From a Rolloing Bromance to Fondo Fantastico
I have been to Italy on many occasions, followed the Giro d Italia, completed L’Eroica and visited many of the regions of a country that I love. My last trip however was to an area that I had never taken the time to experience properly. I’d driven through the area but never spent anytime in the beautiful Emilia Romagna region.
The 2019 Giro d’Italia passed through this area on stage 9 for the time trial up to San Marino and I rode that exact course just a week before the pro’s arrived. If you have ever been to Italy during the month of May you will know that the entire country lives Giro! The atmosphere, the hospitality the energy, the pink, it is electric!
Emilia Romagna is a holiday region in the North east of Italy. The airport is in Bologna in the centre of the region and I stayed in Cattolica by the Adriatic sea. The region and surrounding area is home to some of my favourite things in life. Pantani trained here, it is where he was born (in Cesena) and where he tragically passed away (in Rimini). He was famous for saying he didn’t need to go anywhere else to train as everything he needed was in his backyard. Some other cool facts about the region is that Valentino Rossi has his house and subsequently his kickass training facility here and who doesn’t love the amazing ham from Parma. Before I even boarded the plane I knew that this was going to be a magic trip, here’s my story about riding in Pantani’s backyard – Emilia Romagna.
‘Word of warning – this story includes the odd swear word, a F-bomb here and there, so if swearing offends you, maybe just look at the pics!”
Emilia Romagna - My Rolling Bromance.
Arriving in Bologna airport after literally a 47 hour flight that included a bit of a car accident that banged up my knee. Which in turn rolled into missing a flight, that resulted in missing a connecting flight etc etc … I was ready to hit the sack (bed) as soon as I arrived in Cattolica! That said the gorgeous coastal town of Cattolica was still another hour and a bit away. I would have bet my last dollar that I was going to make a beeline for bed as soon as I arrived. However after a lil nap in the back of the luxury BMW 7-seriers that picked me up, I arrived at Hotel Europa Monetti to meet half of the team who had waited for me … for a late dinner. The Whatsapp group messages meant that everyone knew my travel story and as I arrived I was wrapped up in true Italian love, passion and hospitality with a side of German affection. Alberto and Sonja from Europa Monetti bike and sports hotel literally wrapped me up! Hugs from Sonja and more man love than mardigras from Alberto! They treated me to my first Italian meal of the trip. The chef had waited for my arrival, as had the others, it was close to 11pm and we all sat down and enjoyed an amazing introduction to Adriatic seafood delicacies. My immediate connection with Alberto, may have been a little disturbing for his gorgeous partner Sonja but it wasn’t long until they both felt part of my family, or more importantly I felt part of their’s. Andrea who had organised the trip and Patrick a journalist from Germany also made me feel that I had arrived to a second home and family.
Bed and Bikefest
A short walk from dinner and I checked into the Hotel San Marco where I would be staying for the next few days with the rest of the crew. Hotel San Marco is also a bike hotel. Actually one of the most refreshing things that I learnt on this trip was the community of hotels and service providers to bike tourism in the area. There was no greedy, tall poppy narcism here. No, in Emilia Romagna the businesses have banded together with the local council/government to form Terrabici – Land of Cycling. Individually they have all built their own infrastructure for bike enthusiasts, together they offer the most extensive range of bike love I have witnessed and I was sincerely reduced to tears with the realisation of their co-operation.
Waking up after sleeping like a log, I opened the doors to my balcony and my breath was taken away by the amazing view of the Adriatic Coastal beaches. I took a selfie, a pano and a slow mo on my phone wanting to share the morning with as many people as possible. I was also excited to get my bike sorted so I headed down to the reception to get the keys for the bike garage. The San Marco Hotel have a range of Fondriest road bikes for hire. The garage was full of client bikes and hire bikes. It consisted of a workshop, little seats to put your bike shoes on, and all the things you may need pre-ride – pumps, water cooler etc etc etc. My bike was a Fondriest TF3 with Shimano 105. Also available was an Ultegra TF2 version but for this fat duck, the 105 was perfect and we had a long levered Belgie gun XC rider joining us that would make better use of the TF2 model.
