Something different today.
I have just returned from a cycling holiday in Lake Garda and want to wax lyrical about my four day tour. My own personal Giro. My club’s first (proper) adventure abroad.
The group touched down in Milan-Bergamo in the early hours of Thursday morning and packed over 300 km of riding into a busy stint around Italy’s famous lake. Steve Munn (just Google Steve Munn cycle holidays) was our host and he moulded the trip to suit to our ability, preferences and ideal beer schedule. He also shared Just Pro Cycling amongst his various cycling connections; so this is the least I could do, right?
Five hours after stepping off my Ryanair flight I was weaving round the hairpins of San Michele; a steady five kilometre climb with the aesthetics of something far greater. For Vincenzo Nibali it would be a bump in the road (averaging around 6% before flattening at the top) but it was a highlight and whetted my appetite to ascend bigger obstacles in the future. It took a shade under twenty minutes to complete (less than fifteen for Steve) and was followed by a descent which allowed the mind to conjure up fantasies of a furious Giro finale. It helps that Marco Frapporti (KOM) and Sonny Colbrelli have ticked off San Michele on their Strava accounts. The loop was just a moderate 65 km and we raced back to Moniga del Garda to reload with calories.
We completed 110 km on day two, split by a lunch break in the main square as our group increased in size with one late arrival. In the morning we hugged the lake and completed a fast loop of Sirmione fuelled by coffee and sunshine. In the afternoon we tackled the Colle Sant’Eusebio. This is another climb unlikely to trouble the pros (five km at 5%) but felt like the feature of our day. We had been slowly climbing right from Moniga and I was fully unzipped by the summit.
We wanted to eat some serious miles on day three and Steve suggested a full loop of Lake Garda (on busy roads) or venturing to Verona on a more social route. We opted for the latter and completed an enjoyable 130 km spin. It looks great on Strava and I’m keen for the introduction of Garda-Verona-Garda on the professional calendar. We returned to San Michele on the final morning for some more ups and downs. Despite a puncture, it was the perfect finale.
Riding in Italy is magnificent and our train (which often split in two) was rarely bothered by cars. The area is beautiful and my legs felt stronger each day. I’m convinced that I would have been flying by the end of week three. The climbs often felt easier than at home in the UK. There’s a certain smoothness to Italian corners which contrasts greatly to the random 20% spikes in the British countryside. This is probably why the Tour of Yorkshire has been received as a surprisingly brutal few days. Italy makes riding much more enjoyable and you’ll be happy to climb all day (remind me of this after I visit the Dolomites).
I’ve spent the last week browsing decades’ worth of Giro d’Italia routes. Lake Garda sits south of the Dolomites and is often overlooked by organizers despite frequent trips to Rovetta, Dalmine, Meda and Verona. There was a mountain time-trial in 2013 north of the Lake but it’s the 2001 time trial from Sirmione to Salo on the southwest side that’s most exciting. Brief research suggests we cycled on many of the same roads; albeit far slower than 2001 stage winner Dario Frigo.
We were put in touch with Steve months before the trip and he delivered on all aspects of hosting. These are his home roads and he presented a number of options each morning. He was also keen to rotate his position in the group to make sure we hadn’t lost any stragglers. He’s not a bad cyclist either, swatting away my best ‘attacks’ without breaking a sweat.
Off the bike, Steve was just as efficient. He is well-known in the area as ‘Steve the cyclist’ and we received free drinks and pizza on numerous occasions. He’s also a machine when it comes to getting up in the morning. No matter how much beer we had, Steve would be up at sunrise, in his bib shorts, and riding to the nearest cafe whilst I rolled out of bed to charge my Garmin. I had a particularly nasty puncture on the final day (tyre and inner tube went pop) and Steve got me going again using survival methods last seen on Bear Grylls, involving spare rubber and plastic gel packets.
Lastly a quick word on the bikes. Steve’s apartment has a basement garage which resembles a small bike shop. We had provided our sizes and preferences before our flight and everything was ready on arrival. Get in touch by visiting Steve Munn Cycling Holidays on Facebook. He’s even got his own segment on Strava titled “Raffa to Moniga with Stevie Munn”. That’s the dream.