The remarkable MadonnaVelo Cycling Group live a cycling dream.
There is something a little magical about cycling in Europe but imagine heading over to ride bespoke courses in regions of your own choosing, with nine of your best friends. Well that is just what happened in May / June this year, when a ladies cycling group from SE Queensland (and parts further afield) Departed Australia bound for Milan and ultimately, Lake Como, Tuscany and the French Riviera.
When Sheridan (founder of the MadonnaVelo riding group and owner of Storm Cycles at Tugun on the Gold Coast) approached us in mid 2016, she had an idea to take her group on a dream European cycling tour. There was at least one "non-negotiable" in the brief, we MUST visit the famous "Madonna del Ghisallo" chapel that sits perched above Bellagio and was the inspiration for the name of the group. Sprinkle in a little bit of Tuscany, the French Riviera, ride routes that were challenging without being too brutal and all the culinary delights of each region and we had a tour.
So the crew of: Sheridan, Lee, Jacki, Lisa, Mary, Kirsten, Sheree, Tina, Claire, Denise, super-guide Eve and a hopelessly out-numbered, yours truly arrived in Lake Como for stage one. The cycling in Como is divine, all of it (of course) showcases the magnificent lake and involves steep climbing in all directions from the lake shore. Now although there were some nerves in the group, I could not have been more impressed with both the tenacity and spirit of the girls, as they took on climbs such as the 13km Colma Sormano and the steep slopes of Val Rezzo. We did of course ride the famous 10km climb from Bellagio to the Chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo and all were taken by the energy and views at this most significant place.
Day three dawned with the promise of more stunning views and challenging climbs. On the agenda was the mighty Monte Cornizzolo, the most difficult climb in the region and most of the girls had put their hand up for the challenge. Four of these tough and resilient riders made it to the summit of a climb I would rate the equal of Mortirolo, sadly only three made it down by bike. Our friend Lisa crashed on the descent after striking a drainage culvert on a shaded section of road. She required helicopter assistance to get off the hill and was flown home to Australia three days later. I am happy to report that she is now well on the way to making a full recovery. A difficult moment in an otherwise brilliant four days of cycling in the Italian Alps.
Next stop, the unmistakable rolling hills of sun-drenched Tuscany or more specifically, the Chianti region to the north of Siena. Along with world famous character and charm, the Chianti region is awash with steep hills, small country lanes, vineyards and olive groves. Our four days of cycling in Tuscany were always going to be tough but the heat of an early summer blast made things very difficult indeed, possibly our hardest riding of the tour. Just as well we had the most amazing Tuscan Villa in which to "recover" from the days exertions. A divine pool surrounded by 13th century buildings and row upon row of grapevines. Our wonderful host, Guiseppe (of course) made up for his lack of English (not a single word) with an abundance of Italian charm and hospitality. He was like a long lost relative committed 100% to making our stay as remarkable as it could possibly be.
Again the ladies excelled themselves on the bike and I could see they were getting stronger by the day. But more than that, characters were emerging and most were finding some real confidence and freedom with which to express themselves. Tours are amazing like that, a platform for growth quite unlike any other. I just loved watching the story unfold, out-numbered, a little intimidated at times but always entertained. Thank goodness for Eve, not sure I have had much hope of pulling it off without you.
And so to France and the French Riviera "capital" of Nice would do just nicely for our farewell swing of "MadonnaVelo Europe 2017".
Nice is not often thought of as a cycling mecca, but the maritime alps are in fact full of delightful cycling roads. From the wonder of the famous "route de Napleon" to the remarkable climb up to the ancient town of Gourdon, this is a region full of cycling surprises. The girls conquered everything I threw at them, from the iconic col de la Madone to the massive Mont Chauve that towers above Nice, nothing was too difficult for the MadonnaVelos. Our days here were complemented by walks into the amazing old town, fantastic food, for which we were spoiled for choice and swims in the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean.