The Fondriest TF3 is a beautiful road bike. At the heart of this Italian beauty is no doubt the frame. It uses a Toray-manufactured 50 Ton tensile carbon and a lay up and ribbing in the BB which makes this bike accelerate really nicely. The frame is stiff responsive and fun to ride. I was riding a medium and the bike weight was a lil over 7kg. All in all a great bike for the local terrain.
CanGerBelOz! That’s the name that manifested itself once 4 bike-fanatics from across the globe got together. The Canadian – Matt from Canadian Cycling Mag, one crazy critter, loved a post ride throff top and had me laughing all the time. The German – Patrick from Born2.Bike is a mad fucking German. Big, kind hearted bike enthusiast that enjoys the night stages as well as the day. The Belgie, Robin, frickin long levered young gun, former XC superstar, non-alc drinking, male model looking dude, and I was the Ozzie. Leading us was the Italian, Andrea Manusia, passionate local tourism advocator! It would be fair to say we blended like ice, Aperol, Prosecco, soda and big ol slice of Italian blood orange. The first time we were all together was on the roof top of the San Marco hotel, by the pool, with an Aperol Spritzs in our hand. Individually we weren’t going to set any Milan fashion show run ways on fire…. Together, there were people disrobing with excitement! Hot … real Hot!
It was just the German and I meeting over at Europa Monetti to take on the pristine rolling road of Panoramica. We met up with a group of three Suisse lads and some other guys and girls from Craft clothing. Alberto strolled out the front of the hotel to meet us and introduce us to our guide for the day. Alberto really is a suave Italian fox … I had a man crush! Charisma and panache oozed from this man. He introduced us to our tour guide for the day, and the guide took one look at the tubby Australian and I could swear he was thinking .. ‘this might be a long day!’ He had every right to as well, I was fat and still looked like I hadn’t slept. He had a big infectious smile tho and he looked at the Sussie and very athletic looking trio and as he glanced back at me, I could tell he was thinking “there might be some big splits in the bunch today”
What he didn’t know is that I had 47 hours of sitting on my ass that I wanted to pummel out of my system plus a whole myriad of dark demons that had been sitting on my wheel for the last few years that I needed to drop so hard that they missed the time gap and thus never to be seen again. I was ready for some leg-snappin good times in a pain cave of epic views.
The ride first took us past the home of Pavarotti and I attempted to sing, then through the hinterland to Pesaro, where we hit the Adriatic coastline. Once the picturesque blue ocean was nearly touching the front wheel, we switched direction and headed up the days climb. A steady cat 3, avg 5% for just over 3km. The legs felt ok, some soreness in my right knee but I took off up the climb chasing the Suisse guys. The group split into three groups pretty quickly with the Suisse guys leading the way. I sat second wheel behind a tall lad as he danced on the pedals. Europeans just look so bloody good climbing out of the saddle. The road wound back and forth, lined with pencil pines and manicured box hedges. The number of switchbacks went past 6 but weren’t too steep and I felt comfortable climbing through the sunshine.
Around the 1km to go I saw a restaurant that overlooked the entire coast line up ahead, I dug deep and shot ahead so I could try and get a few pics and then rejoin the lead group of two but once the ‘shot was got’ my legs told me to ‘fuck off’! I just didn’t have the beans to close the gap. I chased alone and enjoyed a good 1000 meters of inner demon smashing! At the top of the climb and I sat-up and waited for the other Suisse guy so we could chase together along the rolling hills.
The Strada Panoramic Adriatica is up there with one of the best stretches of cycling asphalt on the planet. The views are jaw dropping and the way the road flows along the cliffs of the coast line is “Yeeeooooooooooww” fun! Big chain-ring, powering over short inclines, then drive down short declines and a short recovery, rinse-repeat. Passing stunning wine landscapes to the left and the ocean to the right, I could ride that road everyday for the rest of my life and never get sick of it!
We arrived at our lunch stop at Fiorenzuola di Focara in the regional nature park of San Bartolo. We waited for the rest of the group to arrive before walking down to the look out over the Adriatic. Our lunch spot was a little road side cafeteria. It was nothing special to look at, (in contrast to the glorious views and stunning seaside we had been treated to) however it was packing one hell of a gastronomic surprise. Being so close to the sea-side, the daily specials were fresh mussels in a tomato broth and a Pesci Spaghetti Vongole. Served in huge sharing pans, with freshly baked bread … delicious. “Grattare la tua scarpa” loosely translated means to ‘scrape your shoe’ but here it means to use the bread to sop up every last drop of the sauce! Yum!
