Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that we were thinking about cutting the 130 kilometer Percorso Corto (that’s Italian for sane) of the Granfondo Pinarello short. It’s not too tough, nor is it too long. It’s a pretty reasonable distance with a few climbs totaling something like 1300 meters of climbing (4300 feet). The route includes some Veneto classics – the climb to Santa Maria della Vittoria atop the long lump of the Montello (by way of the wince inducing Via Murada – one of TWENTY-ONE different ways of the Montello), followed quickly by one of my all-time favorite climbs, the Mostaccin.
Number pinned, ready to go.
Heading out for a great day in the Veneto.
The two tough early climbs are followed by an excursion into an earthly Eden – the prosecco heaven around Valdobbiadene. While that area is great, it’s also small, so it’s not long before you’re out of those hills and onto a flat run south for another trip up the Montello. After the Montello, it’s just a bit more back to Treviso. In short – it’s a great route with a little bit of everything for everybody.
Making the turn on to the Mostaccin.
If that’s not enough, there’s the big boy course (that’s from Competitive Cyclist’s Brendan Quirk), which weighs in at 200+ kilometers and around 3000 meters of climbing. The long course takes the above and adds one very significant climb to the list: Monte Grappa.
The first part of the Percorso Lungo of La Pinarello – note the wall in the middle – that’s the Salto della Capra.
There are nine different ways up Monte Grappa, and the Salto della Capra (literally: the jump of the goat) is the second or third hardest depending on who you ask with 7.5 vicious kilometers that average over 11%. Consider also that the first four or so kilometers aren’t all that bad. Ouch. Once you’ve made it to the top of the Capra, you still have to get to the top of Grappa. Upon finishing that beast, there’s still almost an entire circuit of the Grappa massif remaining before reconnecting with the shorter route near Valdobbiadene.
Heading out of Treviso.
The big loop was enticing. It beckoned. It called to me. It, however, did not call to Ashley. I like to encourage Ashley and her budding passion for the sport, not batter it into pieces – so we stuck to the short course. That’s fair, right?
Filling up bottles at the classic watering spot at Santa Maria della Vittoria, on top of the Montello.
Not that the relative easiness of the route (compared to the Capra) matters much when you’re feeling like hell, which is what happened. We woke up late following an amazing dinner to go along with the debut of the Dogma 2 (thank you for the invite Sandy at Gita!!), missed breakfast, and after a hard ride the previous morning, Ashley was on a bad day and just not feeling it – even with the scores of thousands of riders sharing the suffering in the early morning warmth, even with an always entertaining encounter with Filippo Pozzato, even with Pinarello’s new Dogma 2. That’s saying something.
Pinarello’s Dogma 2.
Forget about the veritable movie reel of entertaining characters, forget about a route from heaven, forget about all of that – the ride would have been great just because of the Dogma 2. I had never had a chance to ride a Pinarello before that day, and I always wondered what the big deal was. I understand now. The Dogma 2 is a bike that wants riding and wants hard riding. It gobbles tight curves, switchbacks, hills, mountains, bumps, anything – and produces perfection. If ever there was a bike that whispered sweet nothings in one’s ear – this is it. It’s a Ferrari, and I’m smitten.
One more time.
Sometimes, however, even that’s not enough. Sometimes, only a motorbike or a long bath will fix a bad day. Bike of dreams or not, it couldn’t save this sinking ship. We were contemplating cutting it short and heading back to Treviso for a peaceful afternoon in a cafe. It just wasn’t happening.
Doesn’t that look delicious?
Then we stopped at the first rest station at 50 kilometers in. The feast laid out before us was akin to Thanksgiving for two breakfast-less riders. Sandwiches, pastries, cola, Gatorade, sandwiches, pastries, and pastries. It was sweet caloric heaven.
We sat down, Ashley commenced to eating (as did I of course), but only got through a sandwich before easing off a bit. That’s when our surrogate grandmother smelled blood in the water.
Hard at work refueling thousands.
She saw the slumped shoulders, the weary look in the eyes, the skinny arms – there was only one thing to do: feed, nurture, care.
She came over the first time and began the irrepressible chain of events. There was much more going on here than just the urge to help, this is ingrained in the DNA of every grandmother worldwide since the dawn of time.
“Would you like some of this pastry? It’s very good. You should have some.”
Ashley does her part to play along with the time honored tradition of no then yes (though she didn’t know it at the time): “No, no, thank you, it’s ok, I’m fine!”
Ashley’s Italian ‘grandmother’.
Not even blinking – grandmother’s know the routine – no one ever says yes on the first try (except for me): “Really, you should try some.
