If you’ve recently taken to cycling and want more than British riding can offer, in Italy there’s a ride waiting for you…
In Italy cycling has been a passion long before Brits became good at the sport, and the call of the Gran Fondo is felt by all Italian Cyclists. From the Dolomites (above) to cycling in Ravenna there are events all over the country.
I previously ran the Evolving Cyclist Project to see what an average commuter could do with some support in a season spent training for one event.
The event was to be a Gran Fondo (classic long distance Italian race of over 120km) and the location Emilia Romagna.
Riding hard, way out of my comfort zone and even further out of the saddle – which still hurts me – I’d put down the miles, picked up some essential road cycling skills and was dropping a few pounds, too. That said, I’d not heard back from my contact in Italy and never really thought I’d get the chance to ride a Gran Fondo.
And then I got the email: An invite from the city of Ravenna to ride the FRW Gran Fondo with less than four weeks’ notice!
I’d visited Ravenna when riding in Emilia Romagna three years previously. When I left I told my hosts that I’d return; I’d fallen in love with the place and lost my heart to ‘the land with a soul’.
Still, when the call came for the race and I looked at the Altimetria, I had to draw breath. Hills. Big hills. And I’m more mountain ox than mountain goat…
The fertile plain of the Po Valley runs through Emilia Romagna to a river delta that empties into the Adriatic. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, it’s popular for cycling holidays in Italy – as a plain it’s perfect for flat, easy-going cycling.
But head south from Ravenna and you’ll soon see the Apennines – low mountains that border Tuscany. It was time for a triple chainset on the front.
The wonderfully named village of Forlimpopoli makes a perfect rest break when riding in this region – it was home to Pellegrino Artusi, author of perhaps the earliest and most famous Italian cookbook, and now hosts a gastronomy school in his name.
And it was on the Gran Fondo route – but as I was to find out, there would be no time for a caffé doppio (double shot espresso) in anticipation of the climbs ahead…
For a real challenge you could take on Monte Trebbio, a climb that’s featured in the Giro and a short ride from Modigliani or for more casual rides stay in the Po Valley on routes between Ferrara, Bologna and Ravenna
It’s no surprise really that ExperiencePlus! – a company that leads cycle tours in Italy – runs gastronomy rides around here, where you aim to pedal off the calories you ate the night before.
They were the ideal people to help prepare me for the ride: based outside of Ravenna and with years of local cycling experience they know the routes and the best rest spots.
Just don’t expect to come back a jersey size smaller if you’re a lover of Italian food: Emilia Romagna produces the crumbly Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, balsamic vinegars the likes you’ll never find in your local superstore, and cuts of meat that most Italians have never savoured.
And the wine, there’s just not enough time to talk about the wine.
And so, with less than a month to go, ExperiencePlus! offered me accommodation, the organisers paid for my entry, and Schwalbe stumped up a set of Durano Plus replacement tyres.
ExperiencePlus! had a pack of stunning titanium bikes from top-end Dutch bike maker Van Nicholas. It was the first time I tried a Ti bike and it was excellent. They had it ready in advance based on my measurements and were happy to make final adjustments before the race.
While I spent my time chasing the brightly coloured local heroes – I had my five minutes of fame bossing the Peloton – but ultimately really didn’t have the lungs, or the legs, to keep with their frantic pace.
For me I’d much rather be cycling in Ravenna and exploring the stunning countryside at a more leisurely pace.
Italy is the ideal place to consummate your love of cycling. There’s no need to race with the local pros as I did; there’s much more pleasure to be found around the Apennines and endless cultural visits to be taken to Ferrara, Modena and Parma.
If you feel the call of the Gran Fondo or want to try cycling in Ravenna then check out www.experienceplus.com