Well, it’s only taken me year to get this repressed content out, yes, it’s been sitting in the ADHD space that is my mind for that long. It’s been prompted to now see the light of day because, as I type this, Cuntvirus19 is face fucking flights to Italy that were booked, and painfully paid for, in July 2020.

Yes, right now I’m supposed to be sitting in Lombardy, sipping on a cappuccino and considering which famous road or climb to tackle next, while wondering how many creme filled croissants is too many (No such thing). With that adventure vaporised like the rule of law in the US, I’ve been forced to reach into the archive, dust off the last Italian adventure and reminisce again on just how good cycling travel life was pre the world being finger banged.

Before there was Trans Provence 19, there was the superb build up in the Aosta Valley… So, to help manage the insane post event come down associated with the last TP ever, it made sense to book-end the Euro summer in 2019 with another trip to Italy, but of a very different nature.

I realise that I may come across as insane when I say ‘it made sense’, when the reality of flying back to NZ from Europe, unloading, reloading and then flying back again feels like anything but sensical, but that’s part of why this was a very different mission.

Yes, this is the first time I’ve documented a ‘family holiday’. While some may argue that the moment you stuff a bike bag into the car for the airport you’re negating the ‘family’ part, you selfish cunt, I would argue that the downsides in my behaviour from being in Italy for 3 weeks without a bike would firmly outweigh any cuntishness from taking one.

Don’t freak out, I’m not about to dive into a mainstream cycling website article on the challenges of parenting & riding your bike, clearly I am not role model material to preach on that topic, but I did self impose some guidelines for the family holiday riding to ensure I wasn’t a complete cunt:

  • Nothing over 2 hours
  • Early starts
  • Or, working it into another family activity
  • No Italian hospital visits (I.e. don’t be a dumb cunt)
  • Don’t spend 3 hours post ride wanking off on Strava and/or the Gram about it

It’s also notable that not only is this the first drop handlebar story in… A fucking long time, but it’s also the Stig’s first global mission. I mean, if you’re going to take a bike which has an enormous appetite for a super wide operating window, this is the one to reach for:

A complete change in scene, but the mouth watering quality remains

I think the last time I was in Europe with a curved set of bars was for the illustrious #AT40 mission in 2016. Such an massive cumback occasion therefore demanded a new set of shoes naturally. I mean, who the fuck wants to go on an Italian holiday with an old set of kicks? It was beautiful timing then that the first set of Santa Cruz Reserve 22 Gravel carbon wheels had hit NZ and after much begging and cajoling, the GC crew at Hyperformance Hardware sent up one of the very rare sets available.

Slip on some brand new Goodyear County Ultimates in 35mm thanks to the Rad team at The Hub and the scene was set to hand as much mixed riding conditions and Gelato that Italy could throw at us:

A steaming hot cauldron of new Groad tech

Part I – Lake Garda & Arco 

If there’s one obvious tip I can pass on about flying from NZ to Milan with 3 kids and a tight stop over in SG, aside from not having a movie watching plan, it’s that you want your day 1 drive to be exceedingly manageable. This is extra critical especially if its A) In a fucking van and B) a pumping Euro summer disguised as a heat wave.

This is where Lake Garda is your friend, a relatively easy jaunt from Malpensa airport, and it has the added bonus of pretty much vaporising any travel stress the moment you roll down the hill into it’s goodness.

We appear to have arrived

But what will really strike you as you roll into Lake Garda, assuming you rock into the northern end of the lake, is you’ve suddenly gone lycra balls deep on a cycling hot spot. And when I say cycling, I mean absolutely all aspects of it.

I can safely confirm you’ll never see so many male pony tails and garishly bright lycra than you will here… SPD Sandals? Fuck yes. Every brand of niche Euro eBike ever made? Step right up! A delightful array of 1960’s to 1990’s Italian pro team kits on display with matching Briko glasses? HELL yes!

For purists, this may melt your brain a little as you wade through some Tier 1 Euro trash cycling action and a horde of eBikes roaming the bike paths, but just hold your nerve as it won’t take you long for you and your pinpoint accurate sock lengths to find the correct elitist solitude you seek. No shit, 2km’s from the hotel front door and it was straight into an 11km climb which gained 1,000m vert:

The Euro fever realised

The absolute fucking glory of being back on Italian roads in 30 deg heat tapping it out on some real climbs quickly overcame any jet lag that I might have considered relenting to. There is something unique and mystical about riding your bike in Europe, irrespective of genre.

