Cesenatico and Granfondo Nove Colli
A long overnight drive from northern Italy to the Adriatic Coast brings us to Cesenatico, the hometown of Marco Pantani and the venue of the Nove Colli. The contrast in weather could not be greater as we don our kit by the beach and enjoy a few fleeting glimpses of early morning beach volleyball training. Rain, sleet and snow has now finally been replaced with sunshine and a warm gentle breeze. Today’s star is somewhat of a journey into the unknown. The Pinarello we had known intimately from previous liaisons and the Campag was a beast waiting to be tamed. As we covered the opening flat thirty kilometres we eagerly anticipated the day’s challenge and wondered what was in prospect.
It wasn’t long before we tackled the first climb of Polenta. This was just what I needed to re-find my climbing legs with a gentle gradient and the Mediterranean sun on my back. Cam is rearing to go this morning. Ian also seems to have drawn strength from the sun and his early pace setting is a little to enthusiastic for the way my legs are feeling. Two climbs in and we’re greeted by some incredible scenery. As we trace the ridgeways, the route rises and falls with the folds of the landscape. We rattle off the climbs of Pieve di Rivoschio and Ciola which feel like mere speed bumps compared to yesterday’s giants. The lush and fertile hillsides couldn’t be a greater contrast to the moon-like landscapes of the high mountains. The landscape appears like an emerald green table cloth draped over the fluvially dissected limestone topography.
We pause briefly in Mercato Saraceno, a market town that traces its roots back to the time of Dante. We cross the Savio River and start the ascent of Barbotto. The tranquillity here is mesmerising. Compared to the general din of civilisation in London, all here is at peace with only the call of birds and the buzz of industrious insects providing the soundtrack to our ride. We crest the ridge at Barbotto and follow the contours for a kilometre or two. We’re wrenched out of our soporific state by a 4×4 driven by a furious local, intent on bodily harm. A stream of Italian obscenities spew forth, met by a strong rebuttal from Ian. After venting his anger about our apparent disregard for Italian traffic regulations, he turns on his heels and is gone with a squeal of tyres. We gather ourselves before carrying on, this unexpected encounter having caught our usually battle hardened London commuter psyches’ by surprise.
The valley of the River Uso provides us with some easier pedalling until we approach the short, sharp climb of Monte Tiffi followed immediately by the longer challenge of Perticara. Perticara’s claim to fame comes courtesy of the sulphur mines in the area and the giant sulphur crystals that have been found here. Worked since the 18th century, the mines are now closed and a museum paying tribute to the traditions of mining in the area is the only obvious indication of this industrial history. Rock climbing seems to be a more popular activity these days judging by the number of devotees clinging to the exposed rock faces as we pedal by.
From the top of Perticara we descend rapidly towards Bivio Sartiano and Ponte Baffoni. It’s a fast, sweeping main road descent encouraging us to pick up speed and push the limits of grip. A bend sharpens unexpectedly and we’re hard on the brakes. Ian’s back wheel skips slightly on the broken tarmac. In a moment’s panic Cam locks up, I’m all over the back of his bike and have to take evasive action. In avoiding Cam I find myself in the gravel at the side of the road and staring directly at the guard rail. Brake, brake, brake, both wheels are sliding, I’m straightening up but the guard rail still approaches. I’m checking for soft landing spots. Can’t see many. Arggggggghhhhhhh.
At the very last moment the bike returns to my control and I can steer clear of the gravel. Heart racing, I check behind me to see if the camera car caught the action. They’re right behind and hopefully have the footage in the can. Cam and Ian up ahead are unaware of the action behind and are hitting the hairpins with continuing abandon. I cruise into Ponte Baffoni with a bit more caution.
The last major challenge on the percorso is the climb of Monte Pugliano. It’s a nine kilometre main road blast with a relatively gentle gradient. As the climb winds round the side of the hill, a stunning vista opens up looking back towards Cesenatico with the castle of Rancaliccio providing suitably majestic foreground material. The gentle gradient allows us to make decent progress in the big ring and take some advantage from drafting. Reaching the summit we are reassured that the bulk of the climbing is behind us. A flatter valley section takes us towards the final climb of Garolo. We throw ourselves into this last climb in the knowledge it’s the last uphill section of the route. The initial gradient is easy on our tired legs, which are 185km old by now. Ian and I make a last surge for the summit only to be presented with the 17% section promised on the itinerary. We step on the gas, eager to test each other to breaking. Each of us in turn inch ahead, the lead swapping with each surge of the pedals. This final section seems to last an age as we ignore the lactic warning that is screaming from every muscle fibre.
Eventually the top appears and we draw to a halt struggling for breathe and call it a draw. I briefly enjoy the late afternoon sunshine, its late spring heat waning slowly, and pile down the final descent followed closely by the other two. As we seek out the finish, our speed picks up as our tyres zing over the smooth tarmac. With daylight slowly fading we press on the pedals and adopt a single paceline, each in turn towing the train along like a seaside express. As Cesenatico approaches we gladly ease off the accelerator and look forward to a warm shower and refuelling.