And like all good stories this one had an end, a remarkable experience now committed to the life story of each member of the group. I would like to thank Sheridan Bosworth for the opportunity and honour of touring with this wonderful group of ladies. I would also like to thank Lee, Jacki, Kirsten, Denise, Mary, Sheree, Tina, Claire and Lisa for your support and friendship on the roads of Italy and France. I truly hope you loved the experience. To the characters we met; Mattia, Guiseppe, "that Italian waiter in Castellina" and so many others, you are appreciated and remembered. New places and memories for life that I am sure will grow fonder with time. Finally to Eve Conyers, whose support was remarkable. You were unflappable and no job was too much to ask, thank you for all that you added to this tour.
Was this the hardest cycling tour ever?
I guess the Brutal Tour had really been about 10 years in the making and like most crazy ideas it had evolved year to year, as I travelled to Europe and climbed more and more passes. It just seemed that there were so many that felt “un-missable” and the more I read, watched on TV and tuned in to the experiences of others, the more climbs were added to the bucket list. Of course, nobody (not even me) can go to Europe and climb 200 cols on one tour, so there had to be a way to whittle down the list. But wait, rather than whittle down, why not ramp up the list? In the modern world of information sharing, blogs etc, most cyclists had heard tales of the “Uber climbs” of Europe; the Angliru in Spain, the Mortirolo and Zoncolan in Italy and Austria’s title contender, the Kitzbuheler Horn. Surely, we could make a list of Europe’s most fearsome challenges, put together a group of intrepid Aussie cyclists, fly 26 hours to the other side of the world and ride them all? Easy, right? And so, the Brutal Tour was conceived.
Next came the list, which climbs should we ride, which makes the cut and which does not? The “formula” included some stats, such as gradient (average and maximum), climb length, altitude at the summit etc, that part was easy. Then we added the “less tangibles” such as iconic status and “mystique”, or more accurately; “climbs that not many have heard of, are really out of the way and just bloody hard”. Once we had our list, the course (and order) needed to be plotted. It soon became obvious (not sure why it took so long) that the most distant pins on our map were as far apart as 2000km! But surely with excellent planning, a reasonably comfortable vehicle, some decent music, it would be doable? Turns out it was.
Meet The Crew
Fast forward to August 2017, the Brutal Tour became a reality. Let’s first introduce our “tourists”;
Mark “I cannot believe my data has run out already” Robertson,
Frank “the Stelvio is over-rated anyway” Nyhuis,
Darren “I never saw any T-junction” Joy and
Ramon “I was just tapping it out, I swear” Maurice. Plus;
Superguide: Gordo “when are we going back to Annecy” Sutherland
Our initial list of six, became just four, with two late withdrawals but what the group lacked in numbers, it certainly made for with character, determination and good old slice of “not taking yourself too seriously” (well, for the most part).
This tour was a three week epic in every sense of the word, so I will deliver the abridged version.
Tours like this are always about the characters, their contributions and the creation of experiences that shape each year’s tour story. As a planner and guide, it is my job to set the route, find the climbs etc, kind of build the canvas. But a tour is nothing without the riders, in this case everyday people who trained hard, then took a large leap into the unknown and emerged as giants, having achieved what very few others have.
We began the tour in Spain, essentially so we could climb one of the most feared roads on the planet, the Angliru. This nasty piece of asphalt is located in the Asturias and a really really long way from anywhere else we needed to be. In all honesty, it would have been a lot easier (and saved around 800km of transfers) if we had simply left it out. But that was not what the tour was all about, we simply had to climb it, and so we did. Picture the day; misty rain, cold winds, small farm roads covered in cow shit (makes getting traction on 23% slopes quite a challenge). then factor in the "warm up", 85km, three climbs and 2000m of elevation. Safe to say, the Angliru did its job, the Brutal Tour had well and truly lived up to its name, and it was only day one!
In a tour lasting three weeks, there were bound to be some tales that could (and should) not be re-told. There are also way too many climbs, points of suffering, highlights and lowlights to which I could not do justice. Here, however, here are my "brief points of note":
The magical "Cirque de Troumouse" (Pyrenees), climbed after a double ascent of the Tourmalet and truly one of the most magnificent "big" climbs in the world. Tough, raw, quiet with a huge dose of that "je ne sais quoi" that makes some roads special.
