Gran Fondo Campagnolo

After riding the Etape Du Tour in 2000, Mike Harper moved on to Italy for 2001... 

Mike getting cold and wetArrived in Venice at 11.00 am on Friday, 28 degrees outside, travelled to Feltre by car which was about 15 miles north to take part in the Gran Fondo, 210km of cycling through one of the most beautiful parts of the world, the Dolomites. Met a few guys from Graham Baxter Tours who were staying in the next hotel, most of them had taken part in previous years and were sharing horror stories about how gruelling the ride was last year because of the bad weather. One guy, a first cat, Rob from Ireland said he was hoping to complete the ride in under 8 hours, I remember thinking 'that's a long time for anyone to be on a bike'.

The Gran Fondo is organised by Campagnolo and takes part every year with over three and a half thousand riders taking part. The route which starts at the town of Feltre and travels over four of the highest mountains in the area, the highest being over 2300m. All roads are closed to traffic and there are feed and drink stations every 60km along the route.

After signing on on Friday night, we went out for a few beers and watched part of the 24 hour cycle race that took place around the streets of Feltre, the atmosphere was amazing. On Saturday about 20 of us cycled out to the start of the first climb just to get acclimatised, had lunch, and cycled back. On Saturday night we went to a pre-ride pasta party (no beer, just water) every one seemed a little nervous about the following day.

Got up at 5.00am. Had cornflakes and pasta for breakfast (spaghetti bolognaise not very appetising first thing!) set off at 7.00am on a warm sunny Sunday morning first 15km was flat the first climb wound its way up the hillside through small villages and tree-lined roads which are smooth and well surfaced, got into a good rhythm and was feeling comfortable all the way up the 1500m climb, after the summit, and feed station it was 20 km of 40-50 mph descent down the other side which got very cold.

The second and highest climb was a lot steeper, I was still in a large bunch and feeling comfortable despite the rising temperature and lack of air. "come on Scotsman" a shout from somewhere in the bunch, I looked up and saw Rob just up in front, who appeared to be struggling a bit. I was starting to feel my legs by this time, we were about 2/3 up the climb of some 2300m. I went past Rob as we neared the summit "come on you Irishman" I joked as I slowly passed him, he said he'd blown up and didn't think he was going to make it to the top.

As we carried on up the last few kilometres I suddenly realised the breath taking scenery around us and almost total silence apart from the occasional 'clanging' of cowbells in the distance. After almost one and a half hours of steady out of the saddle climbing the relief of reaching the feed station at the summit was indescribable, I stopped briefly to grab a couple of sandwiches and drinks in a spread (that looked like something from a banquet) and set off down the very fast descent on some of the best roads I have ever been on.

Once back on the flat, and just over half the distance covered, I went through a bad patch and was suffering for a while, had an energy bar and tried to recover before the third climb which was a little less steep and wound its way up some 1500m. The weather had been good with little or no wind and the Pinarello was at home in the mountains. I was enjoying the experience.

As we approached the final climb I was seriously struggling despite having plenty to eat on the last descent. I was out of the saddle in the lowest gear and was just turning the pedals; I suffered all the way up and thought of getting off the bike more than once. "sure that frames the right size for you?" I laughed when I heard Rob's voice "I didn't expect to see you again" I said as he came up alongside. I had to give it everything to hold on to the final summit, after over 8 hours in the saddle it was finally down hill to the finish in Feltre where the crowds lined the streets, we crossed the line together, my legs and body ached after 8 hours 40 minutes and was glad to get off the bike.

Afterwards, we went to the pasta party with beer and wine, all of which was supplied by Campagnolo. Had a great day and will definitely be back next year!!

Mike Harper

See also Mike's account of his ride in the Etape du Tour in 2000.

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