In July 2011 I did my first solo cycling trip in Switzerland. In the Susten Pass climb I met Gerald and, within 30 minutes, we had exchanged information and he had informally invited me to join him in Italy the following year with a group of cyclists. It took many months after Switzerland before I contacted Gerald and made this trip to Italy a reality. Paolo, the one organizing the Italian trip, was quick to provide me with information and was thrilled to have a Canadian on his team! In May 2012, I departed from Montreal and made my way to Bologna where I was greeted by Gerald and some of his cycling friends and, the adventure began!
Cities and villages
We stayed in the village of Cesenatico at the Hotel Tiffany. It is a wonderful hotel that really caters to cyclists. It is inexpensive but comes with full service such as spa, laundry, catering, and bike storage. I would recommend it to anyone traveling to that area of Italy. Cesenatico is a wonderful town directly on the Adriatic sea and attracts thousands of tourists every year. Luckily we were there just before the tourist season started so we did not have the big crowds and were able to get around very easily on our bikes.
I also visited the towns and cities of Cesena, Rimini, San Marino, and Bologna. Of course, I saw many beautiful castles and amazing countrysides on my bike but I also took the time to visit Italy! That is one of the main reasons I love cycling…I get my adrenaline rush and exercise while visiting beautiful countries around the world!
The cycling group is based in France and most people arrived by car. In total, there were 34 cyclists and let me tell you, strong cyclists! It was a very difficult start to my season since I had only Virginia to prepare me for this. In retrospect, I would not do two trips back-to-back like that again unless I had enough training. I had a wonderful time in Italy however wished I would have had more energy. Also, I would have left Montreal a day or two earlier to allow for my bike to arrive. My bike did not make it in time for the connection in Paris so I had to wait two days until it was finally delivered to the hotel in Cesenatico. Luckily Paolo had an extra bike…imagine if I had been on my own, that would have been two days without cycling…the horror!!!
Paolo had an incredible itinerary lined-up for the week! In total, I rode five days out of seven taking one day to visit the surrounding villages of Cesenatico and another to visit San Marino.
Day 1 – 65km
Day 1 was mainly a warm-up ride and I am happy it was since I did not have my own bike and was jet-lagged! We left from the hotel in the afternoon and headed to San Paola and Sogliano al Rubicone. The views were amazing and it gave me a chance to get to know the group.
We finished the day with a great dinner…the food by the way is incredible in Italy! Paolo presented our itinerary for day 2 – It would be a rough day but I was ready for the challenge and I knew the team would help me along.
Day 2 – 133 km
Four climbs in total for day 2: Polenta, Monte Cavallo, Ciola, and a finish with Barbotto with it’s 18% grade near the summit. I was not certain I could do it with Paolo’s bike and was close to tears as I arrived at the top of the Barbotto however, I did it – Gerald encouraged me all the way up and I made it! I did not get that many pictures that day because I wanted to keep up with the group.
I was so tired after day 2 that I decided to take a day off the following day – The ride had taken whatever energy I had remaining. This would be a great opportunity to get some time to myself, explore the surrounding towns and regain my energy for the coming days. Cycling is challenging but it is also a test of will – not only will to push yourself but also will to admit when you need rest. I am not very good at that…I have a hard time stopping at times and an even harder time putting my pride aside and admitting I need a break. That is exactly what I did on day 3 and enjoyed every moment!
Oh yeah, my bike was also delivered so I was able to assemble it and take it out for a small ride. I find things move really slowly in Italy so you can’t be in a rush for anything…unless you are on your bike of course!
Day 4 – 65km
Day 4 was great! I was finally relaxing and simply enjoying the ride. We only did two climbs (Ciola Araldi and Ardiano) but both very difficult with a 20% grade at times. It brought us to this wonderful castle with a courtyard on the top of a hill. With only 65 km, we managed to climb 1,000 meters that day! I was so happy to have taken day 3 to rest.
Day 5 – 155 km
This, by far, was the most difficult day but the most rewarding and mythic! We rode 155 km and climbed a total of 2,700 meters. However hard this climb was, I cannot express how amazing it was…climbing the Carpegna where Pantani trained for so many days and hours. Day 5 brought us four climbs: St Leo, Madonna di Pugliano, Passo Serra St Marco, and the grande finale at the Carpegna. The ride was beautiful with various landscapes and castles…I had to stop and take pictures, to Paolo’s dismay! 😉
The Carpegna is a great ride as there are almost no vehicles, you are on a small road twisting and turning in the forest, and it is so peaceful and relaxing. All I could hear was my breathing and heartbeat…it was epic! As we passed Pantani’s tribute, we came to a gate in the road. I guess we were still early in the season so the road had not be cleared or opened yet. It was only as we started our climb that we understood why the gate was down. There had been severe storms that had knocked down trees and washed away parts of the road. At times we had to dismount our bikes, carry them over our shoulders in the mud and hike through the trees to get back to the road…it was crazy but made the journey that much more mythic.
The day did not end here – we still had to make our way back into the valley and home to the hotel. The ride down had a wonderful view and we were all looking forward to the great lunch Paolo had organized for us in Pennabilli. It was such a cute little village and I was so happy to eat and rest!
What a day! I was excited and exhausted all at once! I could not believe I had completed such an epic ride and everyone on the team was amazing!
I decided to take it easy on day 6 and rest. Paolo was so kind and loaned his car so we could go to San Marino for the day. San Marino was spectacular and the food….amazing!
Day 7 – 115 km
Paolo did not let up on day 7. At that point I was coming down with a cold and had a very bad cough that made it difficult for me to breathe. I should have taken day 7 off as well but I really wanted to finish the week with the team. It took all my remaining energy but I am very happy I did it! We followed the beach for a while from the hotel and headed for the mountains. There were beautiful rolling hills and great views to the sea. Everyone was relaxing and having fun…the ambiance was great and we took time to stop and take pictures, chat, and enjoy the last ride. Day 7 took us to Bellaria, Ponte Uso, Vignola, Strigara, the Santa Maria Riopetra descent, and finally a stop for drinks and snacks in Cesena – what a grand way to finish a week of cycling in Italy!
The trip to Italy was amazing! I would love to go back and explore more of this country and really take the time to savour the culture. As a personal reflection, I also realized I needed to chill out more when I was riding. I was so concerned I would be the last one or holding the rest of the group that I forgot to look around at times and simply enjoy the view.
Paolo, Gerald, and the entire team were amazing to ride with. I want to thank all of them for showing such hospitality and letting a stranger into their cycling team. Though our accents were different (mine French Quebecois and theirs French European!), we still managed to get along and get a few laughs out of our differences. Thank you and I truly hope I can ride with you again soon!