A triple ascent of the mighty Mt Ventoux where one is enough for most and two is thought of as a little extreme.
The incomparable Colle Della Finestre. 18km @ 10% where the final 9km is on very rough gravel at an average of 10.4%. Unlike the Giro in 2015, nobody graded the road for us.
A ride transfer day of 210km that included the highest paved pass in Europe (the Col de l'Iseran) and finished in darkness as we struggled to find our chalet, tucked away some 6km up a tiny mountain road above St Michel de Maurienne.
A double ascent of the one and only Passo Dello Stelvio - enough said.
The rarely accomplished (for very good reasons) 5000m day. This one was the epic Swiss loop that included the Susten, Grimsel, Nufenen & St Gottard passes. The Nufenen turned out (very unexpectedly) to be one of the toughest climbs of the entire tour and the final 6km "cobbled" section of St Gottard has to be seen (and ridden) to be believed.
Another transfer day, spiced up by a pre-breakfast trundle up the "Austrian Zoncolan", the Kitzbuheler Horn. This "little ripper" is 10.2km long (if you go all the way to the tower) at an ave gradient of 13.2%. Throw in the Grossglockner (in the afternoon), which is relentlessly harder than its "stats" suggest and you will appreciate how happy we were to see our lovely apartments in Flattach at the end of the day.
This brings me to what I rate as the hardest climb of the tour, the little known, Grosse Oscheniksee in the Austrian Alps. 17km from our apartments at 10.4% (including some downhill) with the final 9km @ 13.4%. Consider also that the summit of this beast is at almost 2,400m (other European behemoths such as Zoncolan, Mortirolo, the Horn and Angliru are all closer to 1800m), the road barely as wide as a cart path and a surface full of ruts, holes and loose stones. Brilliant!
Just one more. Statistically, the hardest day we had was the "double Zoncolan"., 136km / 5,200m. Any who have ridden the "monster of the Carnic Alps" will appreciate that the climb from Ovaro is considered one of the toughest in cycling. But just because we were nearly done (and needed an exclamation point for the tour), we added the little known (and quite possibly even harder) ascent back up from Priola, that is a double-Zoncolan (BAM). But we were not quite ready for dinner yet. Just up the valley from Ovaro is the HC climb of Monte Crostis (three times used in the Giro) and it is 14km long at an average of almost 10%. On it's own, it is one tough cookie but after a couple of casual "Zoncolans" it was more (as Frank so eloquently described it) like...."fu#*ing ridiculous". Again, no match for the "brutal tourists from down under". Oh how we had grown since the Asturias.
I am not sure if there is anything quite like this tour for bringing a few blokes together, I certainly do not know of anything. We arrived in Madrid as six individuals, full of nervous expectation. We left a group of mates, full of quiet pride in what we had achieved, forever more confident in our capabilities and connected by a shared experience that may never be repeated.
I would like to say a sincere that you to; Gordo, Robbo, DJ, Frank and Ramon for putting your trust in Bubba's Cycling Tours. But I am mostly thankful for the incredible energy, tenacity and flexibility you brought to the group. It is a three weeks that I will never forget and find very hard to top, both professionally and personally.
On the 26th March 2017, 400 riders took on Ride The Range in Toowoomba, with around 110 people tackling the 100mile (165km) challenge. There was a ride for everyone, the 112km classic, 85km challenge and the 50km nifty. The ride is a great opportunity to get away for a weekend in the country and enjoy some awesome riding. And is there any better way to spend a Sunday than riding around the beautiful QLD countryside with a bunch of beautiful, strong, determined and supportive & somewhat quirky friends?! Ummm no!
