Cycling is alive and well in the Southeast, especially in North Carolina. Piggybacking a trip to the state for other Velo-related business, photo editor Brad Kaminski and I spent a few days visiting several cycling companies in the area. There are others we weren’t able to visit but the people we did meet were wildly enthusiastic about cycling culture in the Tar Heel State. Up first was Gita Sports in Charlotte.
We met with Sandy Nicholls who has been with Gita Sports since the company was started in 1978. Nicholls kindly gave us a tour of the offices, warehouse, display room (still in progress) and the new Giordana Velodrome, under construction in nearby Rock Hill, South Carolina.
For a bit of background on the company, Giorgio Andretta began exporting goods to the United States from Italy in 1972. In 1978, he moved to Charlotte, North Carolina and has been there ever since, all the while importing many of the most famous Italian cycling names for the U.S. market. Gita now has 2,500 dealers nationwide and works with a Canadian affiliate run by Andretta’s brother, Uno Imports.
In 1987, Andretta and company built the building they currently occupy. It’s a large facility with offices, locker rooms, a kitchen, and a sprawling warehouse full of the latest imported frames from Pinarello, Eddy Merckx and Pegoretti. Stacked high on shelves are row after row of Giordana clothing and DMT shoes. Campagnolo and MOST (Pinarello’s accessory line) parts fill other aisles.
Hanging behind the lobby wall is a small collection of race bikes. A 10th anniversary edition Eddy Merckx, Alessandro Petacchi’s Fassa Bortolo Pinarello and Freddy Rodriguez’s USPro champion Merckx are on display as evidence of Gita’s connection to racing. But they are all overshadowed (in my opinion) by Giovanni Battaglin’s 1981 Giro d’Italia-winning Pinarello. At first glance, it appears to be just any other vintage race bike. But a closer look reveals a triple crankset that Giovanni Pinarello made especially for Battaglin in his pursuit of winning the Vuelta-Giro double that year.
But Gita isn’t a museum and as a company it most certainly isn’t stuck in the past. In fact, the folks at Gita are helping to build the future of cycling in the Southeast. The brand new, outdoor, concrete, 250-meter Giordana Velodrome is set for its grand opening on March 17th, 2012.
Thad Fischer is the cycling coordinator on the project. He gave us the lowdown on the track and even let Nicholls and I climb the 42.5-degree, mid-corner banking. He is a cyclist himself and his energy for the project is obvious.
The velodrome project began eight years ago when a 1,000-acre plot of land in Rock Hill, South Carolina was purchased by a developer in the area. Houses, condos, hotels, restaurants and shops are all included in the plans for the development along the banks of the Catawba River. Several plazas will feature in the new neighborhood and the velodrome will be at the center of one of them. Also planned are a criterium circuit, mountain bike trails and a UCI BMX track (planned to open mid-summer).
Construction on the facility started in April 2011 and progressed quickly. The track was poured in 50 sections and required over 200 tons of rebar. A tunnel connects the infield to the track entrance and athlete accommodations will include on-site bike storage, a changing room and bathrooms.
The track will have 800 permanent seats and room for temporary bleachers to drastically increase that number for big events. And they’ll need those seats. The track has already been granted the 2012 and 2013 elite omnium national championships. Fischer and company are also hoping to host an exhibition event with several Olympians after they return from London.
On the drive back to the Gita offices, I chatted with Nicholls about the health of cycling in the Southeast and of Gita itself. Both of them are doing quite well, according to Nicholls. From what I saw, I would have to agree.
Because of Gita’s long relationship with Pinarello, and Pinarello’s relationship with Campagnolo, Gita received some of the first bikes in the U.S. with the new EPS electronic drivetrains. Aftermarket groups are harder to come by, even for Gita. But if a dealer buys a complete bike from Gita it will have parts from the Italian manufacturer with exclusively Campagnolo parts.
It is also the exclusive importer of some of the world’s most beautiful bicycles, those from the hands of Dario Pegoretti. The enigmatic Italian is artist, craftsman and advocate for the hand-built bicycle scene. If you’ve never seen one in person, seek one out; catalog images can hardly capture the intricate paint jobs.
Eddy Merckx bikes won’t be getting as much race media attention this year as Quick Step merged with Omega Pharma and the team now rides Specialized. But the brand has good customer loyalty and the 2012 line looks strong. Nicholls kindly lent Velo photo editor, Brad Kaminski a shiny, new EMX-5 to ride during our week in North Carolina.
Nicholls was also happy to see Team Sky’s signing of Danny Pate. Not only is Nicholls a fan, he also pointed out that an American on a Pinarello at the front of the race is good for business. It also doesn’t hurt that another Anglophone is winning races on a Pinarello this year, a certain Mark Cavendish.
While Gita’s past is deeply rooted in Italy (and a little in Belgium thanks to Merckx), after over 30 years of business in North Carolina, it is a mainstay of the cycling culture in the Southeast. In fact, Andretta’s son, Julien now works at the company in the art/design department. Gita is most certainly a family affair, one that’s sure to be around for some time to come.