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Scarpe Mie!

The shoe that started it all - Eugenio Alafaci's 2014 Bontrager XXX

In a sport like professional road cycling, where there are a dizzying number of regulations on everything from bike weight to the number of tables and electric outlets in a pressroom, every piece of team kit is scrutinized, authorized, and pored over by sponsors and officials alike with an ever-vigilant eye for a non-compliant logo, mark, color, or at the very worst—contraband.

While 90% of what adorns a rider in competition is mandated, shoes have typically been left to the discretion of the athlete. Unlike professional football, or fútbol depending on your taste, there is no ubiquitous shoe brand dominating the pro peloton. No swooshes, no stripes, just an amalgam of buckles, straps, and Boas.

So what to do if you’re a neo-pro carrying the stylistic flair of your Lombardian heritage mixed with the burning need for the social media status revered by the millennial generation? If you’re Trek-Segafredo's Italian domestique Eugenio Alafaci, you get your artist friend to fabricate a pair of kicks that melt the internet.

In Eugenio’s hometown of Carnago, a comune 40km from Milan, that internationally renowned bastion of artistic self-expression, there lives another millennial by the name of Alessandro Richetti. His art is of a distinctly different ilk than his forbearers of the Renaissance. In 2014, Eugenio’s first year racing the WorldTour, Alessandro borrowed a pair of his friend’s team-issue Bontrager XXX shoes. Sharpie in hand, Alessandro set about personalizing Eugenio’s cycling boots and, in the process, created a piece of artwork that worked its way into the roaring mainstream of cycling social media.

We all know that tweets go viral, the photos and memes that have been so voraciously circulated through social channels they’ve become woven into the fabric of our screen-driven lives. And yet, it’s almost impossible to intentionally make it happen. Audiences, even cycling’s dedicated following, are fickle and unpredictable.

Upon receiving the fabricated shoes from his friend Alessandro, Eugenio did what anybody with a pulse and a smartphone would do: He posted a photo to Facebook. The team picked it up, re-shared it, and in a matter of moments, the post became one of the most popular cycling social media artifacts of the year. The shoes caught the eye of Trek’s home office in Waterloo, Wisconsin, and staff were dispatched, not so begrudgingly, to Northern Italy, to meet the artist and talk art, shoes, tattoos, and whatever else would come up.

The village of Carnago is tucked among the ebbs and flows of the glacial bounty of hills, valleys, and lakes near the Italian Alps and Swiss border. With such surroundings, how could one not be artistically inspired?

Alessandro meets us at the door with a shy smile and a welcoming gesture, inviting us to come on in. Ignoring the American assumption that everybody on earth speaks English, we had brought our rep from Trek’s Italian office to make the conversation flow a little easier. We’re immediately joined by Alessandro’s twin sister, Giulia, an affable force of energy and enthusiasm. She spends the entire visit watching over the proceedings, making coffee, and answering questions on her brother’s behalf.

It’s obvious the closeness between them was not left in the womb. Whereas Alessandro is the modest artist, Giulia seems to be the hard-driving and confident agent. Two sides of the Richetti coin. Maybe it’s a twin thing.

We have a coffee. It is Italy after all, and it has been at least 20 minutes since our last espresso, so Segafredos for everybody. Alessandro’s mother pops in and out a few times to check on the two strange visitors who have traveled from an exotic land called Wisconsin to speak with her son about his art, a subject she seems conflicted over. She is undeniably proud of her boy’s talents, just not so much the fact that he has applied them permanently to his body. Moms. Madri.

When the three Richetti are asked about Eugenio, it’s clear the idea of la famiglia extends beyond their front door. “We are very proud of him,” says Giulia. “It is amazing watching him become such a professional.”

“He was a little fat as a kid,” says Alessandro with a chuckle. “The sacrifices he has made to become what his is are inspiring.”

Inspired by his friend’s passion for cycling and influenced by traditional tattoo flash art with a distinctly Italiano flare, the quiet Richetti surrounds himself with his art. His drawings litter the family’s dining table, and they can also be found on the skin of his friends. More than a few have taken his work to the area’s overly sensitive tattoo artists, frustrated their customers keep bringing in the work of a kid with a pencil at a dining room table.

Fully caffeinated and full of pasticinni, we ask Richetti if he would be willing to offer his services to the world once again. The idea we have is to offer cycling fans around the world the chance to win a pair of Bontrager XXX shoes fabricated by the artist himself. Essentially, everybody could have the chance to win a pair like Eugenio’s. We present him with the boxes we’ve carried from Waterloo. Alessandro humbly agrees, and as he holds the shoes in his hand, his eyes scan the blank leather canvas, already beginning to apply his craft.

Before letting Alessandro get to work, we talk briefly about the Giro and the relationship between cycling and art. In Alessandro’s opinion, “They are very much the same. If you have passion, you can be great at both.”