So at 6am we departed Picnic Point in Toowoomba and screamed down the range, it was steep, lets just say I could smell the rubber burning! Regrouping at the bottom the BBL crew stayed together, and made this little ride something to remember. We picked up new friends along the way and quickly made formation into rolling turns as we chewed up the km’s in the beautiful countryside and wide open country roads. Everyone was in high spirits, there was plenty of banter amongst the team and a positive vibe that made us all feel a part of it. The rotary rest stops along the way were awesome with their home baked goods, cold water, free smiles and supportive attitudes, they were always there when we needed them. Especially in the last 50km when the sun started to beat down and feelings of fatigue set in, heavy and pumped legs, and depleting energy stores. Just as you start to think things are getting tough you come across a rest stop with cold sugary fizzy drink goodness! So kudos to the volunteers for staying out there and making our day!
We continue on; our little peloton of 16 people slowly dwindling as we neared the range and started to hit some hills at around the 140km mark. It was about 11am with only 25km to go now…. up the Range, no biggy right! A 12km climb, with a couple of decent pinches, the last 5km at a 9% average gradient was a brute! Times did get a little tough, which may have been intensified by the heat that was now beating down upon us as we climbed. The air was still and the road was so hot & sticky, that little tar rocks were getting stuck between my back tire and the break caliper! Many were walking, as cramps set in and for some the end seemed like an eternity away, but in the end the cyclist wins, and we all made it home!
In summary (and in true BBL character) we could call this a post 3 Peaks Falls Creek recovery ride! A nice little 165km roll around the Lockyer Valley, Gatton & surrounds with a steep bit thrown in for fun!
If you are a cyclist put it on your “to do list”, take your road bike and just as importantly take your Mountain Bike! Go ride around the beautiful country roads, up and down the range and visit Jubilee Park for some downhill dirt action, and well why were at it why not stop by Hidden Vale, Grandchester and get your mountain bike on there too!
Thanks to everyone who made the day awesome: Bubba, Shelly, Vicky Liese, Kirsty Hearn, Mel Bairstow, Chris Main, Ross Salter, Tim Wakeman, Belinda Holloway, Shayne Mckavanagh, Kirsty Wright, Les Cadzow, Amanda Scott, Chrissy Conyers, Sheridan Bosworth, Steve Weir, Mary Mollard, Lee Butcher.
Lets do it again next year!
Two things made me nervous as I packed my bike for Taiwan - the first was the fact that we were experiencing seriously hot weather in Brisbane and it was winter in Taiwan - the second was that every course I had designed to ride had no easy way out of 3000m+ of climbing... welcome to the Mountains of Taiwan
And so it began, with Eva airways from Brisbane it's a direct flight of 8.5hrs in the brightly painted Hello Kitty Boeing 777-300er. The airport in Taoyuan was top notch, breezed through the border security and my bike was already unloaded ready to go.
Chinese New Year Celebrations were in full swing, this was very evident from the consistent fireworks displays on the one hour drive to Zhudong Township - My base for the next week.
After a few hours sleep we decided to grab some breakfast, head out into the hills and explore a few roads. Food is in abundance in the Townships. There are daily markets selling everything from fresh produce to handmade clothes and shoes. With so many places to buy cooked food made fresh right in front of you, it was easy to see why so many people eat out. Generally the bigger the line up for the food the better it was, the popular places don't have menus or even pictures of what they sell so I had to rely 100% on Chocy to purchase the food, and never once was I disappointed.
With Chocy riding scooter as my super domestique we set off to explore.
From KM 1 the road started winding up through valleys alongside huge river systems, around every corner a new view had my senses overloading. My first taste of seemingly endless smooth roads and hairpins had me buzzing, not really knowing what I was in for was exciting in itself. Upon reaching the lake area, we stopped to take a few pics and pinch ourselves that this was real.
Not a coffee shop in sight as yet, I must say I was a little worried there would be no caffeine fix on this journey. Continuing on we reached a huge river system crossed by some impressive feats of engineering. We had been steadily climbing up to 600m elevation then boom , up time - 13.4km av 7% gaining 1013m elevation, with a downhill section included, there were many sections of 15%+ making it a very challenging ascent. The road ended at a National Park educational centre, with some beautiful rainforest walks heading higher still into the mountains.