After lunch, and a cheeky beer of course, we headed for home! Again the road was undulating and had more curves than an Italian opera goddess. With a regrouping, it wasn’t long before the lads were attacking each other and putting the hammer down. I have to admit I nearly spewed on a number of occasions as Mario from Craft Apparel really lit it up and I tried desperately to hang on his wheel … like the suck sprinter of old. I pulled a few turns but when the time came to go I wasn’t even able to come around him, as we made our way into Gabicce Monte. Truth was he rode me clean off the wheel in the last 300m! We took some more pics together while we waited for the others and we discussed all things apparel. Once all together again we descended back down into Catollica to our hotel. What a Day!
That night we were to have our formal welcome on the roof top of Hotel San Marco. This is where I first met the Canadian and the Belgie. The night was hosted by Andrea and a few tasty Aperol Spritzs were well received! Andrea laid out the next few days for us and then handed out the goodie bag! A musette full of everything from a battery pack for our phones, to towels, wet wether bags and of beautiful Castelli made Emilia Romagna jersey. We were feeling spoilt already and this was only day one. We also got to meet Hotel Manager Guilia and her team. The staff were amazing, super helpful, very good English (which is always a bonus) and always smiling. A buffet dinner followed by some drinks with my new family Alberto and Sonja at a bar ended the night in bliss.
We woke early and headed down for great coffee and a massive breakfast. The small parma, tomato and mayo micro buns were so delicious, I may have wrapped one up in foil and whacked it in my jersey pocket. Ok, Ok, 3 … I wrapped up 3 and put them in my jersey pocket. #buffetthief
Our ride today was up to San Marino, on the north side of the Apennine Mountains, an enclaved country surrounded by Italy. We would follow the Giro stage 9 TT course and we were also pairing up with the Eat Sleep Cycle guys and a big group of poms (people from England) called The London Dynamo. 3 groups on the road a fast, a medium and a slow. I chose the middle group, the knee pulling up a little sore from the mini smash-fest the day before. Larger groups meant sitting in was a lot easier but also a bit sketchier. The poms, on the most part were all very good riders but like any bunch ride it only takes a few to make the ride a bit unnerving. That said by the time we got into the major climb of the day the groups had split up and you could pick your rhythm and enjoy the scenery. I rode most of the climb with Andrea, getting an insight to the area and just enjoying a steady pace up the cat 2 climb. It only averages 3% but goes for 14km and the last 5km averages 5% and then the final km had a number of 15% ramps. I took my time and then played with the crazy Canadian, Matty. Attacking on the steepest section however the lightweight whipper snapper from Toronto just rode up alongside me without even breaking a sweat and grinning like a Cheshire cat. Laughing and loads of fun right there! At the top, the Belgie, Robin was on his third coffee!
The stage 9 TT of the 2019 Giro was in our legs. Over a beer and a little snack we all debated if there would be the need for a bike change for the last steeper section. We all agreed that it was too risky. It would transpire that the stage was lost by Victor Campenaerts for a shit bike change! We had picked it over a beer 2 weeks before the race. I also got to hangout with the guys from Eat Sleep Cycle and it was pleasing to see Australian local apparel manufacturers MAAP.cc as their chosen kit supplier. A reminder of home.
The afternoon ride home did get a little long in the tooth / legs. Not due to the length of the ride nor the traffic. It was mostly because, unfortunately some of the poms lived up to their namesake and became whiners! The ride had been slightly extended as the forecast for the next few days was looking a little damp (it was going to be pissing down) and should have been a fun escapade through the Verucchio and Serravalle areas. However the constant whining and failure to follow simple ride instructions by a select few made the ride a little tense by the time we rolled back into Cattollica. The views were stunning tho and there is nothing a local beer couldn’t remedy. Soon we were enjoying the afternoon, watching the first stage of the Giro in a bar near the beach.
Come ride Italy with McVilly Tours!
If you want to have an experience like this contact us NOW. We have many options for amazing Italian biking holidays. Emilia Romagna is another one and it’s now on the top of our list of amazing bike adventures.