PORDENONE, Italy — You don’t have to live in Italy long to realize that the locals take bicycle riding seriously.

Professional cyclists are probably second only to soccer stars among the country’s sports heroes. And, on even a short drive, it is normal to pass an elderly person or a group of teens in uniform pedaling on the side of the road.

But there are a few things Italians take even more seriously: Food, friends and family.

Throw out the soccer and add the other four loves together and you have the Pordenone Pedala.

The annual event — not a race — turns 32 on Sunday with a 42-kilometer course through Pordenone and towns to the south.

“It’s something to do on a Sunday and something fun to do with your friends,” says Linda Romanin, an American who works in the legal office for the 31st Fighter Wing at nearby Aviano Air Base.

All 4,999 of your friends.

Organizer Demetrio Moras — the man behind the event every year of its existence — says he won’t allow more than 5,000 people to participate. As of Thursday, he already had more than 4,000 entrants.

Logistically, getting that many people on bikes around a 42-kilometer course and feeding them lunch and dinner is enough of a challenge, he says. So those who don’t register in time will have to wait until next year.

And there always seems to be a next year. In fact, Moras, who owns an office supply store near the starting line in downtown Pordenone, already has a good idea of where the course will run next year.

Speaking through an interpreter, he says the city of Brugnera is a likely destination. Last year, Aviano was included in the route. In fact, it was the place where those biking broke for lunch.

This year, that place is Pravisdomini, about 12 miles south of Pordenone. The route, which will be blocked off by a combination of volunteers and local police, also passes through Corva, Cinque Strade, Azzano Decimo, Chions, Panigai, Villacriccola, Fagnigola, Le Fratte and Tiezzo.

For a 5-euro entry fee about ($6.18), participants get a number, an assortment of memorabilia and coupons for lunch and dinner. Lunch consists of a sandwich at Pravisdomini. Local grocery chain Conad is donating most of the supplies. Local Italian army units will cook a pasta dinner.

The race isn’t supposed to be competitive, so no awards will be given to the fastest riders. And those who break down should be well cared for. About a dozen doctors will be driving in vehicles along the route and will be joined by about 50 volunteers from the Italian Red Cross.

If a rider’s bikes breaks, he or she might be able to ride along the route in a van while their bicycle is repaired in another van. That’s not something that would fly in the Tour de France.

But Moras says even six-time tour winner Lance Armstrong wouldn’t feel the need to be competitive in an event where three generations of families often ride together.

“He would ride slow,” Moras says with a paternal smile.

Romanin said about 120 Americans participated last year. She’s the contact person on base this year — call her at DSN 632-4790 — and about 70 people from the base have registered so far. That’s far fewer than the 700 or so spots reserved by the local Electrolux factory.

But Moras says everyone is welcome — provided they have a bike and register on time.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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