I had spotted a restaurant / BnB that advertised coffee about half way up the climb so we headed there for a delicious lunch of rice, cabbage, soup and a good coffee (phew).
After bombing down another 7km's my mind turned to the upcoming climb. 110km down with only 65km to go, how hard can it be? HARD! it was relentlessly up with little spurts of down, leaving me questioning if I had started the climb... I hadn't. It started with a series of 4 hairpins averaging 12% then I looked up, bad move, long strait section of about 2kms at 15%. Feeling well fuelled from lunch and coffee I managed to stay seated for the first few hundred metres but it was all out of the saddle suffering from there. Another series of about 20 hairpins got me to the top. As I crested for the 35km of downhill to home it hit me, I was in cycling Heaven.
Taiwan is home to a special race, the Taiwan KOM is a 105km ride from sea level up to 3275m elevation with over 3,300 meters of total climbing. From my base to the highest point on the KOM it was a casual 195km away with 6500m of climbing, on a good day I knew I could do it but I had the added pressure of riding home the following day.
Chocy found us some accommodation at http://www.green-leaf.com.tw/ which sits at 2100m elevation and 35km before the KOM point, meaning I would have to ride past and return raising the bar to 230km. I secretly hoped the stars aligned but it wasn't to be.
Perfect conditions greeted us as I jumped on the scooters wheel, motor pacing out of town, the excitement was hard to control smashing over the first climb in record time with temperatures hovering around 8 deg.
The descent was ridiculous, super smooth confidence enhancing roads, cambered hairpins... froth!! My super domestique was waiting at the bottom with some local cuisine freshly cooked and absolutely delicious. Looking towards our desired route I could see a large rolling cloud system sitting on the top, I wasn't too worried as my trusty Sportful jacket was packet safely in the scooter.
Up into the clouds we went, steadily visibility dwindled as did the temperature. Waterfalls were flowing on every corner until we reached a plateau of 1200m. On we blazed, the temperature was now 6 deg and my feet felt like ice. Engulfed by lush forest the road surface was still amazingly good, even in the wet it had a grippy feel.
We passed some beautiful lakes and recreation areas before the final descent of the day. I could suffer no more, the jacket came out half way down, teeth chattering I pulled over and quickly realised I wasn't the only one suffering. I'm sure it would have been an amusing sight to see us fumbling around with hands that wouldn't respond to nerve signals.
Dropping down to 330m elevation at the 100k mark, I was feeling great despite the cold. Over the next 45km we consistently gained altitude. Rolling along the river system I was blown away by the size of the river bed, I can only imagine what it looks like in the wet season. Another couple of towns and river crossings saw us half way up and back into the clouds. The temperature dropped every kilometre until it hit a low of 3 degrees. Soaking wet and cold we reached the summit at 1965m, rolling over the other side suddenly the clouds disappeared! The road was dry, never has the sun felt so good. The road tilted down a little with a strava segment named Roelof's Wuling Wet Dream, it totally lived up to it's name, the views up to Mt Sylvia were stunning. One last 2km climb up to our accommodation and day 1 was complete. Standing at 2100m elevation, still tilting our necks to view the peaks, a calming energy came over us as we relaxed on the balcony, the ultimate reward for embarking on any adventure. The sunset was truly stunning.
The farm we lodged in included a Buffet Dinner and Breakfast, the standard was exceptional with all produce grown on the farm. As luck would have it we ended up in the honeymoon sweet, the best sleep I had on the whole trip. The owner and Chocy got talking and it turned out by coincidence that she is coming to the Gold Coast for 2 months in March to learn English.
After filling our bags with all the extra food given to us as gifts and donning the life saving Sportful jacket (which had dried overnight) off we rolled for the journey home. Having only descended 3000m the day before and with approx. 60km of downhill ahead of me I was in my element.
The weather forecast was for mild conditions with sunshine which meant the climbing in the clouds yesterday was now full visibility. Corner after sweeping corner the temperature slowly rose from a low of 5deg , it was pure joy and no wind to slow me down. We reached the valley in good time and before I knew it I was climbing the pass that had been completely clouded in the day before.
