This article was produced in association with Pinarello
Just before sunset, the mountain transformed into a palette of warm colours, embracing the entire chromatic spectrum from earthy ochre to the most intense red. Autumn released a powerful and wild beauty, which, when I saw it, filled me with energy.
We were having an Indian summer, which made me feel lucky. Lucky for the distances I’d been able to cover between Treviso and Monte Grappa, lucky for these landscapes and for the late sunshine that warmed me even at altitude, and lucky for the bike that made it all possible. In the morning, a lazy sun kept me company as I rode along the Cagnan River, a waterway which, along with the river Sile, has earned Treviso the nickname ‘Little Venice’.
Treviso has a double bond with Venice, also known as ‘La Serenissima’, as both cities share similar architecture and the emblem of the winged lion, which you can see on the gates of the city wall and on many historic buildings. But while its more famous neighbour has been transformed into a tourist destination, Treviso has followed a more entrepreneurial path, particularly in the cycling industry.
Chief among them is Pinarello, a company with seven decades of history behind it and a history of success on the road at both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, with athletes like Miguel Indurain, Jan Ullrich, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Egan Bernal winning atop their bikes. And what better way to discover Veneto than on a bike that was born right in the heart of Treviso? And so, for my trip, I’m riding the latest model in Pinarello’s endurance range, the Dogma X.
With the city behind us as we head towards Montello, a hill just outside of Treviso, it quickly becomes apparent just how integral cycling is to the culture in this region: We meet groups of 15 to 20 cyclists in a tight bunch, riding at speed, almost as if they were competing in a team time trial. Riding like this in a bunch isn’t just about aerodynamics though, it’s also about safety, riders making up for the shortcomings of the Italian Highway Code as best they can. The province has 125 cycling clubs with more than 4,500 members out of a total population of 887,000 inhabitants, and this style of riding is a bit like a rural version of the popular, inner-city Critical Mass rides. There’s safety in numbers.
Having reached the foot of Montello, my mind had gone back to the summer of 1985, when this climb, too big and too steep to feel like a hill, but not high enough to call a mountain, hosted the Road World Championships. Joop Zoetemelk won the men’s race, and Jeannie Longo the women’s event. At the end of the Sunday, around 15 riders found themselves ahead of the peloton, and the veteran Zoetemelk took the lead to launch the sprint of his compatriot, Johan van der Velde. When he turned around to check on his leader, however, Zoetemelk saw that he’d gained about 50 metres on everyone, so he pushed on and went straight to the finish line in Giavera del Montello, beating Greg LeMond and Moreno Argentin by three seconds.
It’s fun to think of memorable moments from cycling history when you’re riding the same roads, but there’s another reason that this area is so evocative for a cyclist: the ‘Prese’, a series of numbered interlinking roads. Montello is shaped like a turtle’s shell; those who prefer to ride on the flats can enjoy a 32-kilometre loop around its perimeter, while the climbers are spoiled for choice. At its centre, there’s the Dorsale, which runs along the ridge for 17 kilometres between Pederiva de Biadene and Nervesa della Battaglia, and along which there are 21 links in total, crisscrossing from north to south and connecting back to the flat perimeter loop. On a bike, it’s practically a theme park.
After reaching Giavera del Montello, I ride along the perimeter road that runs along the Canale del Bosco, to the beginning of Presa 10. I was looking for the most challenging climb to test both the bike and my legs, and within a few hundred metres I knew I’d found exactly that, as the road began to climb swiftly, with mule-track-like gradients.
Coming after so many flat kilometres, this grim climb gives me all the answers I need. Forced out of the saddle, I’m immediately impressed with the bike’s qualities, how it strikes the perfect balance between lightness and reactivity. I’m also pleased by the positive signals being sent by my legs, which even in mid-November, are still hungry to climb.
After the first steep kilometre, the climb eases off a little, and I’m able to appreciate the beauty of the forest that surrounds me. It’s ironic that these roads were first created in the 15th century by the Republic of Venice to allow access to the forest to feed its timber industry. By now, the sun has overcome its morning shyness, and its light showcases the scenographic effect of the foliage. Only in the last hundred metres before the ridge does the gradient get hard again.
Next to the road signs I find a banner with a couplet: “Ma lo sai quanto è bello / andare a scuola sul Montello?” “Do you know how beautiful it is / to go to school on Montello?” At the top, in Santa Maria della Vittoria, it’s 361 metres above sea level. It’s lunchtime, and we need a sandwich before we resume. Leaning against a wall outside the restaurant, the bike is attracting plenty of attention. One admirer is a Pinarello aficionado and is intrigued by the X between the two seat stays of the rear stay, a structural element to help dissipate stresses.
I explain that I’m headed towards the mountains, and that Montello was only the appetiser for the much longer climb that awaits me in the afternoon. I descend the northern slope and head through Valcavasia, trying to avoid the busiest roads below Monte Grappa. Shortly after 2pm, I arrive in Romano d’Ezzelino, and I still have three hours of light to play with before sunset. There isn’t a single cloud in the sky, not a leaf is moving, and while there’s an autumnal chill in the shade, the conditions are ideal. In the opening kilometres of the climb, my body temperature rises with the road.
