Grand Fondo Felice Gimondi: Italy May 13

In the early morning, to the sound of cheers, and flash photography the 17th Gran Fondo Felice Gimondi got underway in Bergamo. We were in Italy, but this was just a wet weekend in Wigan – albeit with a stylish overtone!

All wrapped in longs, overshoes and waterproofs, we set out under threatening skies ready to face either the 103 or 142 hilly kilometres in the pouring rain. In fact, the rain-sodden weather forecast had scared many riders into returning their timing chips and finding solace in dry surroundings with a cappuccino. “Well, I’ve come here to ride, and ride is what I’ll do!” Declared an enthusiastic rider from the United States. The man’s emboldened attitude probably inspired others to have a go too.  

One person who was not nervous about the conditions was the great Gimondi himself. The sprightly Italian legend, soon to turn 70 years of age rode with participants in his native region. These roads, which he trained and raced on during his Giro d’Italia and Tour of Lombardy victories were even more familiar to him than the back of his hand!
Across the horizon, darkening skies made me wonder if I should have handed back my timing chip. Would I be able to go the distance? As I was swept along by the steadily rolling peloton I soon forgot about the weather and focused on managing my energy. Our first test of the day was the 4km long Col dei Pasta, which was a pleasant, primo piatto. Next came an agreeable antipasto in the form of the Colle Gallo, which was 7.5km long with a 7 per cent gradient.

My legs were tested during the main course, the 11km long climb to Selvino, whose gradient rose to 8 per cent in places. This climb went over the beautiful area around Lago d’Iseo, which even under low cloud looked spectacular through the atmospheric mist. It’s good to have company on the hills, and on this day it was even more greatly appreciated given the difficult conditions. My group included local boys, new cyclosportive riders, fast riders looking for an ‘easy’ ride, and a trio of guys on folding bikes! Words of encouragement and sharing a few jokes bonded us and helped the time pass quickly.  

At the intersection I chose the 103km distance, while a few riders continued with the full distance to take on the 20km Forcella di Bura, in the picturesque Brembilla region. Returning to Bergamo involved a succession of lovely sweeping bends and I simply followed the wheels of a group of downhill specialists. The group was even more helpful as they made a big hole in the air for me when we hit the headwind and the false flat! At the finish line the fatigue, cold and dampness all caught up with me. But I was happy – I had survived the rain, the mist and wind. Then finally, the sun shone!

Number of participants: 3,500
Women: 140
Non-Italians: 103 (including 25 from the UK)
Distances: 142km (2100m of climbing)
                103km (1400m of climbing)
Website: Felice Gimondi
Terrain: tarmac/hilly (pre-alpine climbs)
Best Aspect: Well marshalled, comprehensive rider support, well stocked feed stations
Worst Aspect: Shame the weather was so autumnal