The hairpins I had gingerly descended the day before were an absolute joy to climb, enveloped in thick forest, everything covered in moss and waterfalls flowing, this was my paradise. Unbeknownst to me, Chocy had earlier stopped to grab some food and had pulled up in a park on the road side with some rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves. So Good!!
Refuelled and ready for another descent, the sun was shining, giving warmth even at 1200m elevation. I caught 3 cars on the way down and all were kind enough to wave me through as soon as they noticed me. I found this to be a common theme throughout Taiwan, cyclists or any athleticism in general was encouraged and respected by all. That left me with just one climb then a joyous 35km descent to home. As challenging as that last climb was, the euphoric feeling of being in the mountains on a bicycle would have powered me for days.
Although it had only been one week, the experiences and consistent sensory overload made it feel much longer. Taiwan is a modern place without the tourist feel. It is wild at heart with 286 mountain summits over 3000m above sea level. I am extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to experience this wonderful place and hope to share the best bits with you in years to come.
Click here to learn more about our Taiwan Adventure Tour in 2018
Cheers Benny & Chocy
The Peaks Challenge Falls creek is aptly named, it is a CHALLENGE!
From the intense training required to the variable weather conditions, finishing within the time cut off is a GREAT achievement.
The Alpine Passes of Falls Creek and Mount Hotham sit up at 1600-1850m above sea level. The weather can literally be four seasons in one day.
Being prepared for this ensures you have the confidence to succeed.
The Peaks event is a very well organised event. You can hand over 3 bags of food/clothing which will be dropped at 3 different locations around the course and there are plenty of water stops to keep you hydrated.
Starting off with the descent from Falls – temperature is likely to be 5 – 10deg Celsius therefore a Wind breaker of some sort (vest or jacket) is essential
Approx. 20-25km of downhill with a short climb thrown in – be very mind full of other riders on the road here, stay within your skill limit and be aware that others may not!
After a few short km’s through the perfectly named Mt Beauty, the climb of Towonga gap starts. This is a 7.5km climb averaging 6% gradient, careful not to get caught up the rush, this is the time to stay at the low end of Zone 3 and trundle up.
A drink station awaits at the top if needed, then a fast descent down to German Town approx. 14km, take caution as some of the right hand turns get tighter as you go through them.
On the false flat to Harrietville, time to refuel the legs and jump on a group for an easy roll, just make sure it’s not rolling too fast to sit in your Zone 2-3!
Harrietville is the first food drop station and a great place to refill the pockets, use the bathroom and check all vital systems to prepare for the climb ahead.
Mount Hotham is the highest sealed road pass in Australia and has three distinct sections -
Section 1 – 9.9km @ 6.6% gradient average with The Meg (you'll know when you get there) thrown in to test the legs. Stay in Zone 2-3 here and enjoy the moment.
Section 2 – 9km @ 2% gradient – spin up the cadence and flush the legs out, no need to break any records here the tough part is about to begin
Section 3 – The last 9km average 4.8% gradient but the numbers don’t tell the whole story with 3 sections averaging 8-10% with a couple of short downhill sections between. Take the time to enjoy the views here, as they are epic!
Roll on to Dinner Plain (the second food drop) for a well earned lunch break and change any clothes if needed. The next 42kms can be tough in a headwind, so best to wait for a group if possible. Not what I would call a descent, more of a gradual elevation loss with some considerable climbs before a fast drop down into Omeo.
Refill and stock up on supplies, between here and Anglers rest is a significant climb called Bingo’s Gap approx. 4kms @ 4% gradient. From the top to Anglers rest you are in for a real treat - a gentle loss of elevation through winding roads with exceptional views. Anglers rest is another Food Drop and if you have time you can slip in for a caffeine hit in the Blue Duck Inn.
The next 10kms is a chance to enjoy glimpses of the Omeo River, on a hot day it's tempting to park up the bike for a quick dip in the clear running waters.
