Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Veneto & The Dolomites Sept 2014: Part 1

[photo: Rich Swenson]

It has finally come and, all too quickly, gone - my cycling trip to Veneto & the Dolomites with Veloski Sports Tours. These guys were recommended by a friend of a friend from work of Bernadette's .... long story. The short story is Larry and Davey from Veloski are the nicest guys and run a great trip!

I arrived a day early on Saturday 30th August (happy birthday to me...) and was picked up from Venice-Marco Polo airport, along with my roommate Rich Swenson (from Minnesota, USA). Rich proved to be a pretty good match as a roomie - entertaining, easy going, and with only as many quirky habits as me .... and happliy the rest of the group proved interesting and amiable company as well. riding with these guys was fun, and dinners were a very enjoyable finale to each day.

Veloski had hired me a bike to use as I didn't fancy dragging my own over from Melbourne. I planned a few days in Venice at the end of the tour so it was easier for me to use a rental bike. Larry was very accommodating and picked up a Corratec Dolomiti 105 (2009), a little old and heavy but certainly up to the job as far as I was concerned. I have a long way to go before the bike becomes the limiting factor in my riding ! With my own saddle and pedals and a few minor adjustments it performed well enough, and when we had a problem with the LH shifter on Wednesday of the first week Larry and Davey sorted it out for me.

DAY 1: Castelfranco (69.3km/570m)

Sunday 31/8 was  the first opportunity for a ride for Rich and I, as the others were due to arrive that day before we all left on the Monday for the first actual day of the trip. So Rich and I ventured north towards Asolo and Monte Grappa, the latter an ambitious and elusive target for the day. We managed about 65 kms before returning to Castelfranco to find the rest of the group unloading, unpacking and assembling their various bikes.

Getting ready to leave Castelfranco.
DAY 2: Castelfranco to Marostica (via Bassano del Grappa)

Monday dawned and we were off ! After a big breakfast at Hotel Allo Torre we rode north towards the distant foothills of the might Dolomites. A 'phantom flat'proved to be a leaky valve which I'd not tightened properly so all was well and we were only delayed a few minutes. We tracked a little west through these 'warm up' hills and then descended to Bassano del Grappa for lunch followed by a short ride to our overnight in Marostica. 

Bassano has a recently restored Ponte Alpini footbridge across the Brenta river in the old section of town.  The Alpini were the local Italian wartime resistance fighters and the bridge was a vital link. 

Marostica is distinguished by a large piazza which features a lifesize chessboard. Unfortunately the piazza was surrounded by fencing as preparations were underway for an annual festival which features locals dressed as chess pieces participating in actual chess matches. 

A pause on the way to Bassano.
The Ponte Alpini at Bassano del Grappa.

We had a great dinner at a nearby restaurant, highlighted by my main course - Coniglio al merta con polenta and something or other - it's rabbit

Mmmmmm.....very nice too !!

DAY 3: Marostica to Levico-Terme (via Enego and Asiago) (114.4km/3102m)

We left Marostica and had a pacey dash up the Brenta River to Valsugana before we made our first decent ascent up switchback climbs from the Brenta River valley to Enego and the Asiago plateau. It was a small portent of things to come later in the tour !

A slight mis-communication early on saw the lead-out group overshoot the first proposed regroup point at Valstagna before pausing finally at Valsugana, 10kms upstream. From there we headed up the switchbacks to Enego, enjoying well graded ramps and great views back over the valley. After a van stop with Davey we had a rolling  30km ride across the plateau to Asiago. We stopped there briefly and some of us had a quick bite to eat or a gelato before heading on towards Passo Vezzena. This steady grind in the afternoon (14kms at 3%), though shorter and flatter than the morning climb to Enego (16km/5% with pinches up to 16%) proved quite tough (at least for me) as I slogged up the valley towards Monte Rovere.

The final descent into Levico-Terme ... well it was amazing ! So steep, incredible views, short narrow tunnels and twisty hairpins for about 12kms down from the pass..... I wish I taken a few pics !! Brian copped a puncture on the descent which could have been a big problem but fortunately no harm done - plus we all stopped to admire the view while he swapped in a new tube.

After a metric century and 6 hours riding (and 8 hours on the road ....) we were happy to arrive at the hotel tonight.

Most of the group ready to leave Marostica.
An old Fiat ready to race at Valsugana.

View back over the Brenta valley from Enego.
View from the crazy descent into Levico-Terme.

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