EXPERIENCE CYCLING ITALIAN STYLE
By Edward J. Bunker 09/06 (tour guest)
AHH, BELLA ITALIA…
Just hearing those words roll off my tongue fills my mind with an overload of incredible memories! Cycling in Italy can be so much more than riding from one wine tasting to the next. Cycling has so much to offer. You’re out in the elements, which stimulate your often-suppressed senses, you get reacquainted with you body and how it works, you can travel amazing distances with relatively little effort, and that effort can be rewarded with copious amounts of food and drink when finished! Now, put those experiences in a culture that embraces the bicycle, is steeped in history, is located in jaw-dropping scenery, and you have found cycling heaven. The air is heavy with a mix of jasmine and vineyards, cowbells tinkle softly on the hillsides, the beautiful inhabitants speak their romantic language that all blends into a magical blur as I ride by. I feel a happy contented smile grow on my face and in my mind.
Because Italy takes a bit of an effort to get there, it is wise to carefully select a bike touring company to get you there and take you around. What I’ve looked for over the years, and am happy to say found with Grandfondo Tours, is something that would be very similar to my riding experiences at home. Usually once a week, I ride with several of my friends. We all are able to ride similar distances at similar pace, and like to ride in the morning for 4 to 6 hours to leave the afternoon free. We like to include a coffee stop along the way, and we always wait if someone gets dropped for whatever reason. What makes up those rides is what I would want on a cycling holiday. Similar daily distances, how the rides are conducted, food stops, and some time for culture in the afternoon. Because as much fun cycling is, there is definitely more to life in Italy than riding! I love the contrast of hard physical effort in the morning, then after a refreshing shower and nourishment, putting on some nice clothes and strolling through a beautiful Italian town. Sipping on a cappuccino, people-watching from a street-side café, strolling through ancient streets and checking out beautiful buildings, stores and churches tucked away neatly in a corner of town. And with a few basic words of Italian, you will be welcomed into the hearts of the people you meet.
It was with pleasant surprise then, as my first ride with the Grandfondo group unfolded. It felt like these people had been riding with me for years! We always did a nice warm up ride together for a few Kilometers, then those who felt frisky were set loose, but always regrouped at a key junction or coffee bar. Now, because “the boys and me” (my cycling buddies) like to ride mountains whenever possible, the Grandfondo Campagnolo trip was right up my alley. Every day there was immortal mountain pass after mountain pass to stroke off my “to do” list. Every day the ghosts of great cyclists of the past rode with me – well they would’ve actually passed me – but hey, they’re ghosts and I still have a few clicks left in me yet. Climbing past memorials, numbered switchbacks, painted names, hearing the faint cheers of the ancient crowds, helping me, urging me upward to the summits of some of cycling greatest climbs and allowing me entry into a level of cycling that many of us can only dream of attaining. Every day was like this – every day! As I climbed the immortal Mortirolo pass on the last day of an incredible 2 weeks, I knew in my heart and especially my legs that I was done. I had left all of the cycling “me” on those slopes, and was completely happy that I had the chance to experience it all. And that “to do” list now is painted proudly on the top tube of my bike, giving me inspiration and fond memories as I ride contentedly around my home.