Then the real challenge begins... the back of Falls Creek. you arrive here at the 200km mark and if you have dug too deep on any earlier climbs then this is where you will regret it. The first 9kms of this Hors Categorie Climb Average 8% with sections hitting 14%+. Something to keep in mind when training as if you haven't prepared your body for this it will not be an enjoyable experience.
Trapyard gap is a welcome sight and a quick water stop is recommended if you are running low with 23.5km to go. Keep on climbing and climbing for what may feel like eternity until you get a glimpse of the lake. a new wave of energy surges through as the finish line is within reach. Take the time to appreciate what you have just accomplished and congratulate yourself on the disciplined journey you took to get here.
Best of luck and may the weather gods be with you!
Whether you want to capture that perfect sunrise or snap a sensational selfie, modern mobile phones are fast becoming the ultimate portable camera. But with so many pics being posted how do you stand out from the crowd?
Here are a few tips to create the Wow shot to get you more likes and more kudos.
Step 1 - Crop and Position, open your photo and click the edit button. head strait to the crop feature first which will allow you to straighten, position and remove unwanted elements of the photo. as shown above I have cropped out the other cyclist and positioned myself somewhere close to the rule of thirds.
Step 2 - Light, there are a lot of options here but the quickest and best one is the brilliance setting, click on this and adjust to correct the exposure and enhance the lighting
Step 3 - Colour, this could also be a topic in itself but to keep it simple just choose the saturation setting and give it a boost. watch as the colours come to life, but be careful not to overdo it.
Join our Christmas giveaway by using the hashtags #bubbasbikelab and #bubbascyclingtours when posting on FB and Instagram.
We have a BBL Christmas Hamper to give away to the best shot taken while out on a ride (please do not take pictures while riding).
Good luck, take as many shots as you can and get posting!
Enjoy ~ Benny Ball
The little-known Grosse Oscheniksee in Austria may be tougher than Zoncolan
Calling any climb "the hardest" will always invoke some degree of protest and argument. That said, I am going ahead with this post anyway, bring it on I say.
There are many difficult climbs in Europe, some are famous and others quite obscure, climbed by very few. There are of course the iconics, that carry a notoriety enhanced by both their frequent appearances on the grand stages of professional cycling AND the fact that many "punters" have ridden them (and are only too keen to tell you just how hard they are). Then there are the more closely guarded secrets that lay in wait, climbs of legend, known mostly by the locals that are convinced theirs is the hardest of them all, the mighty Grosse Oscheniksee, in the Austrian Alps is one such beast.
Gauging the difficulty of any hill often comes down to how the rider feels on the day that he / she rides it, good legs / bad legs. So in order to get a feel for just how tough the "Osch" is, we will look at the stats comparison with the brutally hard Montee Zoncolan in the Carnic Alps (Italy), which is considered by most as the hardest climb in professional cycling (and is known to many).
The Zoncolan is 10.2km long (the more difficult ascent from Ovaro) at an average gradient of 11.9%. The altitude at the top is 1730m. Now take the "Osch" which is 16.9km long at an average of 9.1%, BUT the final 12km are at an average gradient of 12.2% AND the altitude at the summit is 2334m!! The maximum gradient on the Zoncolan is 24%, whilst the steepest bends on the Osch are 28%. Both are tough (very tough), but it would be hard to argue that the Osch didn't have the edge.
And by the way, there IS in fact a harder road to the Zoncolan summit than the famous ascent from Ovaro. It is the original road up and was only sealed in 2006. It starts in the town of Priola, climbs for 9km at a leg-breaking (possibly literally) average of 13%!! A new contender emerges perhaps?
Enjoy the ride.
Building the form of your life in cycling's ultimate playground
A few years ago I was riding a gran fondo event on the Tweed Coast when a guy wearing a striking blue jersey rode strongly to the front on a steep climb. A call came from just over my right shoulder, "damn you Steve and your French legs". At the time I had no idea what was meant by the term "French Legs", now I do. You see "Steve" had just returned from three months of cycling in the mountains of France and brought home with him the form of his life.
