Gear and Gadgets On two wheels

Giro Maggiore: When I cycled 234km

One week ago, I cycled 234km. That's a lot. Took me a bit to write about it.

I think I’m running out of sportive goals for this season. I cycled over original Giro d’Italia roads, finished the Transalp, have been to Passo San Marco and Passo del Vivione, connected some isolated trips on my Veloviewer map to Milan, made at least one ride with an average speed of more than 30km/h, and accumulated 5,000km (and actually more).

One big goal was left. Quite literally a big goal. It’s a long time that I’ve tried an extra-long ride. Normally, my long rides run between 90 and 110km, and occasionally I go up to 120km. On the first day of the Transalp, three of us spontaneously went for 160km. And that was already my longest trip in three years. I would have to go back to 2013 to find a ride which approached 200km. And anyhow, only two times did I cycle that much ever, once in 2009, and once in 2011. (Another day in 2009, I came to 198km, but then had to catch a train.)

Meanwhile, my cycling buddy and best friend from Berlin, Martin, had regularly done some trips around 200km, and his longest ride was at about 225km. And there is the goal: Go beyond that.

I took my GoPro and the Mobius with me to get some video footage of that undertaking. Below is everything put into a slightly-less-than-ten-minutes cut.

The route

I had long been debating about this one. For me, these long rides are mostly a mental challenge. If it’s all flat, it just gets boring at some point. But if it’s not flat, it gets tough. I had to find a good compromise in between. Originally, I had thought about going South to Chiavari, but that had involved crossing the Appenin, and also I would have had some pressure to catch the latest train, with no option to abort once I would have made 150km. Another option was a loop to some cities in Lombardy and Piemont, like Novarra, Vercelli, Alessandria, Voghera, and Tortona, but with 270km, this would really have been a lion’s task, and a full day of flat countryside on crumbling roads without shadow was not the most exciting idea. I thought about going East to Verona, but the exciting bits of the route I knew already, and going from Milan to Chiavenna would have offered nice scenery, but included a steepish mountain and some hills during the last 50km.

Eventually, I settled for a ride that started at Milan’s Malpensa airport, then would lead rather straight to Lago di Lugano. I would then pay a short visit to a small bit of Italy which is all surrounded by Switzerland, the Casino exclave of Campione d’Italia, and take a short break in Lugano. The next bit would include an allegedly unappealing, but only small pass to get over to Bellinzona. There, I would turn to Lago Maggiore and then cycle down the entire West shore from Locarno to Arona, and finish with a short transfer back to Malpensa. Aside of the promising lake views, this route offered me ample opportunities to stop the ride in between should my health or the state of the bike call for it. I was just afraid I might catch some traffic at the lake.

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The ride

I had planned to make on average 23.4km/h – targeting a net ride time of ten hours. That’s not fast, but from my last long distance rides, I had taken away that good pacing was a key to finishing. In order to not put any pressure on me, I left the display of my phone off as much as possible, and only looked at OruxMaps for navigating. Instead, I rode at a speed which I thought would leave me feel fresh after 120km – the best benchmark I had available. Once I reached Lago di Lugano, I noticed that this speed was slightly above my expectations. The section from the start over Varese to there had been a bit hilly and gradually ascending, and yet I was close to 26km/h.

At the lake, wind picked up from the Northeast. Yet for the most part, I was going Northbound along the Eastern shore, which shielded me from the strong gusts and allowed me to maintain speed. Only the final kilometers into Lugano I was much exposed to it, and the break was welcome. I ate a Stroopwafel from GU with a sport-specific gel filling in place of the conventional caramel. It’s a product I came to appreciate much over the Summer, as I find it much easier to consume and to process than the conventional energy bar. It’s also not overly sweet; sweetness can become annoying in very hot conditions as I often encounter them in Italy.

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The pass (Monte Ceneri) was indeed not very appealing. In the valley leading up to the summit, I also faced some wind, but mostly, it was just the rather industrial surroundings. It was not as bad as I had expected, and notably traffic was much less of an issue than the description had offered, but this was a must rather than a pleasure. On the contrary, the downhill offered nice views both on the high mountains behind Bellinzona and on Locarno at the Lago Maggiore, which I was glad to experience.

At Bellinzona, it was really time to have a break again. Wind had been standing against me for almost 50km now. I was much looking forward to this turning point. Not only was I now half-way, but also I would turn such that the wind would start to blow from behind. And push. For the break, I found myself in a very common dispute with myself: There was a wine festival in Bellinzona and they offered delicious local lunch food on-the-go, but I didn’t have Swiss money with me and I didn’t want to end up with Franken that I would not use again. Or, more seriously, at that point I felt a bit too shy and not tidy enough to really be among people.

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Instead, I snacked two muesli bars and then some mini salami that I had found in the supermarket the other day. Those were great, especially for the variation in flavor. Then I headed out and noticed that the wind started to come less from the North than before. I got worried that I might observe a phenomenon common to many lakes and valleys in Northern Italy, in which winds blow strong from the North in the morning, and then blow strong from the South in the afternoon. Luckily, that was not the case, and the wind just followed the shape of the valley, and while it faded a bit in strength, it kept coming from behind basically all the way back to Malpensa.

Myself, I then took only two more longish breaks, even though originally I had intended to take a few more. I just felt fine. They were not necessary. Some ice cream I wanted, but the ice cream places I saw were overcrowded with people, and I didn’t want to wait long. A few times in a row I then just postponed and said: the next village is just 15km – that’s only about half an hour. But only in Arona I eventually took a gelato break.

At that point, I was a mere 30km away from Malpensa, and I felt good. I finished it off and started to discuss with myself if I should just continue, maybe all the way to Milan. But other than just doing more kilometers, I did not see the point. And those kilometers would be less joyful, for on the one hand I knew the route, and on the other hand I then would cycle with some pressure from the looming sunset. I had achieved my goal, and I appreciated much to finish it on a high mood and not physically exhausted. This sets a follow-up goal for next season.

I arrived after a few seconds less than then hours. Gross, not net. My final average speed was about 25km/h – I had lost some speed by slowly going through a few of the historic villages at Lago Maggiore.

The gear

There is not much to discuss. However, the Quadlock case for my Samsung Galaxy S7 had arrived, and I took it with me. Hence, I left the battery case at home. Because I was not sure the battery would last all day, I took a mini power pack from Anker as a backup. I did not need it on the ride. But keep in mind that I often had the display off. Yet, if the display remains off most of the time, even these extra-long rides are possible. That’s a great asset. GPS accuracy was okay this time, but I also did not encounter any complicated cliff roads with overhanging trees really.

And since there’s nothing else to present: I can recommend my Maloja jersey. I only got it for my birthday and have used it just a few times, and it certainly mastered a long-time comfort test now. After all these kilometers, I still had no saddle soar. It’s not made for the hottest temperatures, but I can ride it easily between 20 and 32 degrees. However, the zipper is not the smoothest and requires to use a bit of effort – or both hands.

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