Amazing Italians Hoists from afar On two wheels

It rained in Switzerland, so I did hot-cool things in Italy

A post about a few very warm days. Really very warm days. Way too warm days.

Ouff… this Italian Summer is a hot affair. Ever since the Giro d’Italia, it has been almost continuously above 30 degrees (Celsius), and frequently it has also gone even beyond that and reached 35 degrees for a number of subsequent days. Last weekend was the latest installment if caldo africano, African heat flowing over the Italian peninsula.

The girl was on another short trip with a friend, basically catching up on all the with-friends-holidays that she didn’t do in the past years. I had little motivation then to stay in overheated Milan. A quite nice plot had developed around a weekend in the Gotthard area. That’s one of Europe’s most famous tunnels, but it’s also one of Europe’s most famous mountain summits (the ascent from Airolo goes over historic cobbles), and location of two of Europe’s most challenging multi-summit-loops. Well, I would not have done these loops, as I consider them a bit beyond my limit of enjoyment, but I would have cut it down in more manageable portions. Would, though. The weather forecast got unstable.

It actually got unstable for the entire Italian Alpine area, so that I didn’t know where to go pretty much till the day I left. On Friday, I returned to Biella, where I had just been in May to attend the Giro d’Italia stage up to Oropa. I had shot my first GoPro video there.

For Saturday and Sunday, I took the car that we wisely had rented for the entire week anyways and drove to Lago di Garda. At this point, it was actually the single big Italian lake I had not been to yet this year. By bike, that is. It was announced to be hot there, as well, but at least the forecast promised dry conditions. And it would fit the story line of the previous weekends: Closing gaps on my Veloviewer activity map.

No news on gadgets. Instead, I’ll quickly delve into the highlights and noteworthy observations of the rides I took.

Day 1: From Biella to Arona

I started with a repetition of the ride up to Oropa. Well, no, I started with a bike ride in one of the oldest bits of rolling train stock I have seen yet in regular service. It was rather cute, just that it did not have a very strong air conditioning. By the time I reached Biella, I had already emptied a full bottle, which I then filled up on the early bit of the climb. Still, I bested my time till Oropa. But let me say I was only mildly satisfied. I started too fast, particularly given the heat, and already 4km before reaching Oropa needed to reduce my speed. For the rest of the day, I then had to take it much easier than I think I would normally be able to maintain. Hence, I gained time to Oropa, but that made me lose it everywhere else.

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The route itself leaves me with mixed feelings. Oropa and the subsequent bit further up to the Galleria Rosazzo are great. It offers beautiful views. The next climb was the Bielmonte or, as it’s also called, Panoramica Zegna. This one brings you up to almost 1,500m, and as it’s on the Southern side of the first mountain, in theory it offers fantastic views into the Northern Italian plains. However, due to the high humidity, long distance views were pretty limited, and then it actually becomes kind of boring. The descent is nice – wide roads in great condition – and there was little traffic on the rest of the route I took, but also very little interesting to see along the road. It only really got nice again on the last 1,000m alongside the lake through Arona.

Day 2: Sweating up to Monte Baldo

Maybe this was the toughest day I’ve spent on the bike all year around. So tough. So tough. I’ve cycled longer distances. I’ve cycled after a larger number of exhausting days. I’ve cycled longer and steeper mountains. But I had nothing with that much elevation so exposed to the sun at these temperatures. Not many times this season I needed to take a break while climbing up a mountain. I can recall breaks during the Transalp in order to wait for the others. I recall some breaks up Monte Olimpino at Lago di Como – that one was too steep for me on a day in which I had not eaten well the day before.

At Monte Baldo, I cracked under the heat. At some point it just got too much. The legs were okay, the heart-rate moderate; I was well-paced and yet I started to feel bad. No surprise, as there was really no shadow whatsoever aside of some very isolated spots. For the rest, I was already at 1,300m before I entered into something like a forest. Not surprisingly, that’s when things also got easier. I admit that also the gradient eased down in that section.

I had toyed much with the idea of cutting it short. Just turning around. Taking an alternative route down half-way up the climb. But then I told myself I would never go back here again. And that I wanted to give myself the feeling to have cycled on that road that one year in the past I had seen while hiking up the actual Monte Baldo. Fun fact: That road was actually the alternative route down. Well… Still, it was worth it when I reached that spot at the Bocca di Navene which offered a great view down on the lake, particularly on Limone sul Garda where I would spend the night.

Quick note: As in many of the valleys that are open to the North-Italian plain, Lake Garda and the parallel valley of the Adige (German: Etsch) are strongly affected by thermal winds. In the morning and pretty much until lunch time, wind will come from the North. It will then switch to South. In route-planning, that should be taken into consideration, if possible. I finished my loop with some tailwind this time.

Day 3: Ponale on 23mm tires

By now, I have pretty much exhausted many of the road bike options at the Northern end of Lago di Garda. But last year, I had discovered the Ledro valley in a transit by car and thought it would be nice to cycle there as well. Just that it’s a bit difficult, because on the Eastern side of this valley, towards Lago di Garda, transit is difficult for road bikes. There is a tunnel which cyclists are not allowed to use. Italian police has an eye on that and fines are hefty. Plus… it’s 7km of tunnel. I can imagine nicer and healthier things. And there is the Ponale. The Ponale is the former street that was replaced by the tunnel just 20 years ago. But it was not just given up. On a stretch of 2.5km, it was downgraded to a mountain-bike trail. The asphalt was literally destroyed on purpose and replaced with features of a proper downhill – jumps included.

Ultimately, I decided to ignore it. I left the lake Northbound in the direction of Ponte Arche via de Passo del Ballino. In 2011, during my first (and solo) Transalp, this had been the last obstacle on the way to the lake, and to this day I think it’s also the nicest arrival at the lake on asphalt. I then continued my loop back to the Lago d’Idro. On the way, I benefited a developing cycle path project.Where it’s finished, it lives up to the great cycle route standards of Trentino: Nice asphalt, picknick spots, great views. It was just a bit shy of possibilities to refill water, and while this time it was a bit less hot than the day before (I had started earlier) and I had more shade on the route, at one point I still got close to exhausting both bottles. At least so I could justify taking two bottles in the first place.

Finally, I took the small challenge up to Passo d’Ampola, being accompanied by a mountain-biker, who followed at my back wheel for the entire climb. Earlier at another mountain, I had had a nice chat with another mountain-biker. That was enjoyable. A feeling of riding together. (Empowering also since we spoke Italian.) This dude was a bit annoying, because he was just there, but I had not much of it, as he always remained behind me. Anyways… the steepness of all climbs on that day was much milder than the days before. It was fun. And then came the Ponale.

It’s best to really experience this with the help of a video.

It took me about twice the time plus some time for photo stops. I was slow. But it worked, even with 23mm road tires. Kudos to Continental for building such a fantastic sturdy product. And the views. The views! My approach had been: If it’s too technical and rough, I’d walk – which is easy for me since I use mountain-bike shoes anyways. I didn’t walk.

And in hindsight, that would have been even more difficult. This August, I’ve destroyed many things, and the latest piece of equipment to break are my bike shoes. The Boa dial (basically a dial to tighten the show in place of laces, velcro, or a ratched) on one of them stopped working. It had already given indications of that, but now it broke. Being disappointed that they didn’t last a year, I’m at the same time satisfied: Boa has a very uncomplicated guarantee claim process. A new dial is already on the way.

Earlier I said:

Instead, I’ll quickly delve into the highlights and noteworthy observations of the rides I took.

Sure. Quickly. Quick it was. Oh boy…

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