Amazing Italians Hoists from afar On two wheels

Going Giro 2018: Feeling the professional mountains

Two months ago I was at the Giro d'Italia. That's basically yesterday. I made friends with Carlos.

The Giro d’Italia does not actually visit all of Italy every year, but it will certainly spend extended time in the Alps. Last year, the mountains close to Milan featured with a stage to Bergamo. I also attended the stage to the sanctuary of Oropa, which the Italians consider Pantani’s mountain. Well… they consider many mountains Pantani’s mountain.

This year, I had my eye on three stages: the stage 16 time trial from Trento to Rovereto (I love the area and thought about driving 2.5 hours), stage 17 to Iseo (that’s a 90min drive from Milan), stage 18 from Abbiategrasso (25km from Milan on the city’s most popular bike trail). At the end, I skipped stage 16 (it rained), but added stage 20 which ended in Cervinia in Val d’Aosta.

Stage 17: The Franciacorta stage

The stage started in Riva del Garda and followed a road through the Prealps of Brescia. That’s not the most beautiful region, to be honest. At least they didn’t have to experience the dense traffic. I mean, they had to, because of the race convoi. So I don’t know who was better off in the end. But the loop through the Franciacorta region was the part of the stage that everyone spoke about beforehand. For Italians, this is a sparkling wine of high reputation. The grapes grow on mildly undulating hills.

The finish in Iseo is already surrounded by the first Alpine summits. Iseo also borders the lake that carries its name. To me, this is a secret gem among Italian’s big lakes. So I decided to just enjoy it. I carried my bike and looped the lake counter-clockwise. I had the GoPro with me. There’s a few bits in which I tell about the highlights of the lake – not only for cyclists.

Part of my trip included my exploration of a secret climb on the Western side of the lake. Strava tells me it’s actually not that secret. 1,705 classified cyclists is rather many.

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The raw numbers (18.6km, 1,000m elevation, on average 6% incline) are impressive and yet now tell the full story. There’s two flat sections. Between these, the slope rises up to and beyond 10%. For a kilometer, it’s never less than 15%. On this steep ramp, water rails cross the road and slow the progress. (They are also a big danger on the way down.) Where there’s asphalt, it’s in good condition, but on the second “flat” section, there are a number of gravel sectors. (I had the impression that local residents didn’t want to pay for paving the road adjacent to their private ground.) It’s doable. I was on 23mm tires. It’s tough, however. The views are wonderful.

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At the finish in Iseo, I spotted a funny element of irony. Professional cycling is… you know, doping is always a topic. So here’s the fence of the area to which professionals go to test for prohibited substances.

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And this is the same fence from the outer side. You can see the back of the sign between the lines of the fence also above. It indicates that the pharmacy is open. There could be no better spot to hang that sign.

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Stage 18: At the start in Abbiategrasso

I’ve been to a prologue, a stage finish, a flat stage, and a mountain stage. I had never been to an ordinary stage start. Abbiategrasso offered this great occasion. Since I had the rental car anyways, I drove out of town and took off already somewhere in the fields. I soon joined groups of other cyclists.

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Abbiategrasso is really just a stone throw from Milan. The super popular Naviglio Grande bike trail directly leads to Abbiategrasso. Cyclists can then turn North and continue towards Lago Maggiore or they can turn South towards Pavia. Most just turn around to Milan.

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There were some funny people at the start of the race. Like this guy with an all-wood bike. Apparently he followed the entire Giro d’Italia. He liked my bike jersey, he said. And not only him: there was a woman who asked to take a picture of me. The Bavarian style attracts attention for sure.

Stage 20: Social cycling in Val d’Aosta

I decided not to attend the time trial due to the rain forecast. For stage 20, I then decided to manage my trip with the rain forecast. Thunderstorms were announced at about 16:00 for the stage finish. But no one said I would have to watch them on the last mountain. I turned things around. Having parked in Châtillon, I was close to the first two mountains of this penultimate stage of the Giro. Val d’Aosta is a French-speaking part of Italy. It’s also stunningly beautiful. This was my first time there in Summer. Spring. Without snow.

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I went on the second climb first. There were many cyclists. Not as many as last year. Presumably it was too early still. Most of them also had the same plan as I: climb it and then continue to another spot. Just they all chose the final climb to Cervinia, whereas I chose to ride down to the first climb. I got a nice view of Monte Cervino (the Matterhorn) nonetheless.

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Cycling with others on such occasions is big fun. It makes for very social riding. This time, I also bonded with Carlos from Barcelona. I met him about one third in the climb and then we rode together for the rest of it. We chatted and we motivated each other. As a result, I was only 33min slower than Felix Großschartner (Team Bora-Hansgrohe). He scored the fastest time on the climb on that day.

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After the summit, we parted. I started the descent earlier, while he waited for some other people from Barcelona that he met on the way up. That was pure coincidence; they had not coordinated their trips. He still might have passed me on the descent while I was busy taking photos and videos. Oh, videos… yes, I had the GoPro with me as well.

There was just enough space left on the SD card to catch the professionals coming up my position on the lower slopes of the Col Tzecore. I had found a fantastic spot. While I waited, I looked at the fortress of Verrès. I could look down on a switchback turn and then look sideways to another switchback turn. A few minutes after they passed, I saw them again on the rising road above. As it was the first climb, it was not very busy. I had a perfect first-row spot.

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When the last car of the race convoi had left, I followed the direction of the professionals to complete my route. I didn’t go all the way up to the Tzecore, but took a short-cut via another (lower and less steep) pass on the same ridge. People were still on the side of the road and cheered to me like they did to the professionals. “Sono l’ultimo”, I said a few times. I’m the last. And we all had a blast.

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