Friday, July 1, 2011

Italian Cycling Heaven

My thanks to Doug for contributing this story of a ride he did a few weeks ago.

Italian Cycling Heaven, Bassano à Vastagna à Foza à Enego à Bassano

"Italian cycling heaven starts in a small walled in city about an hour north of Venice, on the Brenta River. From a base camp in Bassano, which is essentially at sea level, one has a choice of multiple 60 mile (100K) rides and longer to such mountains as Mt. Grappa, with its almost 6000’ of climbing (with multiple ways to the top ranging from hard to are you kidding?) to the many cities up on the Asiago plain, such as Conco, Lusiana, Asiago itself, Foza and Enego.

One prefect ride I do every May when I visit Italy and Bassano is my Foza/Enego ride, which starts in Bassano. It is one of the most perfect 65 mile rides I know.

The entry to Bassano is through an arch in the old wall and then down a road where the trees are dedicated to fallen heroes from the World War battles in the area.

The arch in Bassano

There is a small photo of each fallen soldier next to a small flower pot attached to each tree. Each of these trees is dedicated to a fallen soldier in the World Wars.



After a small steep decent, you travel through a small tunnel and then over the architect Palladio’s spectacular Ponte degli Alpini, a wooden bridge that crosses the Brenta River. The view of Bassano from the bridge.



A right turn at the light, and it’s a straight shot up the river to Vastagna through the picturesque countryside that runs next to the river. Regretfully, it’s almost always against the wind in the morning, and ever so slightly uphill, although with a grade that’s perhaps only one percent. This road is one of the most traveled bicycle roads in the area. Teams of men in full kits are constantly riding on this road. As are old men in sneakers that are still traveling at 20 mph. Every now and then a female cyclist is seen, but there are not many female cyclists on the roads in this area. I see perhaps a few each day, compared to 50-60 males.


Passing by a vineyard on the road to Vastagna.


At Vastagna, you make a left turn just before the church, where the road splits and the climb up to the Asiago plain begins, to Foza. The first few turns are a warm up, that merely takes you up above the town of Vastagna and along the flats to the ravine entrance and the numerous switchbacks that will make up the climb. This is where the fun begins: Tornante 1: loosely translated as Hairpin turn 1 (or switchback). There are a lot of these!

One turn after another you begin to climb up the side of a sheer cliff, marveling at the scenery across the other side of the ravine, where several small homes sit perched on unbelievable cliffs.

The hairpin turns continue for an hour of climbing – if you are going at the 6 mph that I travel up the mountains (at my advanced age of 60 that’s my limit – although I do have to admit I am not breathing hard nor struggling), when suddenly you find yourself crossing from one mountain ridge to another and going through a small tunnel. And then you are in the lower Asiago plain – with perhaps 30 minutes of climbing left and long gradual climbs and slow curves. Finally, the top.

At this point if you need water there is a public fountain a kilometer to the left in Foza proper, but if you don’t, you go right, and continue to Enego, perhaps another 30 minutes away, to the north. Enego is lower in altitude (although it’s also a mountaintop town) so the ride to Enego, is basically “downhill” over the 8 miles, despite a few climbs.

It also crosses a spectacular bridge that was built recently.

At Enego, a charming little mountain top town one stops for a cappuccino at the main café in the center of town. Stand at the bar and it’s only Euro 1:30 or sit at a table if you plan to stay a while and don’t mind paying extra. There is also another public water fountain in front of the café, and bananas and other fruit available across the street. And, the café does have clean restrooms, although they are the squatting type (for men at least) and very slippery with cleated bike shoes!

The café at Enego

The road down from Enego is 17 switchbacks, and can be fun and fast if you are good at descending. Most Italians fly down the mountain.

At the bottom, just past the map of the area on the wall, and the small road all the way on the left is a small opening to a paved bike path on the right that goes under the highway bridge and meets up with the road back to Vastagna and Bassano.

The bike path is only for bicyclists or walkers although walkers are rare. After several miles of winding its way through a small forest and around a rocky cliff on a metal, enclosed section the path meets up with a “normal” road that runs back through Vastagna.

The road is for the most part downhill, however, the wind direction changes by mid afternoon and is now into your face, again, but that’s life in cycling!

At this point the best thing to do is hopefully hook up with some faster cyclists and be pulled back to Bassano, which will take an hour, with a smile on your face from a ride well done.