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It’s evident that cycling is a dangerous sport: clashing shoulders in sprints, skimming across slippery cobblestones and plummeting down twisting, technical descents bring a indisputably high level of risk. Yet Vittorio Brumotti takes things to a completely different level.
Most of the danger in cycling is a by-product of the conditions of racing, rather than a goal in itself. But for the Italian, dicing with serious injury and death is his raison-d’être. Pushing limits, going (literally) close to the edge is where he has made his name.
It is, in fact, precisely what his reputation is built upon.
You’ve likely seen his videos online. He was previously sponsored by the Tinkoff Team, and is currently backed by Astana. Both teams released many videos featuring Brumotti, sharing his lunacy with a wide audience. Yet despite their sponsorship he doesn’t race WorldTour: in fact, he doesn’t race at all.
Instead, he makes popular videos risking his life on the edge of high cliffs, jumping from rock to rock on precipices such as the Grand Canyon, riding the metal support beams on high-altitude bridges.
Think of the most inappropriate places for safe cycling, and you’ll find Brumotti there, grinning at the danger. His approach is caution to the wind mixed with fearlessness and incredible skill.
“Every day I have difficult moments,” he tells CyclingTips, speaking in English tinged with a strong Italian accent. “For example, one time I tried a bridge when there was a strong wind. On the left side, I would fall 4 metres. On the right side, 100 metres…”
“My motivation to climb the tallest bridge in the world is the adrenaline. Adrenaline is the best sensation in the world. It is positive. There isn’t life without adrenaline, for me.”
Andrea Oddone is Brumotti’s agent. He has known him 30 years, at first riding bikes with him, then doing exhibition shows together with him. Ten years ago he started working alongside him as his representative, a role he describes as being ‘his right arm.’ He looks after his sponsorship deals and, on both a professional and personal level, knows him extremely well.
He has a lot of admiration for him, but also a clear respect for the amount of danger involved.
“Vittorio is definitely crazy,” he says. “As you can see from his videos, he lives for adrenaline. He likes adrenaline and he needs adrenaline every day.”
Watch Brumotti’s videos and you will quickly see that lust for thrills. Most of us have a healthy appreciation of danger, inner warning bells which tighten stomachs, raise heart rates and entice us to step back from the edge. It seems to be the opposite for him.
Where there is risk, there is reward.
Where there is threat, there are thrills.
And where there are barriers, where there are boundaries, there is an almost-illogical bravery.
“He lives every day for the adrenaline,” Oddone says. “Performing special stunts with the bicycle, and also doing very aggressive and dangerous reportage for Italian television.”
Yet the agent emphasises that there is a lot more to him that that. “For me, Vittorio is a business biker, because he was able to work with the bicycle and to do a very good career. Not only a biker, but also a businessman,” he explains. “He actually has a production company. 90 percent of the videos that you can find on the web are made by us, by our production company. So this is very important for us.”
Indeed, Brumotti appears to have a keen business instinct. He’s enjoying life, getting a kick out of his thrillseeking, but also has a level of exposure beyond what might be expected. Sponsorship deals with first Tinkoff-Saxo and then Astana are testimony to that, and so too what came before. He’s is a former trials world champion and holds ten entries in the Guinness Book of World Records.
One of those is for the ascent of the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, the world’s tallest skyscraper. He climbed the 4,000 steps in 2 hours 20 minutes, bunnyhopping up each flight of stairs on his bike. That video has over a million views.
Others, such as the death-defying acrobatics carried out at the Grand Canyon have also been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. Each would have watched with a swirl of emotions. Admiration mixed with astonishment mixed with questions about his sanity.
However there is also a side to Brumotti far, far away from cycling. That’s perhaps the most interesting aspect of all.
Heading into the hornets’ nest
Canale 5 is the most watched private TV channel in Italy, having an audience share of 16.7%. One of its top performers is the Striscia la Notizia programme, a satirical TV show running since 1998. It is part-parody of local news, but also has a very serious side to it: exposing government corruption and other unsavoury elements of Italian life.
“It is the most popular programme, with an audience of eight, nine million every night,” says Oddone. “And Vittorio works for it since 2008. He is a special reporter. In the past he did all the reportage on the bicycle…I think 1,000 [reports] over ten years. Now, starting from this season, he changed the kind and focus of the reportage. He decided to leave the bicycle a little bit back. Working with these strong people, it is impossible to use the bike. It is a different kind of reportage.”
So what does he do? Brumotti goes undercover, infiltrating troubled areas in Italy and gaining the trust of dangerous people. He wears a hidden camera and puts himself in danger to get footage for the TV show. He films people selling drugs such as cocaine and then, at a later point, returns to the scene with a loudhailer and draws as much attention as is possible to who he is and what he is doing.