Ashley shrugs and reaches out for her assigned pastry, “Ok.”
A happy Ashley.
Bite, chew, chew, bite, chew, chew. Gone.
That was good.
Still, our grandmother was not content. She returned with more offerings. Ashley protested in vain, but moments later, she was holding more calories in her hand and happily eating.
It happened one more time before we left, and like any good visit to grandmother’s for breakfast or lunch or dinner or a midday snack – we left happy, content, and full.
Back on the road.
That full feeling isn’t necessarily the best for a bike ride, but it was a world different than the empty feeling in stomach and legs that led to preliminary calculations on how to get this bike ride over quick snap.
And so the slog became a ride, which became a great day on the road. We rolled through Valdobbiadene in the shadow of the great Monte Cesen, through the braided hair of the endless prosecco vineyards, and finally, Treviso.
Ashley likens the vineyards to braided hair. I like it.
We finished, Ashley checked off another big ride, and just as we thought we were done, we ran smack into another stereotype: Italian cities are mazes.
It’s true: that’s just a basic fact of life in Italy. They’re so fantastically labyrinthine, they even baffle modern man’s best tools designed to thwart them: the GPS. Round and round we rode – and why not?
Like everything that seems dire, irritating, and painful, it ended not too long after it started, but hey, what could we honestly complain about? The Dogma 2 is everything I could have ever dreamed of, the Veneto is a perfect place to ride bikes, the sky was blue, we shared the day with thousands of other bike mad people from around the world… I’d call that a good day.
Looking To The Capra
So that was a look back at our day on the short course. Let’s take a look at the climb that defines La Pinarello: Monte Grappa, and more specifically, the Salto della Capra.
While many North Americans and other non-Italians come in for a day or two ahead of La Pinarello, we had the chance to enjoy Monte Grappa for the better part of seven months courtesy of friendships just north and south of Monte Grappa (Castelli to the north in Fonzaso, Velo Veneto to the south in Castelcucco). I’ll go into that at length in the future, but today, let’s take a closer look at what makes La Pinarello tick: Monte Grappa.
The hard earned top of the Salto della Capra. Enjoy the immense views.
I’m going to be up front at this point – La Pinarello is great, but it is not the Maratona dles Dolomiti – a can’t miss ride for anyone, everyone, anywhere. If you’re not up to the task of the long course, it’s a tough call on whether to make the trip. The short course is excellent, but the long course is divine. It really showcases all that is great in the area.
That type of ride isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s certainly not Ashley’s, and it’s only mine on occasion. The best way to get your money’s worth is to hook up with a company like Velo Veneto. The long-running camp is based just a few kilometers from the base of Monte Grappa and the Salto della Capra. While they offer a number of options, a week or two stay around the time of La Pinarello in July is a great way to get a feel for just how amazing the area is without having the pressure of completing the monster 200+ kilometer Percorso Lungo. Let me compare it like this: coming in for the Percorso Lungo is like gorging yourself at Thanksgiving – it’s amazing, it’s awesome, but it hurts a lot afterwards. A couple weeks in the Veneto? It’s more like Thanksgiving every day…without that less than ideal feeling of too much.
We’ll take a more in-depth look at Velo Veneto soon, but for now, let it suffice to say that it’s a unique, relaxed, challenging as you want it to be way to enjoy one of the finest areas in all of Italy.
How Many Percents?
So, how about this Jump of the Goat thing? I’ve ridden a lot of hard climbs, and after nearly half a year in the vicinity of Monte Grappa, I can say that I’ve ridden every bit of pavement on the nine climbs to the top of Monte Grappa.
BiciVeneto.it’s great map of the nine different routes up Monte Grappa.
Only two of them could be considered moderate, whilst the other SEVEN are difficult with extended stretches in the teenage percentages. I’d put the Capra somewhere around #3. The Strada degli Alpini is ideal for the sadist, while Monte Tomba is crushing from bottom to top. It’s curious to write about one mountain, but refer to other major names within it, no? For a mountain like Monte Grappa, studded with nine entirely unique ascents, it’s necessary to look at specifics. The whole thing is just too big. For someone that hasn’t ridden it, they’re just words, but if you ever get the chance to set rubber to its roads, it won’t take long before you’re talking about each and every one of them.
For a climb as difficult as the Salto della Capra, I actually like it very much. It’s a fantastic, beautiful climb. The road is small, densely forested, and hardly used. Up until the final couple of kilometers, it pushes upward at a fairly reasonably 9-10% – with a compact and a pizza pie cassette – no problem. It’s in the last two kilometers where the goat bares its hitherto unseen fangs. The first section of steepness is surprisingly survivable though – the road bends, bucks, and turns back on itself in a series of tightly wound switchbacks that barely finish turning before starting the next one – it’s like a roller coaster, if roller coasters only went uphill and moved at a speed barely discernible from a crawl.
