The opportunity of a lifetime – an invitation to participate in the 19th Felice Gimondi-Bianchi Gran Fondo celebrating the 50th anniversary of Felice Gimondi’s 1965 Tour de France win and Bianchi’s 130 Anniversary, who would pass that up?
Not me, so here’s the story of my Italian cycling experience…
First things first, how to get the bike to Italy? Turns out travelling with a bike is pretty easy – let the airline know that you will be travelling with a bike, pack it in a bag, turn up at the airport with the bike, leave it at the oversize baggage reception, done! What bag? We’ve used the SciCon Aerocomfort Plus for years because it’s easy to use, requires very little bike disassembly and allows plenty of room to pack the rest of your kit. It seems that baggage handlers are more gentle with a soft bike bag than a hard case and bag and bike both made it to Italy and back in one piece.
The next distraction was the whole ‘riding on the wrong side of the road’ experience. As it turns out this is nowhere near as scary as anticipated. Reverse the give way to the right rule and you’re pretty much there. European drivers are also far more tolerant of cyclists than Australian drivers (in 6 days we only encountered two unpleasant drivers) and if you get lost there always seems to be someone on the side of the road to point you in the right direction or a friendly cyclist to tell you the best places to ride.
On to the actual cycling; Bergamo, where we were based, is 40km northeast of Milan, and very easily accessible. The foothills of the Bergamo Alps are just to the north of the town so there are plenty of climbs to experience. For our first ride we decided to head to Citta Alta (the upper city) which seemed to be a popular ride for locals – it had the added bonus of some beautiful piazzas with wonderful restaurants.
Our next couple of days cycling were spent trying out some of the climbs we would face in the Gran Fondo – each one was a challenge in itself. The 12.2km Selvino climb boasts 19 hairpin bends which were arguably easier to navigate going up than coming down; there is definitely a call for disc brake road bikes with this sort of descending! It was quite disorienting to hear cars above you as they navigated the switchbacks. Officially the steepest gradient is 10% but my GPS peaked at 11.9%. Colle dei Pasta was shorter at only 3.4km but peaked at 12% while the Colle del Gallo (7.5km, 12%) and Costa di Olda (10.3km, 10%) climbs were both left for the big ride.
Stay tuned for the adventure of the 19th Felice-Gimondi – Bianchi Gran fondo.