The start is severe, with steep ramps. I can’t wait to find that sun again, and it’s interesting to think that if I’d been here in summer, I’d have been praying for shade. Everyone who climbed it in the summer told me about a truly challenging ascent due to the low starting altitude (170 metres above sea level), the limestone rocks and the southern exposure. Alternating stretches in and out of the saddle, I finally find the sun at the fourth bend in the road. In the sky, half a dozen paragliders play a game against the laws of gravity, according to rules that are the exact opposite to my own. For a moment, their slow descent distracts me from the effort of my slow ascent.
Halfway up, some signs direct you towards the Museum of the Great War and a reconstructed trench, built for educational purposes to convey some sense of what happened on the Grappa Massif during the First World War.
In 1917, after the defeat at Caporetto and the retreat of the Italian troops, this mountain became the fulcrum of defence against the advance of the Central Powers. During the Second World War, however, the woods, villages and old war fortifications became the refuge of Italian partisans. The imposing Military Memorial of Monte Grappa, inaugurated in 1935 at the highest point of the massif, 1775 metres up, houses the remains of 12,615 fallen soldiers from the Great War.
After I pass the thousand-metre mark, a slight descent followed by a flat stretch of a few kilometres begins in the woods, which cause the temperature to drop to just above freezing. Even at speed flying downhill, the handling of this bike is excellent, and I shift the chain up to the largest chainring and rush to return to the sun, which illuminates the final stretch of the ascent.
When tackling a climb for the first time, curiosity is always an extraordinary incentive for me, but in this case the brevity of the day is an additional motivation. I need to reach the summit before dark. At the San Lorenzo Bridge, with nine kilometres still to go until the end, the respite phase ends and the slopes become challenging again.
The sun reappears to warm my final efforts, a strange phenomenon of thermal inversion which, on autumn and winter days, makes the temperatures at high altitude preferable to those at the base of the mountains. Naturally, this only applies on clear days and, above all, when the afternoon sun begins its descent towards the horizon.
The gentle gaze of some cows scattered in a late high-altitude pasture follows my out-of-the-saddle strides. It’s a climbing style that I have been practising since I was a boy, not so much a search for effectiveness, but rather the approach of legs that need to satiate their appetite for effort with a full and conscious gesture to break the monotony of the session. Light and stiff as it is, the bike I’m on is perfect for this type of vaguely anarchic gesture.
Among the mountain huts and the gravestones that commemorate the fallen of the Great War, the vegetation thins out as the sun prepares one of those shows that live long in the memory. I find myself in the presence of a chromatic range of stunning beauty. If I were asked to describe my November climb in just one word, I would say ‘orange’.
At the top of the climb, I cross the road that comes up from the Belluno side and, subsequently, the one that starts from Semonzo with a decidedly shorter length, more challenging slopes and a less scenic route. This is the side that will be climbed twice in the penultimate stage of the next Giro d’Italia, before a final descent that will lead the riders to Bassano del Grappa.
The link between this climb and cycling is almost a century old now, and the Bassano-Monte Grappa race, held for the first time in 1930, is one of the oldest under-23 races on the Italian calendar and its roll of honour boasts some impressive names: Gino Bartali, Ivan Gotti, Gilberto Simoni, Damiano Cunego, Fabio Aru, and Giulio Ciccone. And at the 2014 Giro, the uphill TT from Bassano del Grappa to Cima Grappa was won by Nairo Quintana, locking up the maglia rosa 48 hours before the final finish line in Trieste. These are all names of pure climbers, riders accustomed to making their moves when the slopes became severe, reaching the finish line alone, without any uncomfortable travelling companions.
And now, it’s done. My ride began in the morning along the Cagnan, crossed Montello with the sun at its zenith, and ended at 1,715 metres above sea level with the tilted light of sunset. There is snow at the edge of the road and, with the light declining to the west, those benefits of thermal inversion give way to the cold of altitude. Some Alpini soldiers walk towards the famous Casa Armata del Grappa mountain refuge. Some tourists who climbed up to the war memorial return to the car park.
I put on some layers and watch the lights of the Venetian plain below come on, stretching as far as the eye can see. I had thought that my season of big climbs had ended in October, but here I was, on one of those days in the mountains that give more to the memory than they take from the body, and show us that some days, there are more colours in the world than we have yet managed to name.
Pinarello Dogma X
The route from Treviso to Monte Grappa covers 102 kilometres and 2,365 metres of elevation – an ideal test for the endurance characteristics of the Pinarello Dogma X Dura Ace Di2, the latest in Pinarello’s line of bikes dedicated to those of us who love riding long distance.
When designing the new model, Pinarello’s engineers aimed to guarantee a high level of reactivity and performance, combined with an extremely comfortable frame, specifically for those who spend many hours in the saddle. The frame is made from high-strength, high-modulus carbon fibre – Toray’s T1100 1K – but the detail that most stands out is the X that joins the seat stays, an innovative feature that improves vibration absorption and the reactivity of the bottom bracket. Another defining element, one that’s characteristic of all Pinarello designs, is the frame’s asymmetry, which balances out the extra forces exerted on the drive-side.
And last but not least, it would be impossible to miss the extra clearance and the factory-fitted 35mm tyres, a feature which greatly improves all-day comfort. Available in four colours, we tested it in Xolar Black.