Personally it remains the ultimate for me, something I was being reminded of the further this shake down climb snaked it’s way into isolation.

The Stig loving it’s travel debut

But as I quickly learned with this area, the paved climbs up are only the start of the story, at some point they all give way to gravel, dirt or gnar and that’s when a whole other side to Garda kicks in.

You can imagine the thought process in my head as the time limit alarms in my head sounded, which were then countered by the adventure siren wailing at an equal pitch:

Just imagine what lies beyond?!

Taking on Monte Baldo – Part 1

Next in the art of the ‘Family cycling holiday’ is to smoothly massage your ride into the daily events. If we were giving each other hand jobs round the table in a large corporate organisation, we may also refer to this as ‘Seamless integration’, or try to squeeze the word ‘synergistic’ in there.

Essentially you’re trying to find a crack in the days events to slide your ride into, in a way that doesn’t utterly fuck everything whilst still providing a ride of some value or at least attempting to maximise your window of semi forced opportunity. Enter Malcesine, a classic Lake Garda tourist hotspot, as a proposed lunch spot.

It’s a town that also happens to sit in the shadow of Monte Baldo, which seemed like a no brainer as a ride option. Fuck I wish I had done some more homework… Because that shadow was cast over Malcesine on account of it being near vertical on the way up:

Fuck you phone camera angle flattening

It also appeared that I was the only mammal to ever attempt to ride up here on a bike which didn’t have Mountain Bike gearing. I realised on the lower slopes that this way up the Baldo was usually reserved as a place for goats to come and fuck one another, as opposed to a cycling nirvana. I’m not going to lie though, there was a part of me quietly stoked I had stumbled onto one of the most fucked up hillclimbs I’d seen in a long time, complete with cobbled sections and all.

Yes, the sections above 30% in gradient were a leg crushing nightmare to behold, but it was the sustained sections in the early to mid 20% range which went on continually mixed with the heat in the mid to late 20 degs which started to seal my fate on the mid slopes of the Baldo.

Steeper than it looks?

As I crawled up the Baldo significantly slower than my sloppy on-line planning analysis could have anticipated, I started to do the maths on time Vs. getting to the summit and the horror set in.

The sheer insanity of trying to scale the Mountain on this random side, mixed in with my self-imposed time limit, meant that I wasn’t going to make it. No summit parade on that day, and a significantly watered down Insta banger:

People in the gondolas pointed and laughed

But, on the bright side I had just climbed 1,000m in 10km’s (Holy fuck), so I did manage to keep my streak of 1,000m rides rolling into Day 2.

Malcesine also a quality spot for lunch if you’re in the area, with my team finding what they claimed to be the best pizza in Garda there, and that Lake is as fucking fantastic as it looks to dive into post ride too:

Beach time beckons, vigorously

Do your homework carefully though, as some sections and side of Lake Garda are less amendable to cycling, and the traffic can be epic on some particularly narrow and tight Italian roads. Don’t take my word for it, even Mr Bond had his share of drama around these parts (Yup, the actual roads in question):

Speaking of epic lake side hot spots, I did think about a foray into the hills above Limone (other side of the lake from Malcesine), but I didn’t have a jetpack handy. Fucking awesome spot for Gelato however, so indulge if you’re passing through, not to be missed:

Gelato aggravated assault incoming

Monte Velo with a Croissant chaser

If you’re in the Garda area you’ll quickly realise there are an abundance of options to hit for quality loops and mega climbs. You’re also on the doorstep of the Trento area and that has some serious road porn action to be had, take it from me, I got carved up around here in 2013 in my first and last Gran Fondo event ever. It was time to find some climbs that were more, digestible shall we say.

2.5km’s from the door of the Hotel was a switchbacked banger which google maps street view suggested was going to be fucking outstanding: Monte Velo

With its 11.8km’s gaining 1,124m in elevation and with none other than Romain Bardet having the KOM time of 37 minutes, it was clear it was going to be a luscious & mandatory option to hit while in Lake Garda. A 5am start didn’t disappoint either:

Brazzers level road porn

I can hear my Enduro-Bros punching a large slab of meat with my face on it here, but as I worked my way up Monte Velo in early morning silence, and in perfect climbing temperature too might I add, I marvelled at not only what a fantastic climb it was, but also the sheer glory of cycling in moments like these.

