Sunday 2 June 2019

Italian cycling tales from towns on the Giro d'Italia route - 1

Stories from the places on the 2019 Giro d'Italia route. One thing I like about watching the Giro d'Italia cycle race is when the route goes through areas that I am familiar with - either places where I lived or stayed when on holiday, or places I cycled through. When I see the places on TV it always conjures up memories of the time I was there. In most cases I wish I could go back and ride in those areas - even if I am a little older and slower than I was a few years ago!

Verona (Stage 21)
Verona city entrance 
I love Verona. The first time I ever visited Italy I went to Venice. During that visit I also visited Vicenza, Lake Garda, and Verona.

All those places were pleasant and exciting, but my favourite place was Verona.

It didn't have quite as many tourists as Venice, and seemed a more manageable sized town.

There was also more space than the never ending narrow alleyways of Venice. In my opinion Verona looked prettier than Venice and didn't have a tired look about it from the gazillions of tourists, which I seem to notice in Venice.

I love the central central historic areas in Verona, and its Roman arena, where the Giro d'Italia finishes.

The time trial that the pros are doing for this final stage goes up the Toricelle road. I have never ridden up this road, but I have driven up it. Once, on a weekend away in the Veneto region I booked to stay at a B&B just outside the city centre, and it involved me driving up this climb. I hadn't realised that the road up to the B&B would be so twisty or that it even went uphill! So it was a bit of a test of my driving skills, especially as it was late at night, I wasn't that sure of where I was going and was stuck in among all the local drivers.

Verona Arena and City Hall at Piazza Bra
The B&B was very pleasant and we were treated to beautiful views of the city below, so going there was worth the effort.

The Toricelle climb was used in the World Race Championships in 1999, and is a regular time trial route for the locals. A nocturnal time trial takes place there every year around the end of August/early September. They call it a "cronoscalata" (hill climb). That must surely be one for the bucket list - well after a bit of training.

Feltre and Croce d'Aun (Stage 20)

The route from Feltre to Croce d'Aune is essentially the same course as the Gran Fondo Sportful Dolomiti, which takes place in a couple of weeks. This ride was previously known as the Gran Fondo Campagnolo, which is probably a more relevant name given that the guy who invented Campagnolo components was from Vicenza, not far from this area.

In fact he came up with the idea of the quick release wheel - something that is in most bikes nowadays - when a problem with his wheel on the Croce d'Aune during a cycle race in 1927, cost him the win.

I have done quite a few cyclosportives in Italy, but I have never done this one. A few years ago, we used to say that that the Gran Fondo Campagnolo (now the Gran Fondo Sportful Dolomiti) was one to avoid because the weather was always bad. The Maratona dles Dolomiti and Gran Fondo Pinarello which happen in early July both take place on very warm days. But at the Feltre event, the rain always showed up on the day, occasionally with the route having to be cut short.

So I tended to steer clear of it. Looking at recent photos of the race, it seems that the weather tends to be okay nowadays. So maybe it is time for me to consider riding it.

Treviso to San Martino di Castrozza (Stage 19)

I know Treviso from the time when I rode the Gran Fondo Pinarello - another cyclosportive that takes place at the home of the eponymous family-owned bike manufacturers.

Start line of Gran Fondo Pinarello with Yvette from Pinarello
It was more than 10 years ago when I rode it, so the route is a little different nowadays. The day I rode it, in July the weather was blisteringly hot and I rode the 200km route. We rode up Passo di San Boldo, which features in this stage.

Our route was from a slightly different side as we climbed for about 5 miles and then went over unmade roads before eventually threading in and out of a series of tunnels. The views below were spectacular. The San Boldo climb was the appetiser for a longer more arduous climb, not to San Martino di Castrozza, but to a ski area called Nevegal, which was again on unmade roads. It was a bit like doing Eroica!

Once there we turned around to do the run back in to Treviso, and passed over the Volpago di Montello, which was only about 2km long, but the gradient went to 12% - so something akin to the steep climbs I ride in the Kent or Surrey Hills. So I felt at home!

Montello climb in Gran Fondo Pinarello
During the Pinarello cyclosportive guys kept giving me tips and offering assistance to improve my ride. Some would tell me to just follow the wheel and save energy, while others would just automatically offer their wheel for me to draft off.

A bit like the equivalent of a gentleman holding a door open for a woman, when biking in these parts, guys would offer women their wheel and allow them to draft. It's not something you'd ever see in a UK cyclosportive.

In the last 20 miles of the Pinarello cyclosportive a group of local Italian guys came by and got me to ride in the group with them. They did a chain gang and told me I didn't need to take a turn on the front, so I basically got towed to within about 400m of the finish, and then they dropped back and allowed me to come through and sprint for the line! It made me feel quite important - even if I ended up finishing in 4,347th place out of 7,000 riders!

Valdaora to Santa Maria di Sala (Stage 18)

I have been to this part of Italy in the past - not for cycling, but to ski, and on one occasion for hiking. I wasn't in Valdaora but I was in nearby Dobbiaco. Although the area is part of Italy, it has a distinctly Austrian look and feel about it, and people automatically speak to you in German. Some people there don't know any Italian!

Cross country skiing around Dobbiaco
I went on a trip with Exodus Adventure Company to learn cross country skiing some years ago, so we were based in Dobbiaco (or Toblach, the German name). I had been enjoying the skiing, but deep down I felt that there was something not right about not being able to do a long downhill. Cross country skiing is hard work.

The trip took place in December, when the temperature was about minus 15 degrees C. So in those temperatures I put on about four layers under my jacket. However, within about 15 minutes of starting to ski I had to remove layers. It got to the point where I just stripped down to my cycling jersey and arm warmers. Anything more, and I was overdressed!

Cross country skiing is not that type of skiing where you can look cool as you drop down a hill at speed and then lounge around over a mulled wine enjoying the views at altitude. It's just rough and ready and you go hard at it uphill, on the flat, and even downhill! You burn more calories than cycling or running and in my case I end up a sweaty mess.

Cortina d'Ampezzo
So when I'd had my fill of working hard in the snow I left the group and caught a bus to get over to Cortina d'Ampezzo (where the riders passed through during this stage) to enjoy a bit of the gravity-assisted stuff - proper skiing.

I may have been a bit lacking in the style department, especially by Cortina's high standards, but the folks seemed to let me off!

I do hope to go to that area with my bike, and will go through Cortina, plus nearby Passo Falzarego, a well-known climb in that area which was not covered in this year's Giro (but has been included in the past).

Related Posts
Italian cycling tales from towns on the Giro d'Italia route - 2

Riding the Gran Fondo Pinarello

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