offense to our mates back in New Zealand, but by the time John
and I left the country in June, we were ready for some cycling
culture, and most of all a chance to ride on lovely small
roads shared with motorists who actually had respect for cyclists.
Our wishes were granted in Northern Italy. We were so taken with
the place, we almost terminated our round-the-world trip right
there. It is still our dream to move to Northern Italy someday,
but in the end we decided we needed to get back to work for a
few years, and rebuild our savings before we plan our next escape
We had initially planned to do a self-supported
point to point tour in Italy, but after some research, we decided
to indulge and slowly immerse ourselves in Italian by going to
Cycling Center for a week. John had found an incredible resource
online for all things cycling Veneto in the form of April Pedersen
Santinon's awesome website.
April sometimes leads rides for the Italian Cycling Center, and
recommended it so we decided to check it out. We had such a great
time there that we stayed two weeks.
John had been talking about doing the Gran
Fondo Campagnolo on a single bike for months, and I had encouraged
him to either bring a single or rent one in Italy. Staying at
ICC until the event would certainly make the logistics of getting
to and from the start easier. Then somehow April talked us into
doing the ride on tandem, but I've jumped way ahead.
Our flight from New Zealand to Venice was a long
one. First we had to get out of Auckland. We have flown within
NZ a few times in the last two years, but have not been on an
International flight since we arrived in NZ in October 2002, so
we were actually expecting anything in terms of security.
It wasn't too much of a surprise that all our bags (check-in and
carryon were x-rayed before we even got to the check-in counter.)
But it was a bit of a surprise when the technician asked
us to remove the glue from our tyre patch kit and our chain lube
from our to be checked in baggage. What could I do with a tube
of glue in a bag down in the baggage hold? Ah well, you dare not
question the security folks or you may end up in a cell in Cuba,
so we opened the S&S case and located the offending materials
and handed them over. Fortunately he only specified a bottle
of chain lube, so we got to keep the very expensive and hard to
find grease for the couplers, as well as the other small tube
of grease we use when reassembling the bike (after wiping all
the grease off everything when we disassemble it!).
if we had a puncture on the way out of the airport? Oh wait, we
were taking a taxi, and we have spare tubes, but what if we weren't
and didn't? Just a note for future trips - always make sure you
have spare tubes - or maybe two tubes of glue - one sacrificial!
Otherwise our flight was grand, albeit long. We
flew Singapore Airlines from Auckland to Singapore, then Frankfurt,
Germany, before taking another flight to Venice - arriving 36
hours after we left! Singapore Airlines is my favourite airline
now. The seats were roomy. And each seatback had it's only video
station with over 60 on-demand movies as well as various TV programs,
and musical selections. And they were new films and on-demand,
so you could start and stop them, as you please! I watched a couple
of years worth of films!
The Singapore Airport is a model for what an airport
should be. It was clean and spacious, and had clean toilets located
every few metres throughout the airport, so no walking miles to
find a mile long line to go into what smelled like a sewer (like
Frankfurt). No, there was literally a toilet at every gate, as
well as all over the place. There were also heaps of comfortable
chairs, including sleeping (lounge) chairs for the fatigued traveller.
There were separate TV areas, and even a little cinema, playing
films continuously and FREE. And speaking of bargains, the food
was an incredible bargain. John and I stuffed ourselves silly
with some pretty awesome sushi for about $15.00 (US$). The shops
were spacious and the staff friendly. Everyone spoke English (and
probably several other languages). The only negative - I was hoping
to find a new tiny digital camera that I'd been lusting after
for a few months, but no one had it in stock. I did So we dealyed
some of my spent up spending! buy a Swatch - I'd lost my old one
shortly after arriving in NZ, and they were very expensive and
hard to find there. So I finally treated myself.
wish I could say our experience in Frankfurt was as good. I swear
there is only one toilet in the entire airport. Worse is that
smoking is allowed throughout the airport in smoking zones,
located as frequently as Singapore had toilets, complete with
an overhead fan to spread the smoke around the whole airport.
Despite the lack of toilets, we sought out a coffee shop, which
was just as smoke filled as the rest of the place.
So when we finally reached Venice, we were wiped
out. We had arranged for a taxi to take us from the airport in
Venice up to the ICC in Borso del Grappa. Matteo, the taxi driver,
does a lot of work for the center and spoke just enough English
to make us think he spoke more. He was very gracious and informative.