As I worked smoothly through the switchbacks I was continually rewarded with an ever more impressive view of Arco and it’s surrounds.

Fuck my eyes with whatever heart eyeball emoji you want

I had a lot of time to appreciate how well the SC Reserve & Goodyear County combo were rolling too, eager companions as we dined on a 1,000m vertical gain for breakfast. I couldn’t claim to be in the greatest of road riding form, but the goodness of riding the Stig combined with the parcour unfolding before us rendered any anxiety about form null and void. I mean, seriously:

Amore, amore!!!

An hour and a half in and I was yet to see either a straight piece of road or a car… There’s a euphoria to riding in Italy that just feels different from any other location, no matter what class of tires you’re rolling. It’s the heritage, the landscape, the cut of their roads and just their general cycling froth that feels infectious as it works it’s way into how you ride your bike.

Much like in the Aosta experience 3 weeks prior, Italy was delivering some ‘as close as I can get to religious’ cycling moments…

Even burnt my leg on the disc rotor to get you this artistry

As I worked my way through the 17km descent in front of me, I could start to smell the waft of pastry seeking me out as the collection of villages between me and Arco started to awake from their slumber.

I was racing both my own self imposed time limit and my desire to stage a SWAT style raid on the breakfast buffet which I estimated was being laid out by staff who now had PTSD from watching a New Zealand family attack it like a pack of wild dogs (Based firmly on a true story).

Somewhere, breakfast staff in the hotel are developing a very nervous tick

So my love for Lake Garda is becoming mildly creepy at this point, but it’s not strong enough for me to turn a blind eye to its dark side. As I mentioned earlier, it’s whole summer vibe is heavily fuelled by every type of cyclist you could possibly meet, but there was one unavoidable fact that from a numbers perspective, there was an extremely strong contingent of cyborgs.

Yes, there are indeed so many Rodpadres here that they even need special facilities to try and contain the infection, which clearly wasn’t working. You may want to get out of here before you grow a pony tail and in a faux German accent start enquiring where you can purchase a pair of Rudy Project sunglasses:

Early signs that CoronEvirus had spread aggressively in Garda

As I dodged eMeteors with some of the most eclectically clothed people on the planet atop of them, all with too much engine power and too little bike handling skills, it occurred to me that I needed to return to the Mon-tons, and hopefully settle a score.

Monte Baldo 2, DN 0

With one ride left available in the sensational Lake Garda I thought it best to settle on a good old Charles Bronson style revenge mission. A mere 7km’s from the hotel front door lay the start of what appeared to be the ‘easy’ side up Monte Baldo, and I was confident I could leave town with it as a notch in my top tube with an early morning start again.

That 7km commute also just happened to be on part of Arco’s next level bike path set-up, which are best enjoyed as the eWorriers sleep:

5am is acoustically the best time of the day

Of course, ‘easy’ in Italian translates to ‘fuck your face’ when it comes to climbing, and as I wandered into the ambush of a 7km climb averaging 10% I did wonder if I was going to be more of Charles Bronson’s cock warmer as opposed to exacting any real revenge. That aside, the vistas starting to unfold were tier 1 naturally:

Bellisimo etc etc

The jagged monsters of rock almost look impossible as they dive into the lake, it’s an absolutely mesmerising landscape to be riding in, and one that does a good job of taking your attention off the relentlessness of the climb passing under the wheels. I was starting to be extremely appreciative of running a 36/46 mated to a 40-11 XTR cassette, granted, ridiculous gearing ratios, but fucking excellent for holiday riding up the sides of mountains.

When the view was obscured, it was replaced with some quality road porn which haters back home would almost claim was faked. I had struck some absolute gold in the hills on the final Lake Garda blast.

I mean, seriously? Fuck

Again though, my Garmin started to laugh as it conveyed to me that “No cunt, you won’t see a summit today” and I was again forced to reassess my goals for the session. As I passed through yet another 1,000m of vertical gain climbed, it was obvious the summit wasn’t anywhere in my vicinity.

