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It's a bike race, but not as we know it. Old bikes, Italian gents and Englishmen go mad in the Mediterranean sun. Sicily says 'hello' to the Motogiro

The scale of the event is remarkable. There are 400 riders in three competitive and non-competitive classes, which is impressive enough, but there's a massive, behind-the-scenes logistical machine in motion. Luggage is transported from hotel to hotel, red arrows mark the route at every juncture, guides stand on duty along the way and a fleet of vans cruise around, fixing stricken bikes at the roadside.

To the British, American and Australian competitors - of which there's a surprising amount - it's all a bit of fun. But to the Italian elder statesmen of motorcycling, the Motogiro is a respectful and sombre homage to their country's motorcycling heritage. One-piece race rep leathers and helmets are in a minority of one or two. Black is de rigueur, topped off with a pudding basin lid and tinted goggles. It's an exercise in a very particular brand of Italian style.

Out on the open road, nail biting, daredevil, death-defying, slow-motion slipstreaming and outbraking manoeuvres take place amid swarming packs of angry machines ridden by craggy faced Italians in baggy arsed black leathers - gentlemen in the bar the night before, merciless out on the open road.

There's a class for modern bikes too - the 'Touristi' - but it's non-competitive and riders are shepherded along by official guides and contract-hire bike cops. The idea is for the 'Touristi' not to get mixed up with the 'Protaginisti' in the Vintage and Taglioni classes, but it does happen. Stay out of their way. These guys are deadly serious and there's nothing they hate more than being passed on a straight by a modern bike only to be held up in the next hairpin or town centre. Stop at a red light and one, two, three vintage machines push their way to the front of the queue. And more and more keep pushing until the front of the queue is so far forward it's blocking the oncoming traffic and they can go anyway.

But it's the turnout in the towns we pass through and stop in that leaves me open mouthed in amazement. As far as Sicily is concerned, this is a Big Event. Kids get the morning off school to see the 'Giro and collect autographs on any scrap of paper they have to hand. Food is laid out for us to gorge on, drinks are free, and music is played. It's impressive, touching and almost overwhelming at times

On the second day of the 'Giro, our first stop of the morning is in the town of Alimena, deep in the northern reaches of Sicily's mountainous interior. The roads to it are twisty and bumpy but reasonably well surfaced. It'd be hard work on a sportsbike, but it's perfect Multistrada territory. The Vintage bikes seem to be managing okay, too.

Like every town we come to, there's more than a whiff of hardship to Alimena. Sicily isn't rich; its past history has seen to that. But it doesn't stop the entire population of the town turning out to greet us. Freshly squeezed local oranges, food, wine - even a brass band - and all presided over by the local Mafiosi general. Well, that's what he looked like to us...

Continue the ride of the Motogiro

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