He brought us to the hotel to pick up our keys, and then down
to the residence a few blocks away, where our room, and
the bike garage were located, and then said he'd pick us up in
half an hour to bring us back up for lunch. We quickly unloaded
our gear - far more than we would normally have - since we were
carrying stuff for relocating half way around the world. Then
we showered and headed up for lunch.
At this stage I'd been up about 40 hours, with a
few fitful lapses into sleep. John is much better at sleeping
on planes, but I'd barely had any sleep. Let me just say a first
meeting with George should not take place after 40 hours without
eventually grew to adore George. But my best description of him
is that he is a prickly ole teddy bear. George is actually
quite charming once you get to know him, but he's a bit abrupt
on first impressions. He's been running the Italian Cycling Center
for something like 20 years, and he's heard all the same questions
over and over again. He's written a tome which he sends out to
all participants so he can avoid some of the basic questions,
but of course, he still gets them. The info is 7 printed pages,
and it's pretty easy to miss something or forget. We referred
to this document as the bible after a while. Anyway, John and
I kept our eyes propped open for lunch, and then found our way
back to the residence, this time without Matteo's help, so it
involved walking around it circles a bit first. We got the tandem
put back together, and went to bed. We slept through dinner and
woke in time for breakfast the next morning.
There were only a few folks at the center when we
arrived, and as it turned out, all were from Massachusetts. Imagine
our surprise after travelling from the other side of the planet
to see a CRW (our old club in Mass) jersey hanging out the window,
and a Peter Mooney ( a local Mass framebuilder) bike in the garage.
John even recognised it as belonging to Peter Brooks, who we'd
ridden with a few times back in Mass. The other two riders were
racers and friends of Bill's, also from Mass. Bill leads the fast
more training oriented rides at the center, while George takes
the moderate paced folks out and does the more cultural rides
- visiting villas and such. Anyway Bill was taking his two mates
out for a final hammerfest before they departed the next day.
John and I would join Peter on a cultural ride. We had a very
pleasant morning ride, but still felt energetic enough after lunch
to head back out. We decided to go find the recommended bike shop
and replace our patch kit and lube, and drool over Italian bike
found the shop, using George's directions in the predeparture
info. With phrasebook in hand, we went in and prepared to try
and ask a few questions. When we first went in, there appeared
to be someone in the back working on a bike. We figured that he
would come out when he was free. We looked around the shop, and
found all sorts of interesting bits and bobs. It's been almost
two years since we'd been in a bike shop that had more than just
the very basic bike parts. This was heaven. I found some shoes
at a great price. The boxes were stacked up out in the main part
of the shop, and there were chairs next to the boxes, so I sat
down and tried on the shoes to be sure. We had picked up several
items to buy, but still no acknowledgement from the back. Eventually
a few other folks came in the shop, went to the back and started
chatting. But still no greeting for us. After a while, we gave
up, put back our intended purchases and left.
We later learned from George that the businessman
running the shop took great offence that we had come in, didn't
speak Italian, and rifled through his stuff. Since he heard us
speak English to each other, he refused to come out from the back.
He never even gave us the opportunity to speak Italian to him.
As far as rifling through stuff, I didn't go behind the counter
and pull out boxes of unopened stuff. I picked up shoes that were
out on the sales floor and tried to buy them. Oh well, we later
found a friendly shop and spent lots of money there. They
graciously put up with our phrasebook Italian and gestures! They
also took no offence to my wanting to try on the shoes!
We later learned that browsing is not really accepted
in many Italian shops. When you walk into a clothing shop, you
should know what you want and ask for it. No flipping through
racks of clothes, unfolding stuff to hold it up, etc. "I
would like a blue shirt in size 4". Some shops have signs
that say free entry - which means browsing is allowed. Others
tolerate the American style of shopping, and some don't tolerate
it at all.
back to riding. The next day Bill had no hard core racer types,
and John and I wanted to do some reall climbing and descending,
so we joined Bill while Peter and George took in some more culture.
We ended up alternating our days between hard mountainous rides
with Bill and slightly less intense recovery rides with George.
As I mentioned above, at some point April talked us into doing
the Gran Fondo Campagnolo on tandem, and we felt that we should
get used to the climbs and descents, but not completely wear ourselves
out. We also tried to figure out the logistics of getting to the
start of the Gran Fondo and finding a place to stay (competing
with 3700 other entrants for rooms). It turned out lots of folks
had come to ICC with the idea of doing this ride, and the plan
was for Bill to drive folks over for the start and bring them
back. We were having such a great time that we decided to stay
a second week (til the day after the Gran Fondo).