Ordinarily this would suck a bit of shit, I mean, who doesn’t want to KOM, but the morning glory of these mountains provides for some moments that your faux meditation App would fucking die to be able to recreate. Possibly elevated by rolling with one of the best paint schemes Santa Cruz has ever sprayed on a bike.

Stig light bro

I decided to sacrifice a few of my precious 120 minutes to soak in the final view of the regality of Lake Garda, in an attempt to try and burn it’s amazingness into my brain for safe keeping.

I’ll be honest, could have easily parked up in the Garda & Trento area for a whole lot longer, weeks indeed… After all, it’s not that far from the Stelvio and that’s a revenge mission that needs to be attended to one day.

Alas, it was time to punch out of Lake Garda with just a quick taste of its amazingness, finished off with a longing to return one day. As one infamous DNGC high ranking member would say “I’m fucking moving here

“It’s not the Kapiti Coast, but still reckon I would go ok here eh?”

Ride archive for Garda if you intend to visit and can’t be fucked with a route builder. To be noted, I didn’t even really scratch the surface:

Part II – Tuscany

Ah Tuscany… I mean, if you’ve never been to Italy is there a province that you’ve heard or seen more about than this place? Highly unlikely.

It’s in every Rom Com that has an Italian scene you’ve ever been forced to sit through in order to secure your happy ending, every cooking show you’ve ever watched, every magazine you’ve picked up at the doctors surgery while waiting to get that rash inspected and no doubt the word ‘Tuscany’ was on a small piece of spittle that connected with your face after leaving the mouth of a frothing elderly relative as they show you their holiday photos on their iPad. And yes, photos they took using the iPad at that.

And it’s this last point that’s important as I found out, but more on that in a moment. This was my first time in Tuscany, and it absolutely smashes your expectation honey hole from the moment you arrive:

Tuscan cliches inbound

For real…

It’s absolutely as you expect it to be from the images and stories you’ve come across, but at the same time, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

By this, I mean come here when you’re old. Ok, so heading to a pumping epicentre of outdoor good times in Lake Garda to open our account may have set the bar too high for Tuscany as a follow up act. Instead of having a central point of reference to bounce off in a lake, Tuscany is a big fuck off province dotted with an abundance of small villages to cater for day trip sight seeing…

Or in other words, exactly what kids fucking hate to do.

I can confirm this based on both the heckling from the back rows of the van and my iPhone melting through the sheer volume of google map usage as we tried to get around. As such, I quickly formed the view that perhaps as a province it may be better off as a destination when I’m old, fucked and riding eBikes (Allegedly when I’m 53 then).

As it turned out however, by dumb luck we were staying directly on the L’Eroica route, which takes in 209km’s of Tuscany’s finest Strade Bianche and connecting road sections. And when I say finest, I really mean some premium Groad shit right here:

Strade Bianchi and/or a Gladiators drive way

Speaking of Strade Bianche, we were also right next to a few sections that the now famous classic World Tour race also graces, so while I might mildly slate Tuscany as a go to location if you’re south of 50, clearly I was in a Groad hot spot and it was time to see what those Goodyear County tires could do. Luckily for me, that turned out to be quite a lot:

Positively Roman

Riding through Tuscany is just a rolling thunder of every riding cliche and stereotype you expect before you arrive, likely bestowed upon you by the Rapha Gram feed or a million cycling magazine articles, not to mention any movie about Gladiators.

You don’t have to try very hard to get some classic Tuscan images on the go. I was even that cunt who trekked in and out of a field in carbon road shoes because of a stack of hay bales, like we don’t fucking have these in NZ already.

BUT, they’re Italian!

The Pienza Pastry raid

It became evident pretty quickly that there are a billion riding options and zones here when you’re equipped with a bike which refuses to adhere to any single riding genre. The loop options were frying my brain and seriously fucking with the self-imposed family holiday riding parameters which I’d set as a hard deck for missions.

It made perfect sense then to combine some sweet Groad action with another great Dirty family love: Warm chocolate pastries. We had quickly detected that some seriously fucking A Grade examples were being produced in Pienza, which lent itself perfectly for an early morning raid.

Literally the entire province is still asleep

In terms of cycling pleasures, rolling the Stig on that sweet Italian tarmac, mixed in with some high grade gravel sectors on your way to sucker punch pastries is a luscious set up. Early morning missions are highly advisable obviously, captain fucking obvious given I’m talking about July in Italy, which of course had the upsides of empty roads and no wind.

