The Devil in a Dress; L’Eroica Celebrates Alfonsina Strada – Tenzin Namdol

The Devil in a Dress; L’Eroica Celebrates Alfonsina Strada
Words and photos by Tenzin Namdol

“The act of remembering is about the future, not the past.” -Dr. Tashi Rabgey

There was a poster on the door of the Jolly Bar in downtown Gaiole In Chianti advertising a one woman play about and dedicated to Alfonsina Strada, the only woman to have competed in the Giro d’Italia way back in 1924. She was called “The Devil in Dress” by the press who sensationalized the story of a woman riding the Giro against pro racers of the time who were very well known and very male. Strada is no doubt a darling of the Italian vintage cycling social scene but completely unbeknownst to me. The play was one of the many official events organized for the L’Eroica weekend of ogling at relics that function as baseline vision for countless daydreams of bike builds, some looking much like the bike Strada rode for the Giro.

Alfonsina Strada stood 5’2” and came from incredibly humble beginnings and left the world in 1959 under similar economic conditions. The 1924 Giro d’Italia was not her first race and would most certainly not be her last. Although racing and the culture of the myriad of cycling races fails to hold my interest, I have not been able to stop thinking about Strada and the 1924 race since L’Eroica. If you want a detailed account of her life and Strada’s performance during the Giro d’Italia, you can read this brilliant piece by Suze Clemitson. The thing that kept me thinking about Strada was awe at a person who, despite her social milieu, had this unwavering determination to continue racing and breaking records.

Alfonsina started riding to feed her family. She did well enough in her first race at age 13 to earn a prize pig she brought back home to her parents and many siblings. Strada grew up working class poor and couldn’t afford a bicycle until she was gifted one on her 10th birthday. I’m sure she felt similarly to how I did when I got my fully outfitted touring bike at age 30- a sense of wonder at animating adventures dreamed. She did better and kept winning races and kept bringing prizes back to her family. Another lovely aspect of Alfonsina’s story is the support and love she received from her husband, Luigi, who gave her a racing bicycle for their wedding. Luigi would continue to actively support his wife’s racing as a trainer and cheerleader. They stayed together for the remainder of Luigi’s days.

What wonderful things happen when people of the working class are afforded the pleasures that only those of means can enjoy. Does the pleasure multiply? Does the social landscape of the sport become more complex and thusly more exciting as it did during the 1924 Giro? What role does memory play in making way for more socio-cultural rule breakers in the future?

I won’t hold my breath to see women, trans, and gender rebels competing in grand tours like The Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia, but I will listen to Anna Schwinn and start paying more attention to the dynamism of the Giro Rosa. Alfonsina teaches us that desire to ride supersedes supremacist thinking. She teaches us that trailblazers need recognition, love, and economic support while they are still with us. That we must challenge and contemplate our foundational views on who is considered a cyclist. That we must be more like Luigi for the Alfonsinas of today.

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  • Absolutely love the piece but the portraits are the best I’ve seen from l’Eroica!

    • Raoul Morley

      Fabulous portraits it’s so nice to see just happy smiling people loving bikes.

      • Superpilot

        Smiling. It’s missed by so many tranches of cycling culture these days. One local magazine, I have a tendency to thumb the pages and count the faces that aren’t grimacing. Often times I only need to count on one hand…

  • Froste

    Top post on the site in 2018. Love it!

  • dan scheie

    Bicycles, bread and wine! What more could you ask for?!?

  • This will be the hardest article on The Radavist to follow up ever!

  • AdamBike99

    I am smiling so hard right now!

  • Superpilot

    Is there a link to the article? I googled but obvs missed it..
    Some fantastic characters in these stunning photographs.

  • Jorja Creighton

    Superb! The photos are magik. <3 no.12 is my fav

  • Eric Hancock

    Great article and great photos. That looks like it was a fantastic day.

  • Nicholas Haig-Arack

    All of my favorite cycling-related writing this year was authored by Nâm and this one is the best of the bunch. Absolutely inspiring.

  • Evan Krakovitz

    nice article. great photos.

  • Chris Valente

    Damn incredible portraits. Especially #21, probably one of the best ever on this site.

  • Andy-bmore

    The kid with the tiny colnago! This piece and the photos are so great.

  • Thank you Nam, this is so good

  • Mason Griffin

    This super on point! Thanks Nam.

  • chrismoustache

    Shot on film? Excellent stuff all around!

  • Hozzer Jose

    I am not sure that this is different because it was written and photographed by a woman, or not. Women do see the world different than their male counterparts. if my suggestion is remotely true, more women should pick up a camera, sit down and report. Report with your perspective and show us with your viewpoint your interpretation of these experiences. You have truly captured the human element, the most interesting in my opinion in this version of L’Eroica.

    • Agreed and I’ll add, when you do, your work is welcomed here!

  • This is such a lovely piece. Hats off to the artist and glad to see it hosted here.