He also waves around photos of the drug dealers, making it abundantly clear that they have been caught in the act.
Needless to say, it doesn’t go down well with the criminals. He has been beaten up multiple times, has provoked many of their arrests, and police regularly have to intervene to ensure the safety of him and also his crew.
“Camorra is the cancer of Italy. It is the mafia from Naples,” he tells CyclingTips. “My job is to go in the supermarket of drugs, cocaine, with the spy cam, and ask about cocaine.
“Then to go back to pusher, the boss, and return with my reporter card and show him his face [in secretly-recorded photos]. ‘You are a pusher.’ After this, usually the pusher puts a shot in my car, but I have it bullet proofed.
“I think is a revolution. Because I am from sports. Sports is a unique drug, a unique cocaine. This is my cocaine – adrenaline.
“Stop with the fucking drugs.”
Oddone is well aware of the danger, and seems a little concerned. But he knows Brumotti a long time and understands what drives him.
“You’ve probably seen some videos on his social media. It is not a joke. Everything is true,” he says. “Without police, without security … just Vittorio and bad people like pushers, like Mafiosi, Camorra.
“To be honest, in this moment, I don’t know why he is so focussed on this kind of reportage. And I know him for a long time. It is strange for me to understand this job. He is working side by side with the police.
“It is not easy to go in these cities like Palermo, Naples and Rome and fight bad people. So it is important for him to have a sort of security. He is driving, for example, in a special car which is bulletproof. When he does this kind of reportage, he wears a bulletproof jacket. But it is not easy. It is not easy.”
‘He is never scared’
It is evident that Brumotti is someone drawn to danger. On the bike he takes risks; away from two wheels, he does exactly the same. That fits in perfectly with his image: long haired, bearded and covered in tattoos. At the bike races he attends as a sideshow act, he stands out as non-conformist. Alongside the homogenous riders on homogenous teams, he is an individual apart.
He’s also a big personality. He dated the niece of Giorgio Armani in the past; now he’s in a relationship with Italian TV personality and model Giorgia Palmas. His high profile makes him a very recognisable face in Italy and elsewhere, while his big social media presence has earned him plenty of attention and millions of views.
So what motivates him? He doesn’t shy from the spotlight, so he clearly enjoys publicity. But more than that, what he’s drawn to is pushing limits. If someone believes something is impossible to do, he’ll try. If they argue it’s too dangerous, he’ll give it a shot.
“I think that Vittorio has a different feeling than fear,” admits Oddone. “When he rides on the edge of the tallest bridge in the world, his sensation is different to that of other people.
“I am also a trial biker, and I do stunts with bicycles … but not like him. He is the only one who is able to ride a normal road bicycle on the edge of the bridge, on the edge of the building. I think he has a very good feeling on his bicycle, and he is never scared about death.”
Asked about this, Brumotti doesn’t respond like many would. Instead of explaining how he rationalises fear, how he deals with danger, he laughs it off. His concern is for others, and how they feel about his risk-taking.
“Every time riding in the tallest and dangerous place. I think about my mum and my father,” he says. “I am riding for my parents. I will go on the edge. After this, I take the telephone. ‘Papi, Claudio, I am okay…’ ‘Wow, happy!’
“This is 100% Brumotti. Crazy, and positive vibes.”
The Italian comes across as laid back when interviewed, but that’s misleading. Nobody gets to where he is and stays alive without a certain amount of calculation. He’s got an ability to stay calm under pressure, to simultaneously thrive off adrenaline while also fending off the paralysis of fear.
Oddone seems a little worried, but also has clear admiration for his bravery. He tells a story of an incident from Palermo, when Brumotti filmed drug dealers and then returned with his loudhailer to make clear that they had been caught in the act.
Brumotti walked around shouting at the criminals, antagonising them, and then joined his crew in their car. They drove a corridor between two tall buildings, and then things got ugly.
“He is doing a very, very dangerous job for the television,” says Oddone. “I think the most dangerous moment thus far has been when the people threw big rocks, like 100 kilos, off the roof of the building onto Vittorio’s car. You can see the video of the reportage on social media.
“After that, the police found a bullet hole in the car. So I think that this was the most dangerous moment.”
So did this prompt a rethink from Brumotti? Not exactly.
“When I received the news of this attack, I sent a message to him,” says Oddone. “I said, ‘wow, now it is going to be very, very dangerous…’
“And he replied to me with a message: a smile.
“This is Vittorio…”
Videos of Brumotti in action