The Stig was eating up the miles with the same gusto as I was applying to the local cuisine.

An insatiable appetite for leaning against shit

I didn’t realise it at the time, but as I quickly found out, rolling into the best bakery in the village and pretty much cleaning them out of their piping hot pastries is essentially an act of war in Italy.

The locals queued behind me were agar as the cafe owner nervously loaded pastry after pastry into their bags, pausing multiple times to reconfirm my order. As I smiled like a fucking idiot in my tourist cone of ignorance and repeated “Si, Si, Grazie!” I didn’t contemplate that the locals were probably going to run me the fuck over as I tried to head out of town.

As I sucked down a cappuccino I noted customer after customer coming in and unleashing wild hand gestures at the owner, who meekly nodded in may direction. Time to punch the fuck out with my bounty, before the bounty hunters arrived.

“Si si, some cunt on a beard dripping from head to toe in Rapha… Si si, dead or alive”

Riding in Tuscany is relatively beautiful, not many arguments there I suspect, but for some reason it didn’t capture my froth in the same manner as Lake Garda had.

There’s a lot less climbing to be sure, my run of consecutive 1,000m climbing rides came to a solid end in Tuscany, and perhaps I was missing the grandness of getting up into some mountains and soaking up those big gnarly landscapes. Not that Tuscany doesn’t have that, it’s just quite a different vibe is all.

Purely in here to tick off some cliche Tuscan skyline action

I suspect if I had been on a riding holiday here it would have felt like a different place to explore, you’d want to throw in multiple days where you’re up for 100km to 200km days, roaming the Tuscan landscape and rolling from village to village working out where the best Pici pasta was at.

And there is absolutely an endless supply of such villages, so no stress about coffee and/or coke fuel stops. If you love massive Groad loops on rolling terrain, then this place will pleasure you.

The main road through town, no shit

Of course, if you’re a gravel fiend then there is plenty to keep you pumped across the whole province. I barely scratched the surface, but I can now see how they race Strade Bianche on road tires as this stuff is pretty fucking sweet. The Goodyear County’s proving themselves to be pretty much the perfect Tuscan tire.

I would have liked to have done the entire Eroica route, but those routes are best reserved for the all in cycling holiday experience. I was happy to be cutting my teeth and having a light sample of some legendary landscape. You don’t have to go very far around here to find some gravel wet dream situations:

In terms of gravel, it doesn’t come more gentrified than this

A hundred small village tours later, it was time to bid farewell to Tuscany and begin the solemn migration north back towards a date with Malpensa airport. Ciao Tuscany, see you again when I’m old, fucked and into eBikes (So, checking my data, when I’m 53).

Time to head home, from a place that looks suspiciously like home

Ride archive for Tuscany, admittedly this is pretty fucking lame, and covers only a tiny section of an endless abundance of options, so best to do your own route grinding:

Part III – Bologna… Sort of

Well, sort of Bologna, but actually more in the hills south of Bologna, in-between Modena and Imola (F1 fans will nod their heads at the mention of both those locations).  In truth, a totally fucking random location for an Italian holiday spot. It was conceived by going “We need somewhere halfway back to the airport for a few days” and then geo matching on Booking.com until we found a place which looked awesome.

Airtight plan right? Admittedly as we worked our way towards our final stop and Google maps counted down the KM’s until arrival I did have some very nervous moments that we were going to arrive in the Palmerston North of Italy (For international readership, I can confirm this is firmly not a compliment) such was the nature of the surroundings. So much so even the kids grew quiet in the back…

But hey, it’s fucken Italy in summer innit? Can’t fucking miss:

Hotter than it looks?

Given this is central Italy, the roads appear to be utterly fucked on account of being victims of Austerity, which pleased the Stig no end.

In circumstances which would have been unpleasant on the road bike, the Stig and it’s Reserves were just laughing and mowing through these austerity fingered back roads with the same glee as a family of Grifters who accidentally end up in political office with little to no oversight. I was also somewhat relieved to be running embarrassingly low gearing given the surroundings.

Back to some solid ascending action

Yes, back in more mountainous terrain in a change up from Tuscany. Or should I say more of a middle mountain vibe, hills probably a more apt description.

