An absolutely cracking day on the bike, filled with tiny mountain roads that go on forever and superb descents that are laid out all before you twisting and turning all the way to the valley floor.
We started this Italian Cycling Tour in Piemonte with a five day lead up in Monforte d’Alba, exploring all of the roads around the beautiful Le Langhe wine region, before riding across to Cuneo, a beautiful town near the French border and home to La Fausto Coppi Gran Fondo.
An early start is the usual requirement to get a good position on the start line in the crowd of 2600 plus riders. So a 5am breakfast and a double macchiato were on the cards. There is something really special about starting a Gran Fondo in one of Italy’s grand piazza’s and after a very easy roll out of the hotel’s garage directly into Piazza Galimberti, we took our positions and then watched the drama and theatrics unfold as more riders joined the grid, all waiting for the 7am start time to the backing of a 1990’s sound track.
The countdown was on and we slowly started to roll, gathering pace as we navigated the first two roundabouts. The group entered the bridge, and this is where it all gets tricky as at the end of the bridge, there is a third roundabout where a left turn puts you on the medio fondo at 111km and 2400m, and a right turn means you’re doing 177km and 4250m, a longer day for sure.
Our Piemonte cycling tour group all elected to ride the medio fondo and safely navigated the left turn before we were on our way to Pradleves and the base of the first and major challenge for the day, Colle Fauniera.
It was a gradual ascent up to Pradleves, and with many groups motoring past, it required a fair amount of self control to sit at your own pace, before the 22km climb. The first hint of the incline saw a dramatic change in pace and gears being shifted into something more manageable.
Here the fun began. Finding the right gear and rhythm, we wove our way up to the top passing other riders doing their thing. The first refreshment stop was 16k into the climb and a veritable hive of activity with some beautiful food on offer; nutella on bread, bananas, parmesan cheese, fresh apricots, dates, and nuts. We’d not been riding long but worked up a hunger quickly.
This stop also represents the point at which the mountain goes from the dense bosco (or forest) and opens up to tiny roads which hang on to the edge of the mountain, with even smaller bridges and just a few hairpins. At this point the ride was well under way and we were molto contento, all while keeping a cautious eye up to the top and where we thought our summit might be.
Spirits were high as we kept track of the road and spotted in the distance a ramp that looked steeper than everything else we’d encountered. We ride on and it’s not as hard as it first looked, later reflecting on how quickly our mind can play tricks on us as to what to expect and what is possibly too hard.
We rolled past the last bank of snow, to the top and the next refuelling station. We were met with cubes of smoked prosciutto and aged cheese…after a few photos and some more food, it was then back to work… or should I say, back to play.
What goes up, must come down … and what a descent it was. In our view, this has to be one of the best descents in a Gran Fondo in Italy. Firstly through granite strewn hills and then opening into meadows, all the while on some seriously tiny and sharp cornered roads. The descent was an absolute feast for the senses, with our riders on the edge of their seat the whole way, attention and adrenalin at a maximum.
Marshalls on tight corners waved flags to advise of sharp bends and pot holes. Another marshall shouted at riders behind us as some rocks fell from the above cliff face. With the rushing water of streams, many cow bells, landing helicopters and other riders absolutely ripping past to quickly disappear around the next corner, we all did well to remain focussed.
We hit the town of Demonte and navigated through its back streets until we made it to the valley floor. On another back road, we rolled to start the climb up to Madonna del Colletto. This was only a 7km ascent and one that was covered with trees and forest.
We heard the top of the climb and the final rest stop before we saw it. The 1990’s dance music theme continued and we had to smile at the beautiful contrast of songs from our uni days, as we were covered in sweat taking in turn after turn in the middle of an Italian forest.
More sustenance was soon in order.
With the profile showing 26k to go, the ride was almost complete, and what looked to be a downhill run the whole way. From the final stop, it was a beautiful descent off the hill, with many twists and turns and many more skilled descenders fading off into the distance.
Our Piemonte cycling tour group safely made it off the final descent and again took to the back streets of another town. The police held back the traffic as we rolled around a corner, narrowly making the final cut. We were up the tiniest pinch, knowing in one more corner the fun would begin. A small group formed and a cracking pace developed with almost no traffic.
The speed never faltered and as we found ourselves ripping between fields of corn and groves of hazelnut trees, the rural made way to the industrial, and with more twists and turns, this made way to urban… and then the light bulb went off: In one more turn we would be in the Piazza with the Arrivo banner up ahead.
We rolled to a stop, brimming with joy; it had been a superb day on the bike and one of the best experiences of cycling in Italy.
This is one gran fondo that we can’t wait to do again. From the registration process and the expo, to the road safety and marshalls, the spectators on the side of the road in some of the most hard-to-access locations, and the fantastic rest stops, the organisation was faultless.
This was a seriously beautiful ride and a great challenge all woven into one perfect package. We finished the day with a few of us cheering on the other riders and enjoying a celebratory beer.
If you’re looking for an awe inspiring cycling holiday in Italy, then in our view, experiencing a Piemonte cycling tour with a Gran Fondo is a must for every cyclist’s bucket list. To find out more about our La Fausto Coppi & Piemonte Cycling Tour, visit https://www.aqtocycling.com/tours/coppi-gran-fondo/