In our time there, we did several of the Gran Fondo
climbs, the Passo Rolle, the Croce D'Aune and the Cima Campo.
The mountain right behind us, Monte Grappa, provided us with a
great afternoon ride and view. We also went to Marostica, a lovely
medieval walled city and up to the Asiago plateau. Nearby Asolo
was another walled city with a great weekend market and wonderful
people-watching opportunities. We rode out through vineyards that
are the source of the lightly sparkling wine, Prosecco. We went
to Feltre, which is the starting point of the Gran Fondo Campagnolo,
but also has a great underground archaeology exhibit, with a personal
tour by a drop dead gorgeous female Italian archaeologist. We
sampled Grappa and lots of the aforementioned prosecco. We stuffed
ourselves silly with great Italian food, and ice cream and the
best coffee in the world. We soaked up lovely warm sunshine and
phenomenal scenery. And we screamed down the twistiest most technical
descents. We were in heaven.
and we shopped. George has a few contacts in the business, one
of which is an Italian bike clothing factory, where we got to
buy clothes at a good discount. The Euro was about 2 NZ$ at the
time, so the prices (numbers) already looked good to us, but with
discount, they were great! I learned part way through the trip
that all my bike shorts were well past their use-by-date - i.e.
they were worn thin in the bum and were all but transparent. So
I bought a few new pair, as did John.
In addition to shopping, one of the other things
we had missed in New Zealand was social cycling. Our Sunday Betty
rides were centred around being social and riding somewhere to
eat (usually a bring your own thing up in the forest somewhere).
But the club rides were all races, and folks just weren't into
going for a coffee half way through or even afterwards. So it
was so nice to ride for a while and then stop for coffee
and fabulous Italian pastries.
We also got to meet lots of new folks. Shortly after
we arrived lots of others came - many aiming to do the Gran Fondo
Campagnolo. We had a great time hanging out with Miles - what
a great names for a cyclist, eh. Miles was a young doctor from
Canada. He had a great deal with his job - which he shares with
another doctor, so he only works half the year, alternating months
with his colleague. Our best ever small world story came during
a conversation with Miles. While he claimed to be Canadian, it
turns out he was actually born in England. John claims to be Irish,
but he was also born in England. At some point John asked Miles
where in England he was born. The response was Buckinghamshire.
John said, "me too, what part". Miles responded, "High
Wycombe". John said, "No way, me too." But then
it got weird. Miles said the best part was that he was "a
plant - I was actually born at The Shrubbery." To which John
responded, "No way, me too." Now at this point I have
just found out that I married a shrub - which couldn't
be good as it was now the nickname many were attaching to the
US president for whom I had no affection. As it turned out The
Shrubbery was the name of the birthing hospital. But I can't
tell you the great mileage I've gotten from the fact that John
came into the world at a place called The Shrubbery. When
I later confronted his mom with the fact that she'd never told
me that young John was in fact a plant, I heard from his sisters
that they'd all been told that mom and dad had found John under
a shrub in a park!
so we travelled from the opposite side of the world to find a
former clubmate at the same place, and then to meet someone born
in the same hospital as John!
We also met Mark and Frieda who were on their honeymoon,
and taking a few days at the center before doing a whirlwind driving
tour of Italy. Roger and Gary arrived soon after. Roger had been
to the center before and talked his friend from Texas, Gary, into
coming. Gary was a real character. He refused to eat anything
but grilled chicken and baked potatoes. No Italian food at all.
We tried as much as we could to get him to try something else,
but to no avail. Gary was also a bit intense in his attitude about
riding, and liked to use race tactics and swearing lots. At some
point I suggested he watch his "f-ing" language with
ladies present and he was so shocked he didn't speak for almost
5 minutes! We had a great time with these guys. Unfortunately
after Roger accidentally pointed out the sheerness of my shorts,
I bought new ones and stopped putting on a show. For some reason
he stopped drafting us so much after that!
Roberto and Peter were also from Texas, except Roberto
was originally from Italy. We also were joined by Dave, a fire-fighter
from Las Vegas, Juan from Panama - who bought a brand new Pinarello
the day before the ride, two families of doctors from South Carolina,
another couple from Massachusetts, and a couple from Australia
who arrived the night before the Gran Fondo.
The night before the event itself, the heavens opened.