Either way, the elevation game was back on, the jersey was fully unzipped and the vistas were popping like an Italian pro-conti team in an early 2000’s drug fuelled Giro edition.

Starting to get the feeling the local council got into this austerity thing quite seriously

The other thing about Central Italy in mid July… Yes, it’s Pizza oven hot. As I melted like some artisanal buffalo mozzarella cheese which had been extracted from buffalos in a slow milking motion by the Italian version of the Rodfather, I realised that this temperature & gradient combo was going to cause some significant difficulties.

A whole tasting plate of WTF data points

But all that aside, I had somehow stumbled into a fucking amazing riding zone. My surprise at this was not only about how fucking good the riding was, but that I was also essentially in the middle of nowhere, exploring a zone which wasn’t exactly a cycling hotbed or on anyone’s list of places to ride and it was absolutely excellent.

I guess this is the thing about Italy, you have to work fairly hard to fuck it up riding wise. My main problem now was my very limited time window, noting I was in a place that I was highly unlikely to be passing through in the future. I really couldn’t believe how fucking excellent it was riding here:

I would fucking move here, but there didn’t seem to be anywhere to live

But this is the joy of cycling innit? Being ambushed by the goodness of the unexpected as you explore new zones, and completely unheard of ones at that.

Yes, it’s more illustrious when it’s in the high mountains or somewhere remote, but rolling the Stig through some totally random Italian back roads was providing some legitimate propaganda for why Gravel/Groad/Adventure is so fucking hot right now in cycling…. Smells like time for an elaboration montage?

Come at us highly variable Groad terrain

My frothing to explore and maximise was pushing me dangerously close to breaking all my only family holiday riding rules, and it was a head to head competition between that and running out of water in this mid 30 degs beat down climate.

Given I had multiple warning lights flashing in my head, seemed like a terribly cunty time to trust Google maps, something I have warned against before.

But like a gullible voting public who really wants to believe what they’re being told, I voted against my own interests and headed up a road which Google said would definitely complete my loop, but which my gut said was possibly high risk. My reward? Some light tramping in carbon road shoes.

Whatever is Italian for ‘Fingered’

The last hurrah

I was frothing about what I had found out the front door of the hotel and after some time on Google maps street view and Strava route builder I was now also beside myself with the plethora of possible loop and ride options at my disposal. Negating that however was the limited timing window left on our holiday… I really only had the chance for one final mission into the badlands.

As such, I had to make it count. Unleash the banger patrol. A 5am start and a slightly bending of my own self imposed rules for the last mission meant I could hit a 3 hour mission to cap off a high quality 3 weeks. I was quickly rewarded:

None of my Enduro bros had a spare fuck to provide about how good this was

My Groad creation was a stunner. As section after section turned out to be absolutely gold, my cycling froth bubbled up and the Stig and I chewed through the miles in a glorious early morning mission, which was both turning out to be marvellous, but also bittersweet.

Yes, this was the last ride, but it was also staking a strong claim that it was going to be one of the best of the trip too. But oddly, I was only playing around the edges of a significantly massive zone which was gagging to be explored…

An ocean of Groad ahead and I was dipping a small toe in

In an odd way, this random middle of nowhere location was turning into a blend of Arco and Tuscany. Had I stumbled onto the Goldilocks scenario? The climbs were big, but not soul destroying big. The roads were still deserted and the vistas were still jaw dropping, but with that classic Italian theme to them. I had the perfect partner to collaborate maximising this discovery on as well.

So Italian it makes you want to shit out a pizza

Seriously, these are the moments that the Stigmata writes its own business case. It firmly smashes the best of both worlds scenario as it glides from the tarmac and feeling like a road bike, onto the dirt and converting into an MTB. You beautiful bipolar freak.

And as for the dirt aspect, for once my research had hit literal pay dirt as we blasted onto some mind blowing sections… Who knew that a Groadgasim was a thing? I can confirm I was deep in the throes of one here:

The Stig and I both conclude we’d found the promised land

As I obliterated my 2 hour threshold I knew the rules were going to take a firm tea-bagging on this final mission, but my Groad froth and general cycling fever washed away my guilt and inner hand wringing.

The Stig was in full flight, the terrain unfolding before me was stunning and while I knew this was the last ride of the trip, little did I know it was the last chance at a Euro mission for some time to come. Perhaps even years? Ah, the good old days, back before cunts somehow managed to link wearing a mask to personal freedom.

