Not all bike rides are equal. Some promise much but fail to deliver. Others are mere junk miles, to prepare for some other, better ride, sometime in the future.
Occasionally, though, you hit the jackpot.
On my recent trip to the Italian region of Emilia Romagna, I experienced a day of riding that might be described as the perfect distillation of the region – bringing together food, wine, people, geography, and cycling heritage.
A showcase of greatest hits.
Perhaps the highlight of my experience with Terrabici.
My guide for the day was Alessandro Malaguti – former pro cyclist, proud son of the region, and all-round nice guy. Our mission was Montevecchio or, as Alessandro insisted on referring to it: Pantani’s climb.
Marco Pantani, you see, was the hero of this region. A great champion who lived a chequered life and met a tragic demise. Montevecchio was one of his favoured training climbs – the very slopes that sculpted the legs and the legend.
As we wound our way along the quiet, almost traffic-free roads, through Borghi and Sogliano al Rubicone, the rolling scenery appeared in high definition; a barely believable clarity and sharpness of colour as if to order, by the local tourist board, for my benefit.
Was this Malaguti’s doing?
Does his status as a locally renowned cyclist give him an ability to tinker with the settings and turn Emilia Romagna up to ten for the benefit of a humble cycling blogger?
Either way, the scene was impossibly beautiful.
As if to seal the deal we pulled in at a local café for a small beer and a sample of local cheese – Formaggio di Fossa being a revered delicacy of this area. With the fat from the cheese, and the carbs (and just a touch of alcohol) from the beer, our mid-ride nutrition was sorted.
We hit the road refreshed for Pantani’s climb.
Montevecchio, statistically, is no monster – at around four and a half kilometres in length and an average gradient of around seven percent – but steep sections of fifteen percent and more make it a decent challenge.
Pink Pantani graffiti on the asphalt and the summit monument to Marco add atmosphere and history. Whatever your thoughts on ‘Il Pirata’ he is an icon in these parts. To ride his climb is a pilgrimage.
As we rode, Alessandro told tales of his racing days on this slope – tearing up the climb, in the red, tongue hanging out – the mere thought of which had me gasping for breath. From the summit we pushed on twenty kilometres to the town of Longiano where our hosts from the Terrabici hotel had something more amiable in mind.
They’d laid on a treat: a hastily erected table in the town square had lunch spread out before us. Along with the other groups of Terrabici led cyclists we gathered for lasagne, bread, salami, cheese, fruit and vegetables, coffee, and wine. A splendidly ad-hoc post-ride picnic. The very definition of civility.
Chatting and comparing notes in the spring sunshine we sipped Sangiovese wine, and wondered how we’d all got so lucky to be here, right now. And then, picnic done, Alessandro and I leapt aboard our support van to be ferried, snoozing, back to our coastal base.
As rides go, in fact as days go, we hit the jackpot.
Terrabici are a consortium of bike hotels scattered across Emilia Romagna, ideal as a base from which to discover the cycling of the region. They describe themselves as “the first regional hotel chain specialised in cycling hospitality.”
Offering an endless variety of biking holidays tailored to your needs, facilities and services include: bike hire, storage and maintenance; maps and information; experienced guides; transfers; Gran Fondo enrolment; food and wine tasting; regional meals in the hotel; laundry facilities; spa and pool facilities; and more.
If my experience was typical, a more-friendly, welcoming, and better organised biking trip would be hard to imagine. Check out the website: Terrabici.