As 2022 draws to a close, we reflect here on some of the magical Italian rides that we were fortunate to experience, both on our Italian cycling tours with guests and also off tour, as part of our ongoing tour development. Overall, 2022 was a sensational year with plenty of adventure and while this top 5 could easily be a top 10 or 20, given how much amazing riding there is across our year, here Damian shares his top five highlights on the bike through what was a beautiful Italian Spring, a warm Summer and an atmospheric Autumn.
1. Mt Etna – 3rd time’s a charm
During the year we spent a fair bit of time in Sicily developing and refining our 2023 Tour of Sicily. On our first visit we were staying close by to Mt Etna, however on the day that was slated for an ascent of Etna, the weather changed, with rain and only low single digit figures on offer half way up the mountain……next time. A few weeks later we were staying on the side of the mountain, and while there was some wind around, I decided that I would still ride, as at least it wasn’t raining. 10k’s up the road as the landscape opened up, the mist rolled in and so did the stronger, colder winds……..next time. Fast forward to October and we were back on the side of Mt Etna, and the weather was nothing short of spectacular. It was still, cool in the shade of the trees and delightful in the sun. Climbing Etna is a great challenge, with a changing landscape that finally opens to old lava flows. To see the stark contrast of the brilliant blue sky against the black lava and the whisps of steam wafting up from the crater in the distance, is incredible.
2. L’Eroica – back and better than ever
For me, L’Eroica is the highlight of the year on the bike. It’s a day, a ride, a landscape and a vibe that is superb and utterly unique. But it’s also about the steel bikes and the woollen jerseys…. and the celebration in the piazza with all the riders after the last kilometer.
This year was special because after days of rain, we were treated to a still, atmospheric and dry day, but it was the enthusiasm and appreciation from everyone involved that just gets stronger with each edition, that makes it an absolute joy to be a part of the L’Eroica community. As L’Eroica is in our home town and our group is based in the village, the L’Eroica market is a daily magnet that provides some great fun. I managed to find a vintage Stelbel to ride, as well as a vintage Stelbel woollen jersey. Quite the double find!
3. Colle Fauniera – our own Gran Fondo
I was once told that climbing is where the fun is, and I absolutely agree.
During our Tour of Piemonte this year, we rode the course of La Fasto Coppi Gran Fondo on our own as the event organisers took a 1 year break.
We rolled out of town early on Sunday morning to get to the base of the mountain, before taking on the 26k’s of elevation. There were only a couple of cars on the way up the hill to the local mountainside church, one man who set up a little stall to sell his hand made cheese with his son, and a handful of other riders with whom we shared the mountain, which every so often was shrouded in mist. After stopping at the top to regroup and enjoy some lunch, it was then time for the adrenalin inducing, jaw dropping descent.
This is one of Damian’s all time favourites.
4. Lago di Cancano – our surprise ride
The climb from Bormio to Lago di Cancano was a late ‘weather-inspired inclusion’ to our Como, Stelvio & Domomites tour. After having to abort our climb of Mortirolo earlier in the day due to heavy rain, by the time we arrived and settled in at our hotel, the rain had passed and we were back on the bikes.
Cancano was a highlight, not only because of its unexpected addition, but also because it is a quintessential Alpine experience with green meadows, cows with cowbells, and church spires. Then as you reach the action packed little climb known as “mini Stelvio”, of just over 10km with 20 hairpin corners, a tunnel or two, the Torri di Fraele and the majestic lake set into the snow capped mountains, your heart just opens up.
5. A Puglian Pasta By the Sea
Our longest day during our Tour of Puglia is also one of the best. We depart the trulli infused landscape of the Valle d’Itria and head towards the beach, but before we smell the sea and hit the shimmering turquoise waters, there is a maze of tiny beautiful roads that open up into wide plains, dotted with small towns and a mix of white and coloured buildings. It also happens to gradually descend for most of the way, making it easier for all to get into a nice rhythm. Right on the 100km mark, we stop by the water’s edge for lunch and a well deserved linguine con cozze. A seriously delicious reward and while this year’s July ride on a very warm day, made it feel like an even bigger reward, this lunch is always a highlight for riders on our Puglia cycling tours.
There is no end to the amazing roads and climbs in Italy that we have the chance to ride – from Mortirolo and Gavia, to Sella Ronda and Giau, Etna and inland Sicily, Tuscany’s tiny backroads and anywhere along the Mediterranean – however there are a fews days coming up on the bike in 2023 that we are particularly looking forward to. Damian shares his top 5 here.
1. Exploring Tuscany – sharing the refinements with our guests
In March, we will return to our small Tuscan village of Gaiole in Chianti, also the home of L’Eroica. Positioned in the centre of Chianti’s green heart, and surrounded by forests, vineyards and stone hilltop hamlets, the region is dissected with an amazing amount of both tarmac and gravel roads, used by L’Eroica and the Strade Bianche Pro Race. It is riding heaven. Damian just can’t wait to get back to the Chianti hills because on most training rides pre season, he either adds a section which he hasn’t ridden before or rides a route in the opposite direction, with the aim to continually refine the rides he shares on tour with our guests; bringing depth and diversity, and also ensuring riders are experiencing the absolute best of this magical part of Tuscany.
2. Tre Cime di Lavaredo – Jai Hindley defending his Giro win
In May, we are looking forward to climbing Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the Dolomites as the final day of our Giro d’Italia tour. Starting with a beautiful loop in the mountains, surrounded by the iconic Dolomiti landscape, we will aim to be positioned on the last corner of the final mountain top finish to watch Jai Hindley defend his 2022 Giro win.
Will he already be in pink or will he employ the same tactics as this year on the final climb up to Marmolada, and put time to his nearest rival?
3. Riding the piccolo l’Eroica with Nancy for my 50th
The L’Eroica ride is close to Damian’s heart and encapsulates everything that he believes is special about cycling. With Damian’s 50th Birthday only a few days after the conclusion of the L’Eroica 2023 tour (also now nicknamed Damian’s 50th Tour), he has managed to persuade Nancy that riding the 46km Piccolo L’Eroica would be the perfect 50th birthday present for him. Festive and fun, we’ll be joined by other guests and friends for the ride and simply can’t wait for that 1st Sunday in October to roll around.
4. Exploring new roads for our ‘Tour of Piemonte meets TDF Tour’ in 2024
With the first 4 stages of the Tour de France taking place in Italy in 2024 (confirmed by ASO only a few days ago), we’ll be soon launching a ‘Tour of Piemonte meets TDF’ tour for late June/early July 2024. This tour will take in the very best of our Tour of Piemonte and also include 2-3 days where we will ride the same routes as the Tour de France in Piemonte, Italy, the home of Fausto Coppi, before it returns to its homeland. To put the finishing touches on this tour, we’ll be exploring more roads in Piemonte this Spring and we simply can’t wait – because recceing new roads and developing new tours is at the heart of what we love doing.
5. Passo dello Stelvio
This climb of mythical proportions is once again on our agenda in July as part of our Como Stelvio & Dolomites tour. Straight up, Passo dello Stelvio is a great challenge and an absolute joy to ride. However, what makes it even more special for us is riding it with our guests and sharing in their joy and sense of achievement, as they reach the top and tick off a major accomplishment on their bike bucket list.
If we’re lucky enough to see a marmot, that is always a bonus, as is the 26km descent to finish the day!
Saluti to all who are joining us in 2023 – we’re looking forward to sharing the adventure.