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Prized ink

I'm not surprising anyone by saying I'm passionate about riding a bicycle — and all the spokes of engagement that entails.

Along with accumulating thousands of miles each season, other aspects of the sport I enjoy include viewing professional races, especially the one-day Classics and the three Grand Tours, and selecting and reading books, mostly those that delve into the history of bicycling and ones containing old photographs. Even working and hanging out at the bike shop are part of the equation when it comes to providing pedal pleasure.

A renewed craving — linked to the enjoyment that two-wheeled machines bring to me — has been my interest in obtaining more autographs of those who have played an important role in cycling. With a collection that already contained the signatures of Lance Armstrong and Bob Roll, I recently wrote in my blog about a major enhancement ... the acquisition of an autograph by Eddy Merckx. In my opinion, the greatest cyclist of all time.

Well, I've added more to my tiny treasure of ink.

Firstly, I revisited the folks at the Horton Collection to acquire the autograph of Roger De Vlaeminck, displayed on a lithograph showing the Belgian cyclist in the 1976 Milan-San Remo race. He competed as a pro for 16 seasons, and was nicknamed "The Gypsy" because he was born into a family of traveling clothiers.

My reasoning behind the purchase is due to the fact that De Vlaeminck, who is still alive, is one of only two people to have won Paris-Roubaix, known as "The Hell of the North," on four occasions. Furthermore, he is one of the three riders who have captured all the Monuments, five classic bike races generally considered to be the oldest, hardest, and most prestigious one-day events in men's road cycling. The other two were Merckx and Rik Van Looy; all three are from Belgium.

Another prize was gaining the signature of Fabian Cancellara, a former professional road racer from Switzerland. I guess he caught my attention mainly because of his ties with Wisconsin-based Trek, my favorite brand of bike. Cancellara, whose nickname is "Spartacus," had a sterling career. Among his many achievements, he was a four-time world champion, and was a three-time winner of both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders.

It was pretty easy getting Cancellara's autograph. I went to his website and learned that by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope, his signature would be mine ... for free.

Last, but not least, was an offer from London-based Rapha that I couldn't ignore. The company, which sells cycling apparel and related products, made available a special edition book titled "Balmamion: The Eagle of Canavese" by Herbie Sykes, an author I'm quite familiar with having read many of his other publications.

This work tells the story of Franco Balmamion, a relatively unknown cyclist, who astonished most everyone by winning the Giro d'Italia, a Grand Tour, in 1962 and again in 1963. Comparatively speaking, the Italian won little else, which makes the Giro feat pretty amazing.

What makes this particular book so notable is the fact that only 100 of them were printed and they are autographed by the Giro champion, as well as the author. What a trophy!

It is enjoyable dabbling in such a hobby. And it isn't limited to just cycling, as I have autographs from the sport of ice hockey, including those of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay — two great players with the Detroit Red Wings.

Anyway, as always, thanks for following my blog and stay safe.

I cannot read Italian, but I do have the two-time Giro champion's autograph.

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