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The last of the pink confetti had settled over the square of the Duomo, and by the next morning the central square of Milan returned to any other Monday. Well-heeled businesspeople scurried in and out of the metro, tourists gaped at the magnificent cathedral, and teenagers ambled by, one eye ahead, one on their phone screen. The last traces of the Giro d’Italia cleared out overnight, and the vast majority of staff, teams, journalists and fans were well on their way home. But with or without the race, the heritage of Italian cycling is born in this area, and we found ourselves on the short 15-minute train ride to the northern outskirts of the Lombardian capital to the home, headquarters and factory of De Rosa bikes.
Tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood, half residential, half industrial, the De Rosa factory stands today where it has since the 1980s. It isn’t a Brooklyn-style industrial, prone to new breweries or boutique outposts sandwiched between crematoriums and adult stores; it’s where your second favourite aunt and uncle live, close enough to a big city to retain certain curiosities, but just far enough away that those curiosities are just out of reach.
De Rosa, as most of the Italian heritage brands, is in a constant balancing act: as demand for bikes soar, and technology innovation moves forward at warp speed, the company continues to place one foot ahead of the next on the tightrope, releasing cutting-edge bikes, mostly made in Taiwan, whilst remaining a family business, handcrafting frames in its headquarters. Eighty-six-year-old Ugo De Rosa, the company founder, still comes in most days, sitting proudly in the showroom, greeting visitors and keeping one eye on the live feed of bike racing. There is a twinkle in his eye as Guillaume Martin comes into frame, the De Rosa bike in Cofidis colours splashed across the broadcast. He stood up to greet us and extended his hand: a hand that built bikes for Eddy Merckx and Francesco Moser.
Now his son Cristiano has taken over the main helm of operations and his grandson Nicolas is being groomed for future leadership, ensuring that even as the company grows, it will stay a family affair. The factory floor is a melting pot of old and new, swish iridescent painted carbon frames wait next to vintage steel display bikes. Box-fresh electronic Campagnolo groupsets perch high on the mezzanine whilst custom titanium frames are hand-welded in the other corner – a multi-day job for a single bike. The company produces approximately 100 per year. Pictures of Ugo with Merckx line the walls, a constant reminder for all that enter that the story of De Rosa is what De Rosa is: skill, craftsmanship and precision, but most importantly, family.