I’ve never been so happy to see a goat.
I know steep is steep is steep, but for me, a curvy steep road is much more manageable than a straight steep road. In this case, the Capra is generous with its steepness. The teeth at this point are only steak knife sharp.
There’s a brief pause from the goat’s chewing on your soul when you encounter a welcome respite for a few meters. Take a very, very deep breath, because from here til the goat, it’s terrible. The evil begins, and the steak knife sharp teeth are now samurai sword sharp. What was once curvy and steep and somewhat fun, becomes a death march of straightness. You arrive to the crest of a ridge, and instead of winding up the ridge by way of switchbacks and other things that make climbs tolerable, the road merely points up the ridge in arrow straight fashion. The teeth are bared, the road pitches skyward at an awful angle, and numbers in the 20s start popping up. In my 34×28, I struggled and wondered if anyone would notice if I didn’t go all the way up.
It’s always worth a victorious shot at the top of the Capra – this is with this year’s Velo Veneto group.
Pause to give Strava credit: in a past life, sans GPS and Strava, I might have just turned around. With my Garmin 800 and Strava, which means that friends actually see what I do everyday, I find myself with an extra bit of welcomed pressure – I can’t quit anymore without facing the friendly wrath of Strava stalkers. Plus, I wanted to get the fastest climb, and, well, I just couldn’t turn around. See, that’s just a small example of why I love Strava.
So, with the knowledge that I’d be heckled if I quit, I plodded onward, struggling to pull my legs over the top of each pedal stroke, feeling each and every one, noting with great displeasure how slowly each pedal stroke thudded by.
The painfully straight road, while painful and unpleasant, also does a fine job in taking you out of the trees and into the glorious light of improbably large views. Unfortunately, the views are hard to enjoy while you’re grappling with a 20% section, but sometime during that peevish piece of pavement, through my sweat soaked, stinging eyes, I was able to take a look off the edge of the road and think, oh, isn’t – breathe breathe – that – breathe breathe – nice – breathe breathe. Even my internal dialogue was screwed up with the effort.
Eventually, the top comes, the goat appears, you wonder how you’re going to gain all those last meters in such a short period of time (since the goat appears almost vertically above you with only a few hundred meters to go). More switchbacks and steep pavement solve the vertical dilemma.
Then you’re there.
Huge sigh of relief.
There’s a little bit more tough climbing to go before you reach La Vedetta, but the 10-12% slopes seem easy after what you’ve just survived.
Upon reaching La Vedetta, you’re less than 300 vertical meters from the top of Grappa. Unfortunately, there’s a descent in there and ten kilometers of mostly uphill riding to go. Fortunately, however, that little descent drops you into one of the more sublime, hidden valleys I’ve ever encountered. That valley also provides the narrowest paved road I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding on. It’s BARELY a car wide. If I could, I think I might live there.
While riding through that section, it’s hard not to think – it doesn’t get any better than this. That might be true, but the rest of the climb to Cima Grappa is not at all shabby either.
I have to stop writing now, or I’m going to completely ruin the piece I’m planning for Monte Grappa. Must restrain myself.
Seriously, I have 100 more pictures that I want to include now, but you’re going to have to wait for the Monte Grappa piece. This one is about La Pinarello, and while it has everything to do with Monte Grappa, I won’t let it ruin my Grappa piece.
Ok, ok, just a few more…
The whole climb of Monte Grappa, from whatever side you do it from, is a can’t miss. It’s special. It’s unique. It’s everything one can ask for in a climb.
I’ve never come across another mountain that provides so many opportunities. Nor have I encountered a region better suited for a bike riding visit than the Veneto. The area that includes the Asolo Hills, the Montello, Monte Grappa, Monte Cesen, and the far southern reaches of the Dolomiti just to the north of Monte Grappa is without question my favorite place to ride a bike.
Enjoying another classic climb in the area with Velo Veneto’s Jason Cardillo and Alex Brakmo.
Thank you for getting this far. Sorry to cut it short, but I have high hopes for the piece to come on Monte Grappa, so bear with me. Please!
A big thanks has to go to the people that helped make our time in the Veneto happen.
Namely: Castelli and the folks at Velo Veneto – Jason Cardillo and Paul Wolfe – were kind and generous and patient enough to help us out this year. We’ll be forever grateful.
Also, thank you to Sandy Nicholls at Gita Sporting Goods for inviting us to find out a little more what Pinarello is about.
For lots more, check out Flickr!