Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Fantastic cycling routes in the Appennine mountains in Italy

For a lot of cyclists, riding in Italy means climbing Passio di Giau, Stelvio or Passio di Gavia, all in the Italian Alps.

And exactly that was my plan when I drove to Italy. But the weather was not exactly coorporating so when I woke up in the Dolomites (Northern Italian region) and saw rain, fog and cold, I packed my stuff and left.

My plan?

Driving to a place where it is sunny, mountainous , remote and very Italian.

Another four hours further South from the Alps, I found the place that had it all - the Northern part of the Appennine mountain range.

The terrain features everything - flat, rolling, hilly and some serious climbing - shallow or steep. And the best part - little traffic, great weather and well...amazing recovery food! Prosciutto, Parmesan cheese and Balsamic vinegar all come from this region.

If you find yourself in this region, check out these rides - from a tough day on the bike to lazy recovery rides:

Post-ride delicious Italian coffee.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Quick and dirty tips for your ultra-light bikepacking trip in France

Information on climbs:

  • Website that states what Cols are open:  (The German is not always correct!) 

  • The German website: has all information possible about a pass. Even as a non-German speaker, coloring and numbers tell more than any word. Just click on "Pรคsse" (meaning pass) and search for a specific pass or explore by region. Once you click on a pass and scroll down, you can see the elevation gain, profile and much more in detail.

  • For bike tourists on a budget, try, a free “coachsurfing” website specifically for touring cyclists. I have used that site in New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and Switzerland and I had always fantastic experiences!

  • Otherwise, if you stay in a remote ski resort for a week+, they might have a great offer. I stayed in a 3 Star studio apartment in Modane, for 140 Euro/week. (In other places, I paid 50-70 Euro/night for a one person private bed and bathroom)
  • I always navigated via paper maps (they never run out of battery) of at least 150000:1. I would not get anything bigger (like 200000:1) as the less-travelled cycling roads might not be on the map anymore.

  • Download the app. From there you can download maps for specific regions.

  • You can also make specific regions offline in Google maps.
  • The meteo earth app is fantastic as you can follow every single cloud and rain drop.
  • Always switch your wifi off while on the road, the battery lasts sooooo much longer.
  • If you don’t speak French, I would get an offline French dictionary app. Otherwise smiling does most of the job.
  • Some stuff to know in regards to the bike might come handy like assembling your bike out of your bike bag and changing a tube. 
 Enjoy your trip!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Under the spell of Mt Ventoux

With my current “film-the-most-epic” climbs mission, Mt Ventoux was a no-brainer since it is in this year’s Tour de France.

And this climb is special in so many ways. 

First, its an entire pilgrimage to get to the climb. And that was only the beginning.

Since it is the only bigger mountain in the region, you don’t exactly need to get a map to find it. 
And if you still don’t see it, just follow anything resembling a cyclist, bike-racked car roof or just the Dutch camper vans. Every soul is heading to the mountain.

There are 2 unique ways heading up Mt Ventoux. Of course, I had to climb the one in the Tour de France – from Bedoin. (Just for the number junkies:  21.2km/1599m climbing, 7.5% grade average) It is seen as the hardest ways up.

Being not in the mountains anymore, the atmosphere has changed. The mountains emanate this mystic, reserved feeling where you are never quite sure you are accepted -  the moody weather, the sheer vertical disparity and the mooching Yetis (oh wait, wrong mountain range). In contrast, Mt Ventoux radiates this intriguing, welcoming “hey, look, you can see even the top, come on up!” message lulling cyclists in their spell.

It got me too. I had to ride up.

The scenery of Mt Ventoux is basically an American/Italian climate sandwich: Bottom: Rome (Italy). Very Mediterranean flair with old stuff around, a lot of terracottan color. Middle part: Bend, Oregon (USA): Green, smell of pine trees and yes, even pine trees. Top: Tucson, Arizona (Desertish color), wide views and the tower as mirage.

In the Alps, I was climbing my own pace taking it all in but this time, there was so much happening, no time for tranquility. The mountain was covered in English, German and Dutch cyclists, drivers and camper vans. I made it a game to guess what nationality the cyclists were depending on their riding style. I can tell you, time does go by that way!

With all the trees around, there was no view expect the steep pavement ahead of you so keeping yourself entertained was a good idea.

1300m of elevation later, it all changed.

It opened up. No trees. Green turned to white. And that notorious tower in your vision.

Super small in the background - the tower and finish of Mt Ventoux

For the good or bad.

Although you clearly headed in that direction, the tower just didn’t get any bigger.

That meant, time for some serious distraction. The guess-nationality game lost its appeal.

But holy moly, the view definitely made up for it!

As far as you can see.

We were all of a sudden so close; the tower was right there. Something else concerned me though. I looked at my bike computer.

There is a point in both roads up to the tower that makes you realize how much vertical meters you still have ahead of you

We were short of 100 vertical meters.

Yep, and that’s where the 11% gradient appeared – in the last km….after almost 2 hours climbing. 

Although you could see the final km from far away it never appeared to be that steep. I guess when you have been climbing 8-10% the entire time, 11% doesnt seem that much steeper.

Finally, the tower came into eye height. The elevation gain on the bike computer matched with the elevation of Mt Ventoux.

And I joined all the English, Germans and Dutch on the top.

For those who need some serious sugar reload

There were several ways going up but only two routes that are truly unique (and don’t overlay with others).  So of course, curiosity made me climb up that as well. Just for the record, it is tough too!

Mt Ventoux

Great panorama