It’s hard to think of a place more storied and revered by cyclists across the globe than Italy. From the iconic framebuilders and legendary racers, to the breathtaking Dolomites and historic old cities, it’s easy to see why it’s considered to be a mecca by so many. Since the early days of our first AC shop, we’ve been very lucky to have built some very close ties with many establishments from cycling’s heartland. It is of great thanks to those relationships that we have a purpose, and excuse, to make regular trips across the Atlantic.
Right now the business of vacation cycling tours around Italy is a booming industry, and rightfully so. I mean really, what could be better than a trip built around doing guided and supported rides on some of the most iconic routes in the country? Surely that’s an incredible way to experience what cycling in Italy has to offer. But what happens when you find yourself over there with no plan and next to no knowledge of the land around you, but you do have a bike and a burning desire to get out there and experience it all? Well, on our recent trip out there, Chad and I did just that.
We were very generously offered some loaner Pinarello Dogmas and the day we picked them up, we ventured off into the hills after nothing but a cursory look on Google Maps
The majority of our nine day trip was spent in numerous business meetings and visits. While that kept us from making many formal riding plans, we were determined to ride as much as we could when open time presented itself. We were very generously offered some loaner Pinarello Dogmas and day we picked them up, we ventured off into the hills after nothing but a cursory look on Google Maps. Within all of ten minutes, we found ourselves making our way up a series of incredible switchbacks, eventually making it to the town of Tortima.
We really had no clue where the roads would take us, we we played it safe and retraced our steps back down those amazing switchbacks and back to our apartment. Not too shabby for a blind, hour and a half spin.
The following day was full of business appointments but that Thursday we had left completely open to ride. One of the reasons we picked Bassano Del Grappa was due to its proximity to the storied Monte Grappa. Recently made famous as an uphill TT stage in last year's Giro, we knew this ride was a must do, but honestly we didn't know much else. Again, we cobbled together our route after a quick look on Google maps and wished for the best as we made our way out. Even after a few wrong turns, it took no more than fifteen minutes to find ourselves in the town of Romano D'ezzelino and make our way up the ascent.
In Italy, the hills are steep, and it is quite amazing how quickly you gain elevation. After only a handful of turns, we were already found ourselves with views like this.
This climb is no joke. Though we took the slightly less steep approach, the climb reached 5,000 feet of elevation over the course of 15miles. This photo was taken more than halfway up, though it looked like we still had a Mt. Tam ahead of us. Take note of the already drastic difference in how the sky looks as we made our way up.
There were plenty of places to pull over and make new friends if your legs ever needed to take a break.
After what seemed to be an endless journey, we finally made it to the summit.
The reward at the top is getting to take in views like these.
Your punishment, however, is dealing with some extreme temperature drops, for which we were foolish enough to roll out the door completely underprepared. Thank God the cafe at the top of the mountain had a newspaper laying around and I could descend back down like they did in the old days without completely losing all body heat. I was fully impressed at how effective the ol' newspaper layer actually was.
After building up the nerve to face the frigid air, we began our descent back home.
About halfway down there was a definitely marker in the temperature warming back up. Coincidentally, we also got this killer view looking back towards Bassano.
The lower section of the mountain was a twisty, switchbacked paradise. Immaculate pavement on perfectly sculpted hairpins. Every descender's dream.
Despite it being the longest climb either of us could recall riding, we got back to town still feeling like we has some gas in the tank. We figured "what the hell", and rolled through to repeat the quick ride we had done before.
An obligatory Coke stop at the top of that hill, and we headed for home.
That night we met with a friend of a friend, Steve Smith, who has been living in Bassano for the last thirteen or so years as the brand manager for Castelli. We enjoyed a number of beers, several courses of dinner, and good conversations about the bike industry, Italy, and life. We told him stories of the rides we had done up to this point. Much to our surprised, he seemed rather unimpressed. Apparently what we thought were some absolutely incredible routes were in face the roads the locals adamantly avoided. Steve was quick to point out all the turns and approaches we should have taken that would have me things all the better. The next day he was kind enough to send us over directions for one his favorite rides in the area. That Saturday, our last full day in Italy, also happened to be left open for riding so we took the opportunity to give his ride a shot.
If we had literally turned one street earlier than we did on our first ride, it would have sent us in the direction we would embark on this day. A nice straight shot along the river and into the valley, until we hit the town of Valstagna and began a 12k, 22 switchback climb up to Foza.
To give you a sense of even the very beginning of this ride, here's what we got to look at while I stopped to make a quick saddle adjustment.
Precisely two minutes later, there twenty plus switchbacks just like this and you immediately scratch your head wondering the physics of how you could have already ridden so high.
When you reach this tunnel, you can ride at ease for a little bit. You're still climbing, but it gets a little more mellow.
And then you make it to this beautiful place. Foza. After a quick water stop, we continued on for one last 8k climb to the top.
Usually when you make it to the top of a mountain, you do not expect to find endless plains. Well, that's exactly what you find here and the flat to rolling terrain was a great cool down from all of that climbing.
There is another great place to make friends mid ride before taking on one the most fun descents you'll ever ride.
If you've survived the incredible high speed corners without colliding into one the may scooter riders racing up the hill, you'll eventually find yourself here in Enego.
It will be tempting to stay and hang out, but keep going. The descent gets better.
And you get to drop down into the valley you see here.
Finally, you will make it to the bottom and get to enjoy a nice, flat spin back to Bassano. A truly incredible ride, thanks to just a little bit of local knowledge. Back just in time to pack up, eat a ton of food, and prepare for our journey back to California.
If you happen to find yourself abroad with next to no knowledge of your surroundings but still want to get some killer riding in, we say go for it. It is absolutely doable with a will to just wing it, though I will warn you that your results may vary.