting to him. He knows bikes, having grown up in Crested Butte Colorado during the birth of mountain biking; he also knows sports, competing not only as a rower, but also a rugby player and mountain biker; and he also knows events, with his resort of Punta Ala being not only the founding foot of the MTB Enduro World Series, but also endless other events, including the World Sailing Championships for two classes of boats in 2024.
But the more you talk to Thomas, the more your eyes are opened to how deep his knowledge is about the region around his resort, a unique place on Italy’s Tuscan coast which is going to be the venue of a new round of the Grinduro series. Fresh back from the Atlas Mountain Race, we caught up with Thomas to find out what makes Grinduro Italy so exciting.
Born in the US, this Italian grew up in the mountains of Colorado in what he hadn’t fully realised at the time was one of the birthplaces of mountain biking, Crested Butte. It was those early years that ignited Thomas’ passion for mountain biking, paving the way for a later love of gravel. ‘Gravel was what I had been looking for at the time when I was introduced to it in 2016. It combined the adventure and connection to nature of mountain biking, but on a bike that allows you to move faster and cover more ground,’ explains Thomas and it is this concept that is at the heart of the route of Grinduro Italy.
Tucked away on the Tuscan coast, the resort of Punta Ala sits in a closed nature reserve with limited access to the public. As the base for the event – the festival HQ, if you like – it has all that you would need for a long and leisurely vacation. We’re talking warm waters, small beach huts and SUPs for rent, to name but a few features. This ultra-luxe, laid back vibe gives a welcome juxtaposition to the rest of the route, which gives you the full Tuscan experience in its 100 km, taking you into rolling small mountains that follow age-old byways and gravel roads favoured by local hunters deep into the local mediaeval villages to the stunning halfway point of Massa Marittima. Expect olive groves, vineyards, abandoned mines, sand, sea and much more.
‘Italy is a country that holds so many secrets and its rich history can be felt at every turn. Take the Colline Metalliefere – a string of hills replete with mineral resources – between the coast and Massa Marittima. They are rich in different metal ores and used as far back as the Etruscan times [that’s between 900 and 500 BC] with the route passing old mines that feel like something out of the American west, and charcoal burn sites.’ This history lesson wasn’t something we’d been expecting from Thomas, who’s famed for his Enduro World Series race organising, but he’s clearly equally into his local knowledge as he is the local topography.
Organising Grinduro Italy has not been without its challenges, and with 2023 marking the first time Grinduro has arrived in this renowned cycling country, it doesn’t take much time before Thomas is telling us why now is the right time: ‘Italy is an overpopulated country, meaning that whenever you run an event on land, it is not long before you need to deal with landowners. With sport and tourism being very small – in terms of the number of people who are vocal supporting it – gravel has a trump card because it uses the dirt roads favoured by one of the most vocal groups within Italy, hunters. So, our route – and the fact that this event is on gravel – means that we get easier access than say, a full MTB event where you’d want access to private land for the best trails.’ Even with our limited first-hand knowledge of bureaucratic life in Italy, we would hazard a guess that Thomas is only showing us the tip of this iceberg—and it is one that he has conquered to be able to bring Grinduro to Tuscany.
‘Another exciting thing about gravel in Italy is that it is bringing more people to the trails. That means that all of the huge number of old byways now have more people invested in keeping them maintained,’ Thomas continues, with the knowledge of someone who runs and maintains the majority of the Enduro MTB trails around Punta Ala. He explains that it is his organisation that maintains those trails, but he has pushed to a wider group for help with opening up, and looking after more routes, with a focus on gravel riders. ‘Some of the old routes are in really bad shape. To re-open them won’t just be a case of cleaning them; due to decades of being abandoned, it means pretty much cutting whole new trails into the countryside. That is too much for just me, but with the growth of gravel in Italy, and the fact that these routes can be used by hunters, we now have a powerful lobby to get wider assistance.’ For those expecting singletrack at Grinduro Italy, Thomas assures us that no one will leave disappointed: fast-rolling, smooth and 100% scenic sections are all on the menu.
But back to the logistics, where Thomas is equally as focused on taking things to the next level in terms of the event. ‘The route is dialled in already, a 100 km loop that takes you from the sea to the mountains in a horseshoe shape with roughly 50 km up and 50 km down. We’ve added a lot of singletrack that follows flatter gradients to give riders a taste of what we have here, without taking it to really steep stuff. All of this adds to the adventure feeling of the route. That is something that I’ve taken from other events I’ve done, like Cape Epic, or the Atlas Mountain Race. I want people to take away a sense of having travelled far in what is essentially a small distance.’
‘In terms of the wider event, I’ve been inspired by my travels. Take, for example, the classic post-race pasta party. Why would you want to load up with carbs after the race?’ He laughs, reeling off a list of mouth-watering dishes full of nutrients and fresh produce that he’ll be serving. ‘But, sure,’ he adds, ‘we’re not going to underestimate the desire for a post-ride beer and pizza, where we will have multiple woodfired ovens on the go to give riders a special final treat.’ As Thomas’ eyes light up around the topic of the menu, you feel how his Italian heritage runs deep.
‘Ever since I’ve been running events, I’ve always been looking for one that gives a true festival feel. I’ve experienced how cool that is as a rider, but I know that nothing to that level has really been achieved in Italy. But I feel that with Grinduro Punta Ala we are getting very close,’ he concludes.
Let it be known. Punta Ala is a world-class riding destination and Grinduro Italy is leaning on a dedicated organiser that’s well versed in picking the best line between two points. From the sea to the mountains and back again, we’ll see you there this September.