A Descenders’ Weekend in Emilia Romagna Italy by Bob Proulx
This week I again had one of my European business trips and was scheduled to be in Bologna for the weekend. Fortunately, my business colleague was able to lend me his bike and I was able to get a ride in on both Saturday and Sunday. This area is true Descenders’ country. The hills are spectacular with MANY long climbs and some that are truly challenging (it is not uncommon to find 12% – 20% grades in some places!)
Saturday Apr 27th – I was able to get Nicolo’s bike on Friday night so I was ready to head out on my own on Saturday morning. The route I chose was one I had done previously on my rides last spring. After a short 3 mile warm up on the ring-road that encircles the city of Bologna, I turned left and headed up the big hill directly on the south side of the city. There is no gentle start to the climb as it goes right to 4-7% immediately and stays that way, with a few tougher pitches, for about 4 miles. Nicolo’s bike is equipped with a standard crank and a rear cassette that doesn’t favor climbing. So by the time I hit the top of the climb my heart rate was high and my legs tired, and I realized I’d only ridden 7.5 miles! I decided I needed (desperately) to stop and adjust the seat post as it was too low and my legs wouldn’t take the punishing hills with my leverage being all wrong. Adjustments made I continued on the route I remembered that winds along the hill sides with various ups and downs. A simply beautiful place to ride. I passed quite a few small riding groups enjoying the overcast skies and mild temperatures, making it comfortable for riding. I chose a different descent than I had previously ridden. This road down to Pianoro was 5km and perfectly surfaced but with a sign at the top indicating 16% grade! There was a bit of wind so I proceeded down somewhat cautiously. There was a big pack of riders heading up the road as I was heading down (many I could tell were wishing they were going in my direction instead of climbing). At the bottom I turned right heading up the river valley towards Butano. This road I had also ridden before. It is a 10 mile stretch paralleling the river with a 1-3% grade all the way. The road carves beautifully through the rock cut by the river and there is very little traffic since it leads only to the remote hills between Bologna and Florence. As I headed up, the weather took a turn for the worst and it began to get wet with a light misting rain. At the first big intersection I turned left and headed up the hill to Loiano. I had done this ride last June and knew what was in front of me – 6km of 7+% grade, but a beautiful road with open meadows on either side. Despite the light rain it was a nice climb. At the top I turned left again to ride the ridge back down to Pianoro. This road is gorgeous. It winds and gently follows the ridge back west towards Bologna. There was a stretch of about 5-7 miles that I didn’t see a car. By the time I got out of the hills and reached Pianoro, the rain and roads had dried up and I was able to get back to my hotel with 50 miles and 5200’ of riding.
Sunday Apr 28th – About a year ago I had tried contacting some riders through Strava to try to find a way to rent a bike while in Bologna. I began following one of the riders and a few weeks ago contacted him through Strava to see if he wanted to ride with me. Nazareno Storani normally rides with his cycling club on Sundays but was nice enough to offer to take me for a ride instead. We managed to find a meeting point about 5km east of Bologna not too far from where he lives. He had mapped out a route that he likes to ride – and boy was it a treat. We headed out through Zena. This road also parallels a river but on the north side of the ridge I had ridden down the day before. This is a long slowly climbing valley in beautifully quiet country. Eventually, the pitch picks up in a few places and then we turned left and headed up to Quinzano. This was a 6.5km climb at 4-7% with a few short pitchier spots. Nazareno warned me he was likely to fall behind. We had had a rider drafting on our heals all the way up the valley and when I began to leave Nazareno the unknown rider stayed with me. Another rider soon joined us and the three of us headed up the road. When it got steeper the two unknowns gapped me by 100m and then when the pitch dropped a bit I was able to catch them. Unfortunately, the pitch picked back up and I didn’t have the legs to stay with them. At the top I waited for Nazareno (his Strava post shows he PR’d on the climb!). We took a short break to get some fresh water from the public spring and then proceeded from Quinzano to Loiano. The first kilometer was steep and then there was about 3km of 4-7%. I stopped at one point to take a picture of Nazareno and the road, see attached, but I don’t have the photographic skills of Oleg or Rob so these will have to do and you will have to take my word for it that this place is great riding.) Once at the top we decided to descend down the road from Loiano towards Butano that I had ridden up the day before. Sheehan, Ernst, Babb, et al. would love this descent. The road has many open curves and only two hairpins. At the bottom, we headed down the valley I had ridden up the day before. I had thought we would have a tailwind going down the valley, but when we got down the hill we discovered the wind was coming up the valley. We still managed to average 24mph for about 10 miles down the grade taking turns on the lead. I got back to Bologna with 48 miles and ~ 3000’ of climbing, and a new riding friend in Italy thanks to Strava.
I’m lucky to have had the experience.