What's Cool In Road Cycling

Giro di PEZ: Giorno di Riposo

It’s the last day of rest before the final chase to Milano, but the car trip to tomorrow’s stage start is a long one. Good thing the sun is shining and the countryside is gorgeous… here’s how the day looked to us.

Even though it’s a rest day, there’s a lot to be done – like driving 250+ kilometres through the valleys from San Lorenzo to Sondrio, where tomorrow’s stage starts.

Our hotel was in a beautiful situation, below Plan de Corones, but still high above the valley floor.

The Austrian influences are strong around here and despite the area having been part of Italy since after the First World War, the Italian Government has had to make ever more concessions to the local demands for greater autonomy.

Way back when, The Tyrol was a separate kingdom, and mountain folks have long memories. Old fortresses beside the road remind you of those days.

Everyone speaks German and Italian; the Mediterranean seems a long way away.

The first part of our journey is along the valley road to Bressanone, or Brixen – everywhere in these parts has two names, Italian and Austrian.

There’s been a cathedral in Bressanone for one thousand years, the current building is around 300 years old and over looks a neat square, where shoppers have a cool drink under the morning sun.

This is wine country and there are more and more vineyards as we approach Bolzano (Bozen), which has been famous for it’s wine since Roman times.

Fairy Tale castles and tiny churches cling to the hill side as we track the river towards Bolzano.

Bolzano; time for photos of the Duomo and the statue in Piazza Walther; also a place to buy La Gazzetta and – strudel.

The Gazzetta gives 9 out of 10 to Pello, 8.5 to Gibo, 7 to Bert and Rujano, 6.5 to the Cobra, but only a measley 5 for the Killer and a ‘must try harder’ 4 to Menchov for their efforts at Plan de Corones yesterday.

The Gazzetta praises Simoni’s ‘grinta’ – toughness or fighting spirit – so do we!

On to the Strada del Vino now, past beautiful vineyards where the vines are strung across pergolas to let the warm winds circulate around the precious grapes.

We’re not on the wine road for long; time for the Passo Mendola and our daily dose of tornantes – hairpins.

Dave coaxes the little Matiz up the steep grades (hey! Richard! Can we go for an upgrade on the hire car at the Tour?)

The Mendola is the most spectacular pass we’ve climbed, it’s not nearly as high as the Pordoi but the views are breath taking, across to the Dolomiti.

The strudel vanishes at the top of the Mendola and it’s time for Dave to drop the Matiz down the grade – three days ago he was nervous on the passes, now he thinks he’s Carlos Sainz (that would be Dale Earnhardt if you’re a NASCAR fan!).

Big motorbikes flash past us in the opposite direction, the riders’ knees scrape the tar – scary!

Down off the pass and we’re heading east along the valley floor through villages with names like Brez, Cloz and Cles.

To our right, northwards is the Parco Nazionale Dello Stelvio where lurks the monster Passo dello Stelvio, at 2,758 metres etched in Giro legend.
It’s lush country here, every square metre of land has vines or fruit trees planted on it.

Soon we’re back climbing, the Tonale Pass, there’s Forte Strino, an ancient strongpoint which guards the road. More tornantes and there’s two corridore ahead, Dave says; “look at the legs on the old guy with grey hair!”

Wow! Gianni Motta! One of the greats, 1966 Giro Winner.
“Vai Motta!” he just smiles.

At the top of the Tonale, incongruous among the tacky ski hotels, closed for the season, is the war memorial to the dead of the “Guerra 1915 – 1918.” Italy was on the side of the Allies during the First World War and there were desperate struggles for survival in these mountains, with the snow and icy wind as much of an enemy as the Austrians.

Ponte de Legno, another village waiting patiently for the winter snow greets us at the bottom of the pass – nothing we see makes us want to stop. There are no vineyards in these valleys; it’s too high and too cold. There’s little to talk or write about as we drop, drop, drop down the steep green valley to Edolo.

Time for our third Passo, the Aprica, we allowed four hours for the whole trip – that’s five-and-a-half and we’re not there yet!

“Gotti in rosa” says the sign on the rock beside the road – that’s an old one. Aprica, the summit and more ski hotels, it’ll be jumping in December. Tresenda and there’s the sign we’ve been looking for – “Sondrio 15,” at last.

Let’s see what the rough guide has to say about Sondrio, as we bowl along the flat, wide valley road; “a modern and undistinguished town,” oh!

But we’re at the stage now where we just want out of the car. It’s ‘only’ taken six hours, but there it is – the press room!

Thank’s for keeping us company – back to work tomorrow.

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