A WEEK AT YCI
A WEEK AT YOUR CYCLING ITALIA
By Dan Chapman
At the Marco Polo airport next to Venice Italy, look across the flat runways as you walk off your plane and perhaps you can catch a glimpse of Venice with its brick colored roofs and bell towers shimmering in the distance. You can’t see the hills yet but that’s where I’m headed and its due north.
My taxi driver finds me, we fit the bike box and bags in the trunk and off we drive to our hotel through a variety of streets and highways that make Los Angeles driving seem simplistic. Eventually, the green hills come into focus and I locate Monte Grappa with its 5,000-ft. summit and I know we are close. Along the way we pass the rich farmland of Northern Italy, full of hay, corn and grapes, with the ubiquitous olive trees and small gardens in almost every yard of the houses we pass by. Occasionally, we zoom by a field of wild bright orange poppies and I marvel at the rich vibrant color. Spectacular, I keep saying to myself. By the end of my trip it becomes a well worn word.
Finally, we arrive at our hotel and I am greeted warmly by Anna and Bill Speckman of Your Cycling Italia. The hotel is modern and the restaurant superb. Next to the hotel is a large field where para-gliders and hang gliders land after launching off of the slopes of Monte Grappa. It’s quite a sight to see them coming in for a landing and how they touch down ever-so-gently, fold up their equipment, receive a handshake from a friend, retire to the patio of the hotel to have a beer and enjoy the warm sunshine. They’re here just the same way that I am, to enjoy the beautiful Italian countryside, food and wine. They look at it from above while I get to ride through it. Lucky me.
The hotel is located perfectly near the lovely town of Bassano and one can ride in almost any direction with Bill, or one of his associates as your guide. The roads are always well maintained, although somewhat narrow by US standards, but the drivers are polite and friendly toward the ever present cyclists. Bill is the A ride leader as well as the owner, (along with Anna), of Our Cycling Italia, lives nearby and speaks Italian with a perfect New England accent. Bill lives in Italy half of the year pursuing his passion – cycling.
His knowledge of the local scene is impressive, starting with the world class track facilities in Bassano where we watched a night of World Cup racing associated with the Giro traversing through the area. The crowd was a little light that night at the track and we wondered why. The next day we figured out that a major soccer match was being played in Greece against England that night and the whole country was glued to the TV. Nevertheless, we watched the Madison with the World champion and Italian champion in the race. The Italians won, naturally.
He knows all of the local towns, which are like small jewels surrounded by ancient moats and castle walls. The pre-Alps sit dramatically behind the hotel, with the main road to Monte Grappa only about a mile from where we are staying. With regards to Monte Grappa, It’s a mecca for cyclists and a wonderful climb with a stunning view of the surrounding area rewarding you at the top. It’s also the sight of major fighting during WW1, so there is a large monument at the top. (Like many of the war monuments in thisarea, they’re quite solemn and sober places). As with most mountains in Italy, there are multiple ways up and routes continuing into the distance in all directions.
You can invent your own ride or follow Bills advice on one of the many incredible rides he has planned out. The rides are always spectacular, whether you’re riding through the stunning Prosecco wine country or enjoying a café in a cycling mad town located high up above the Brenta river. The day we were in this particular town, a parade of exotic Ferrari’s cruised up the main street while the church bells pealed the twelve o’clock reveille. You had engines revving up around the tight corners, bells ringing and espresso in the warm sunshine. What more do you need?
What’s really impressive is to spend a day in the nearby Dolomites, just a short car ride away, where the altitude and roads are made for climbers and the usual incredible scenery. On the day we visited this area, we stopped to watch a large flock of sheep, goats and donkeys being led up to a high altitude pass that we had just climbed up and over. It was marvelous and very scenic. Each ride had a point where Bill would point out a wonderful café and we would enjoy a cappuccino and dolce, or perhaps a freshly made pannini and watch the world go by. Eventually we must leave, reluctantly, to continue our journey back to the hotel.
What’s great about the YCI is that you stay in one place and simply walk downstairs, (or ride the elevator), to the restaurant where you can eat one of the large and healthy meals of, say, your own pizza invention. What’s also nice are the wonderful house wines or Bavarian beers that are also included with your daily rate of $180 euros a day. That’s your hotel, meals, ride guide and afternoon excursion for $180 euros a day. There is also a locking garage where you store your bike and case, complete with everything you need to keep your bike in shape. It is an incredible bargain to be sure.
The hardest part for me is to have to leave. Bill and Anna really do their best to make sure I’ve had a wonderful time. Bill seems to know where every cycling shop and clothing company is in the region so you’ll have no shortage of cycling souvenirs. I’m already looking forward to my return next year to this wonderful cycling paradise.