With a work trip scheduled to Venice for the architecture biennale I spotted an opportunity to tag on a few days to get some riding in on the continent.
A quick look at the map; Venice = Venetian Plain = flat! Ok, jump on a train and head for the mountains, one hour to Bassano del Grappa, hmmm, Monte Grappa, that rings a bell.
*quick Goggle search*
Monte Grappa sits on the northern edge of the Venetian Plain, where the ground veers skywards at an alarming rate, essential 0 to 1800m, just like that. The mountain is steeped in history, I won’t go into details but it has seen a lot of tragedy over the course of two world wars. Today it’s position on the cycling map has been cemented through various appearances in the Giro.
Now all I needed was to do was convince a few people to join my trip to ride this mountain in the middle of October. Well that bit wasn’t hard.
“F&%K, F&%K, C&£T, F%$K...STEVE!................." This is the sound of me trying to climb a 4km stretch of mountain (part of a 16km climb) which averaged around 15%-20% up this section, with silly gears - 39/27 is the best I could muster, this is not a gear conducive to spinning. With a few thousand metres already in my legs they suddenly decided enough was enough, as cramp hit them both simultaneously; I fell to the floor in pain, whilst Will (Linton. I think Dunk had already made it to the top….) came slowly past with me longingly looking at all his sensible gearing.
I wouldn’t have changed the climb though, Monte Grappa was simply awesome; a monster of a mountain with some cracking climbs and even better descents. It is my first time riding in this part of Italy, on the doorstep to the Dolomites and it didn’t disappoint.
On the first day, the guys who arrived early decided to have a bit of a ‘warm up’ – without our leader Steve none of us really knew much about the mountain, and unknown to us (well to me anyway) we had decided to take the longest route to the top. I think it was a 20km climb averaging about 7% - It wasn’t long till we started pushing it relatively hard up the mountain, and we quickly broke through the clouds and pushed on. Did we go too hard?….of course we did! I had a bit of a tumble coming down as well around a hairpin which resulted in a bit of hurt pride and ripped bibs, but nothing serious.
From my experience a late season trip to the mountains has always provided quiet roads and pleasant weather and Italy did not disappoint. The last thing you want in October is rain on a cold descent so as luck would have it we had a majority of clear skies and sunshine.
Bassano Del Grappa was our base and sits in the foothills beneath Monte Grappa. I think its fair to say that the mountains started where Bassano finished. So 2 to 3 km into the ride and the up begins. A few of us made the early flight to squeeze an extra ride in; we arrived late Saturday afternoon, unpacked the bikes and made for one ascent of Monte Grappa. https://www.strava.com/activities/745553282
It was nice to get the legs warmed up to the long climbs and even better to open up the lungs to the clean air. Some fantastic views back down to Bassano with the distinct lack of cloud around. The rest of the lads arrived Saturday evening and we geared up for Sunday.
Day two was tough; probably one of the toughest days I’ve had in the mountains - Steve’s sadistic route planning was in full force (see above) but it was definitely worth it - as always, the greater the effort the better the feeling afterwards.
Things I learnt in Italy...
Get a bike box with wheels
Sure a cardboard box is cheap, and it does work well if you’ve got a car. But that’s the key... wheels, they were a sweet invention and without them the bottom of your box will be more duct tape than cardboard from dragging it everywhere. Plus your slow pace on route from station to hostel can attract some interesting characters.
Eat on the plane or train or anywhere serving food on the way to the hostel
Tim will immediately want to summit the nearby HC climb and he’ll be setting a pace that won’t allow any discussion on whether we should get some lunch first. That single gel you grabbed last minute will not be enough.
Credit must go to Jack for this one. Keeps bits silky smooth when riding consecutive days :)
Last rider carries the pump
If you’re going to split up on a long climb always make sure sure the pump stays with the last ride. This will save one unlucky member of your crew from doubling up on sections of the climb. Either that or maybe take more than pump I guess.
Monte Grappa is an awesome base for mountain camp
Lots of ascents & descents to choose from with 10 in total (not counting bonus gravel ones!). Scaling all 10 in one season will award you the “Brevetto del Grappa”. You’re also treated to great views of the Veneto plains, which also make for some fast rolling recovery rides. Finally you’re deep in pizza & prosecco country making refueling easy!
There are 10 different ways to ride up the Monte Grappa. I have somewhat of an aversion to the path well travelled so for y first day I plotted a route taking in three of the lesser known climbs. Starting with the gravelly one much to the dismay of a few of the guys.
It goes without saying that you carry a pocket pump or some CO2 on any ride. Upon reaching the top of the first climb I see a number of missed calls. Linton has a flat about 2/3rds of the way up. No, except myself, has a pump. Bunch of rank amateurs! Down I go, and back up I have to ride. You owe me Linton. Needless to say, the next day everyone took a pump.
We had planned for 3 big climbs and an accumulated ascent of 5000m but we simply ran out of daylight so the big day we had spoken about for a while wasn’t to be however that doesn’t distract from what a great yet brutally hard day we had.
The first climb was a tough but peaceful and we didn’t see anyone or anything for 15km and even included some of Steve’s favourite, the dreaded gravel climbs which wasn’t as bad as I had built it up to be. The second climb of the day however was horrible. I would happily never do it again in my life.
The aptly named Strava segment ‘Awful’ says it all. Several kilometres over 15%. Out the saddle the whole time, just awful.
What makes everything better in Italy? Yes, Pizza. Lots of it. And Beer. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much pizza consistently over 4 days but feel like it certainly helped. Not sure it helped our sleeping as most people were struggling with a decent nights sleep except Tim who somehow managed to be asleep by 9pm most nights.
Day 3 would be our biggest day, 155km with 3500m. One of those magical days in the mountains. The first climb took roughly an hour and is one of those nice 6% climbs that you can pace out all day long. Really excellent start to the morning, I definitely remember buzzing by the time we reached the top. We were aiming to reach the top of Monte Grappa by the third climb. There’s a huge WW1 war memorial on top of Monte Grappa with I believe 12,000 soldiers buried there. It was quite the sight because when we reached the summit we had climbed above the cloud line so here lied this floating memorial propped by huge clouds. Such an incredible sight.
Day three was defiantly my favourite when gradients came back down to below 10% and my gearing didn’t hurt too much – I even managed to mostly keep up with the fast lads uphill. Saying that the final climb of the day was a monster – up to the top of Grappa again which was a real pleasure/pain experience. And what goes up must come down so smiles all the way to the bottom with virtually empty roads, which you’d never get sick off.
Day 4 would be a nice and chilled café ride to Asolo through the Italian countryside. This ride was all about the espressos. The only person disappointed with this distance on this ride was Steve but certainly the rest of the group was happy to kick back and enjoy. By this point my legs were barely working it took a good 15km to for my legs to not be unbearably painful. Personally I thought it was a great way to end the trip no real climbs so the group could stay together and chat away.
Off the bike it was: pizza/beer/pizza/pizza and pizza which is a dream diet, although probably not the best for hill climbing….although we did need to get the calories in! Monte Grappa – I’ll be back.