Traversing Northern Italy by bike

From VeloNews.com by Chris Case

 

A JOURNEY ISN’T ONLY about where you go, but where you’re taken. The best excursions bring you back in time, across the sweep of history, and into other worlds. They take you to places you never thought possible, both physically and mentally. They add as much life to your years as they do years to your life. And, of course, at their core, they’re about exploring and understanding a bit about parts unfamiliar, those wild and scenic spots on few to-do lists.

The DuVine Dolomites Journey starts near the village of Aprica, in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, near the base of the infamous Passo Mortirolo in the Alps. We then climb over the gargantuan Passo dello Stelvio, skate through the Adige Valley to Bolzano, and climb into the heart of the Dolomites before escaping into Slovenia. Finally we zigzag across vineyards until plummeting to the edge of the Mediterranean Sea in Trieste.

Over seven days, the group, which includes guests from their mid sixties to their early thirties, from all walks of life (including one famous chef, Seamus Mullen), rides about 400 miles and gains approximately 45,000 feet in elevation. (Slight variations in skill levels lead to a few bonus miles and climbs for some; my Garmin has me at 425.1 miles and 48,841 feet.)

We cross through fundamentally different cultural enclaves, drastically different climatic conditions, through fragile ecosystems and urban landscapes, past the quaintest of villages and over some of the greatest, hardest, and most historic climbs in cycling history. Every inch of it by bike, point to point to point.

Physically, anyone of any fitness level would find the days both long and rewarding. Others even more so. The food each night? On average it’s spectacular and always plentiful. But this isn’t the Italian cuisine you’re most familiar with. The pasta is hidden by the prosciutto, the pizza margherita obscured by the piles of speck. There is a definitive Germanic influence to this part of Italy.

The characters in this story are real, though their names have been changed to protect their identities. (What happens on a DuVine trip stays on a DuVine trip.) The stories are real, and have never been embellished for effect. The places are most certainly real; you can’t improve upon what must be one of the most divine cycling arenas on Earth.

Let the journey begin.

 

Day 1 || Aprica > Mortirolo > Passo Gavia > Bormio || 64.4 miles and 8,930 feet

Theme: Initiation

Quote of the day: “I’m not attacking, I just need to get warm.”
Read more at http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/10/feature/dolomiti-dreaming-traversing-north-italy-duvine-dolomites-journey_421787#CGvkHQkMxfB1bwrY.99

The pop of cycling cleats clicking into pedals signifies the official start of this wonderful journey. It’s a welcome note after the months of anticipating what for some is a dream come true. We are embarking into hallowed ground, dancing up and over and among some of the most famous climbs that cyclists have ever traversed, many because of their prominent roles in the history of the Giro d’Italia. Not that this means something to everyone. Most guests are here, generally, for the experience of riding through picturesque mountains in Italy. Others are here for the very specific experience of suffering on the same slopes that Coppi, Pantani, and Nibali have suffered on before.

Immediately, some of our respective cycling personas are revealed. We’re cyclists: There is a certain innate level of egoism to our sport. Maybe it lives in our bib shorts, however strange that may sound. When we don our chamois, we put on our uniform, and our character is revealed. Some have matching kits, socks, caps, and shoes. Others sport their favorite jersey from a charity ride. Some will take it easy from the gun; others can’t help but attack. In any case, we’re all here, together, riding through Italy’s majestic north, and we’re enamored with the thought.

After we reach the top of the Passo Mortirolo the group splits, with three guests (myself included) and one guide accepting the bonus challenge of the Passo di Gavia. It is a hearty one. It begins to rain as we drop down toward the town of Ponte di Legno, at the Gavia’s base. The poor weather continues to decline, which is perfectly appropriate for a spirited attack on this gruesome pass.

Cycling aficionados should be intimately familiar with what happened on this climb in 1988: Andy Hampsten’s bike sears skinny tire tracks in the snow-covered road, his face obscured by giant goggles and fluttering snowflakes. You must have seen the poster, and surely know the tale. Now it’s our turn to be like Andy.

By the time we reach the top, it’s 31.9 degrees and sleeting. The fog is thick, and scraggly rock outcroppings eerily loom on all sides. No, Andy didn’t have it this bad, we think. He had the luxury of riding in the snow, we tell ourselves. It’s all a lie, of course. We could never be like Andy. But it helps us feel tough. And hardmen never get cold.

We crack the top, snap some pics, and quickly turn our attention to getting down. I don five jackets and blaze the descent, cold to the core.

Our first day ends with supreme satisfaction, and very cold toes.

 

Day 2 || Bormio > Passo dello Stelvio > Rabla || 57.5 miles and 5,709 feet

Theme: Camaraderie 

Quote of the day: “I’m not attacking, I just want to get a good photo.”

We’ve bonded. We form small groups out of the gate. Today will be a milestone for many, climbing Passo dello Stelvio with the threat of snow scheduled for our arrival on top.

This climb, with its majestic switchbacks, never ceases to amaze. Never disappoints. Never seems to quit. An otherworldly vista is drawn before us, with grasses the color of seaweed surrounded by snowcapped peaks and low-hanging clouds giving the air a still, sinister quality.

I find myself riding most often with three men today: Tom is one of our DuVine guides, a veteran of 10 years leading trips around Europe, and someone who loves to look like he’s never ridden before. In his early 30s, he’s strong despite his hairy legs and droopy socks. Then there are Ricky and McGregor. We all like to hurt each other, if we can. We don’t like to lose. We punch it. I get in the habit of jumping ahead so I can stop to take photos. Then I find myself churning to regain the front of the pack. I stop again. Suddenly, I’m fairly certain I see Tom up ahead giving it gas despite the fact that I haven’t caught back on. So I go full-gas. It’s a hard chase, but eventually the small prize of a big Stelvio climb is mine.

(It’s the first sign that this week will be filled with imaginary finish lines atop summits and at town lines, dotted across our many miles.)

At the top, there are two things in abundance: camaraderie and minestrone. (Two bowls please!) As brains thaw and rider after rider enters the Albergo Tibet above the snaking scene of 48 switchbacks plummeting out of sight in the valley below, it dawns on each of us what we’ve done. And we share that sense of accomplishment with one another, hugging and connecting in many ways, tangible and not. These are the moments that we’ll say “changed our lives” when we think back on this trip. It’s not an embellishment. This place, the effort, the conditions, the history: together it takes on prominent cycling significance.

 

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