I am lucky enough to have ridden the high mountains of Europe a few time since that year on the Tweed and even luckier to have experienced some golden patches of "French (and Italian) legs". You see, just one of the great advantages of spending a few weeks in the high mountains, is that you return with climbing legs like Quintana and a purple riding patch that can last up to 2 months.
So in additional to the amazing scenery, culinary delights, bonding with new friends and exposure to new cultures, a cycling tour in the mountains will also bring a cycling level you have never experienced before.
In all likelihood it is a combination of spending time at altitude (many of the climbs take you well over 2000m), quality of recovery (no work commitments, shopping, driving etc etc) and the physical stimulus of climbing mountains day after day. There is really no way to replicate having a high level of muscle load for up to 2 hours at a time (climbs of 26km at 8% will do that) and the benefits are like nothing you have ever experienced before.
Not a bad way to build form I guess.
Stay safe and enjoy the ride
One of the world's most difficult climbs, only in Italy it seems
Italy is full of beautiful roads for cycling and anyone who has seen recent vision of the Giro will also know that most of these roads include steep gradients. It seems that Italy is king of countries when it comes to suffering on a pushbike. There may (and almost certainly are) be harder climbs in Italy than the Mortirolo but this beastly road out of the Valtelina in the Italian Alps (NOT Dolomites) is the first of the "uber steep" climbs to be included in a grand tour. It is often celebrated as "Pantani's Climb", for it is here that Marco confirmed his arrival on the world stage. In 1994, Pantani left the best cyclists on earth in his wake (Indurain, Berzin and Ugrumov) as he put more than four minutes into his rivals and won the day in Aprica. Riding no less than a 39/22, Pantani made light of the vicious 18% ramps on his way to a record time that is beyond belief. It is also the road on which Alberto Contador stamped his authority on the Giro in 2015, a climb of legend that never fails to deliver drama.
The Mortirolo (known to most of the locals as the passo della foppa) is a small road that starts in the town of Mazzo in the Valtelina which is a delightful Valley that runs up from Tirano to the famous cycling town of Bormio. There are several roads up to the summit (all are hard) but the small road from Mazzo is the climb revered by cyclists the world over. The stats are impressive (11.9km @ 10.7%) but like all climbs, these numbers hide a lot of the pain. The Mortirolo has a 6km section that averages over 12% and several ramps of 100-300m that are at 18%. The road is narrow and has very few sections in which you may catch your breath, it is relentless.
Shaded and tree-lined most of the way, the road is also narrow, so riding in a straight line is your only choice. Every now and then the trees clear to stunning views of the valley and small stone farm-houses that look like they have been transplanted from the pages of a storybook. Eight kilometres in you reach the eerie Pantani memorial (fittingly erected on one of the steepest parts of the climb), almost everyone stops here (probably because they are stinging for a rest) to pay tribute to a man that still holds the cycling heart of a nation. It is mostly a sad place and a reminder to all of the "other side" of a dark era in our sport.
After the memorial, the gradient eases slightly and around 3km later, the trees clear to reveal delightful alpine pastures and the final glorious run to the top. Unlike most climbs in Europe, there is NO fanfare at the Mortirolo, almost fittingly it is just a small under-stated sign. In a way it needs nothing else, one's sense of the moment and of cycling folklore is more than enough. The Mortirolo summit is truly a special place.
On our recent trip we decided to avoid the dangers of the very steep descent back to Mazzo and took the (slightly) easier road down to Grosio. More open and visually stunning than the climb up, this is a fast, flowing descent with a friendlier surface, a heart-pumping 15km of cycling bliss and the perfect way to finish the "Mortirolo experience". This is a must-do climb for all cyclists, but before you go there, do some reading. Because this road is so significant in the world of cycling and the appreciation of its meaning enhances the experience and in some magical way, lessens the pain.
Enjoy the ride and stay safe out there.
Brian "Bubba" Cooke
Lifelong (almost) cyclist, exercise physiologist and above-all-else just love riding my bike. Been lucky enough to ride some of the world's most epic roads and now live on the beautiful Gold Coast, hidden gem of Australian cycling.