The last time my path crossed with Dario Pegoretti was outside the Team Sky bus in Trento, Italy, before Stage 16 of the 2018 Giro d'Italia. Chris Froome, the winner of that year's Giro, was on the trainer warming up before the imminent ITT stage.
Dario wandered up with Giorgio Andretta, founder and CEO of Giordana. They appeared to be hanging about like all the other spectators. And if you didn't know better, you would assume they were just a couple of ordinary blokes seeking an autograph or just a chance to be close to the action.
But I distinctly remember my attention switching from Team Sky to Dario Pegoretti. I had been a fanboy of his work for years. And I knew Giorgio was a huge supporter and importer of Pegoretti frames to the US. Dario was somewhere between a French philosopher, an aging Italian poet and a Golden Gate Park drum circle hippie.
Our paths had crossed a few times over the years, but we never got past the manly headnod stage. But, I always dreamed we would one day be friends, sitting and smoking countless cigarettes, sharing a toast over grappa, and, more than anything, I wanted him to handpaint me one of his bicycle masterpieces.
But it wasn't to be. Just a couple of short months later, Dario Pegoretti was gone. I mourned. Dario Pegoretti had passed, and with him, my dream of owning one of his rolling art masterpieces. Or so I thought.
Then came word the Pegoretti name and tradition would live on, run by Dario's closest friend, Cristina Wurdig and his unsung 'Master' Pietro Pietricola. I was skeptical, to say the least. In my mind Dario was Pegoretti and Pegoretti was Dario.
But as time passed and 'the Bottega' continued to produce startlingly creative work, I wondered if I had jumped to some hasty and ill-informed assumptions. Tasked with photographing the post-Dario Pegoretti frames being built into bikes at Above Category, I felt the lust.
In my experience, inklings and insights, breadcrumbs on the trail, become conclusions at their own pace. At some point, a summation of feeling hits, and you see things for what they are. So it was with me and Pegoretti. It struck me that this new era of Pegoretti was, in many ways, more Pegoretti than ever, a homage to everything great about the brand, the same playfulness and creativity, but perhaps a little more cohesive and organized. That last part, no doubt, is down to Cristina, who was CEO of Brooks England during its meteoric rise.
But to be sure, I needed to travel to Verona, Italy and look these people in the eye. Before long, I found myself sitting at the Pegoretti factory lunchroom table eating Italian pastries, drinking bottomless espresso and sampling the local grappa while Cristina and Pietro explained life at Pegoretti.
"I don't mind when people try to copy what we do," said Cristina. "When people look at those bicycles, they just say, 'It looks like a Pegoretti'." And this perfectly sums up Pegoretti's past, present and future. They have stepped out of Dario's shadow and started to forge a new era. There are many imitators, which is flattering. But there is only one Pegoretti.
During my time at the Bottega, Cristina made it quite clear you can attempt to photograph a Peg, but to truly appreciate it, you have to see it with your own two eyes. So it is with my apologies to her that I present my Ciavate homage in this piece.
After swigging a final espresso and saying goodbye to the team, I walked out of the imposing double doors that frame the entrance to the Pegoretti workshop, thinking two things. First, Dario's legacy is in good hands, the hands of passionate and skilled artisans and craftspeople. Second, I got to have me one.