And the didn't close until 24 hours later - completely empty after
dumping a seasons worth of rain on us in one go. 3700 people had
signed up for the event. Only 2500 took the start. Less than 1500
are three options. The Gran Fondo is 208 km and includes 4 major
climbs and 16,000 feet of climbing. George described it as a ride
with 75 miles of uphill. The Medio Fondo is 112 km and has three
big passes, and the shortest option just takes in the first and
last climb in 92 km. John and I had planned to do the big ride,
but faced more logistical difficulties since everyone else planned
to do the medium or short ride. Folks didn't really want to have
to wait for us to to finish a ride twice as long as the others!
As the weather set in, we decided that the medium ride would be
a better choice, since the descents would be treacherous and we
would not be able to make up any time. We'd likely take 12 hours
to do the full ride. I was still a bit bummed to do the shorter
ride until I got chilly on the first climb! Fortunately
John and I were much better prepared than most folks for changeable
mountain weather. We had wool jerseys, arm and leg warmers, rain
jackets, headbands, gloves and overshoes. Many folks headed out
in shorts and a jersey. Many regretted that choice!
There was no official tandem category, and registering
was complicated. April did some translating with the organisers
and got us registered under my name alone - since they couldn't
put two registrations on one of the timing chips attached to the
bike. So we only paid for one, but got meal tickets and goody
bags for two. We also got to start with the women, who started
FIRST. So while everyone else lined up behind however many of
the 2500 people arrived before them, we got to go to the front.
Of course during the first hour of climbing, most of those folks
passed us ;-( But they cheered for the tandem as they did! We
thought we must be the only tandem, but at some point we saw two
lads on another. We to-ed and fro-ed with them a bit, til we passed
them on a descent and never saw them again.
The first descent went on forever, then we had a
sharp climb and thought we were starting the second climb, but
then began to descend again, and continued down and down until
we were convinced we must be below sea level. We got pretty chilly
on the first part of the descent, but the little climb broke things
up and we were in good shape for the remainder of the descent,
but we saw plenty of folks shivering and stopping. We had no idea
how many were suffering so badly until at the finish we heard
many of the stories. The second climb was a up a tiny little road
called Le Ej, that we could not find on any map. The top km was
all dirt, including a 10% descent.
All the roads were closed to car traffic for this
event, so we had the whole road, well shared with 2500 other bikes.
For the first climb, it was wall to wall people for as far as
the eye could see. The split for all three rides was after the
descent, so the second climb only had folks doing the medium ride.
We figured lots of folks would make the same choice we had. We
later learned many wished they had as they hit snow on the second
climb up Passo Menghen, and most of the folks who dropped out
did so there. Getting all those folks off that mountain proved
a great challenge - and for weeks after we heard incredible stories
of how folks got back to the start. It seems there was one tiny
bar on the road, and most folks tried to crowd in there to get
out of the cold and snow.
rest of the ride went quite well for us. We stayed warm through
out and at some point the sun even poked out. We had done both
the first and last climb in the week before the ride, so we knew
both how hard and how long they each were. When we roared past
the Campagnolo memorial at the top of the Croce D'Aune, we knew
we were home free. We flew down the mountain and then hammered
the remaining flat kms into town, for the final steep little insult
into the walled city and up and up an awful little climb to the
finish line. Bill was at the finish to greet us and give us keys
to get our dry clothes from the van. After changing we saw the
winners of the long ride roar up to the finish line, doing twice
the distance is just a few more minutes! These guys are professional
Gran Fondo riders - no kidding.
We met up with our friends and heard how others
had underdressed and nearly froze and various stories of taking
refuge in bars and such. One sweep picked up riders. Another took
bikes. Some of the bikes did not show up until after dark, so
Bill took us all home and went back for the bikes later.
It was very cool, to say the least, to take part
in such an epic ride, and even better when I saw my name among
the official finishers. Poor John!
That night John, Miles and I joined April in Marostica
to see Tullo perform in front of the castle under the stars. We
were pretty wiped, so fortunately it was a very energetic concert!
The next day, we took a break from cycling to head
off to Venice to do some sightseeing before we loaded up panniers
and headed into the Dolomites. The next few pages have photos
rom our first two weeks leading up to the Gran Fondo, followed
by a few pages of our self-supported tour in the Dolomites.
Jump to more photos
Monte Grappa and Feltre
| Asolo | Selle Italia
| The Gang from ICC | Our
Solo Tour | Dolomites | Sella
Group | Farewell