If I had known then what I know now, I suspect I would have thrown another loop in somewhere in this Stig playground.

Grey earth?

The last chance to lean on some shit of the trip

Onto the final climb of the trip and I couldn’t work out if this was some sort of insane cycling path, or a road specifically for Vespas, but clearly someone was taking the piss with their centreline marking.

The greatest bike path, ever

The further I worked my way up this Cat 2 climb to Monte Cerere the more it felt like it was simply here to satisfy the desires of the 0.000000001% of the cycling population who may have ventured up here (Its only been ridden by about 700 people allegedly).

I mean, this was such a random spot that even the local authorities seem to have given up on maintaining the road and were letting it slowly be consumed by nature. Thank you austerity for creating some Groad singletrack?

The final Italian climb to close out the tour – And before the world went cray AF

56km’s, 3 hours and 1,500m of climbing and the final Italian Stig adventure was in the bag. I had arrived back at HQ in time to see my children attacking the breakfast buffet like a rabid pack of truffle pigs, the horrified hotel staff looking on as they were paralysed by fear.

It’s ok, they’re just New Zealanders” my best explanation as the kids attacked the breakfast donut stand like it was an insolent piñata. Clearly it was time to head to Milan.

Ride archive for… The middle of nowhere behind Bologna? Technically my start point was Varignana, but this appeared to be the mere foothills into a range which sweeps right over to the coast. These two files should really only serve as an appetiser for a much greater range of adventures in this region:

Tech sidebar 

As you’ve probably discerned, I’m a huge fan of rolling the gravel bike on a trip like this. Assuming you’re not rolling with a bunch of road thoroughbreds, the spectrum that the Grav machine can let you attack is unparalleled. There are also the side benefits of the massive gear range and comfort deluxe tires that can’t be overlooked either.

Sure, you may feel as slow as a cunt at times, but it’s a holiday right? As long as you can park your Strava anxiety, the enjoyment factor will win through on the cruise machine. For you gear heads, some tech points to round out this exceedingly long tale:

  • Gearing – People ask this a lot, so here goes. Ultegra 170mm road cranks, with the 36/46 Shimano CX rings attached mated to an XTR 40-11 Titanium 11 speed cassette, with an Ultegra RX rear D. No special cage arrangement. The front shifting on this bike is the most sensational I have ever experienced on a 2 X bike. Takes a lot to run out of range with this set up.
  • Wheels – Much like wit the MTB versions, the SC Reserve 22’s are an absolute luxury. Hot aesthetics aside, they have a penchant for ironing out off road chatter or any rough terrain and with the right tire combo will definitely take your Groad game next level. I suspect they’re not the most aero option, but I’ll take comfort, reliability and climbing prowess any day of the week here. These spin up so beautifully that they significantly close the gap between the Stigmata and my road bike from a feel and performance perspective
  • Tires – This genre of bike is all about the rubber and the options grow daily, but right now I am in love with the Goodyear’s. Ironically people mostly rave about their bigger gravel option, the Connector, but so far my experience with the 35mm County Ultimates has been unparalleled. After pissing through tires from other brands, these have been insanely reliable and have coped with everything thrown at them. If you’re a bit nervous on the gravel then the bigger tires may be a better option, but if you have plenty of tarmac to negotiate then you can’t go past the Ultimates, absolutely brilliant.

Closure… For now

There’s something about riding your bike in Europe that I find to be unparalleled. Maybe its the history, the culture, the landscapes, the variety, the Euro Coke, the whole crazy Euro summer vibe… It’s totality as a cycling destination is hard to match no matter what genre you dig on.

Given I’m supposed to be there right now (As this is being authored) and in pulling this post together it’s given me a new appreciation for it’s staggering awesomeness. If you haven’t been and love to travel with your bike, then Europe needs to be at the head of your wish list for post-Cuntvirus19 missions. It doesn’t matter what tread you have on your bike wheels, you will be able to find your version of cycling nirvana in Europe one way or another.

I didn’t expect to hit as many jackpots as I did on this Stig Tour of Italy, but for every ride that was an absolute fucking banger, I looked out across the hills or over the maps to realise I was barely scratching the surface. I can’t wait to return to pick up where we left off.

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