PEZ Rides: Passo del Termine
I’m looking ahead to my big rides for 2017, and there’s no better place to aim for than Italy. The only problem is choosing just which part of this cycling heaven to roll my wheels. I’ve always loved the Ligurian Coast, and its mix of hills flats, sea-salt air and palm trees, and have logged many a top ride here – including this hilly jaunt over the Passo del Termine from Levanto.
Join PEZ & Velo Classic Tours to ride a week in Italy from Milan to San Remo, and then into the French Alps across the colle della Tenda, Agnello, Izoard, Sestriere & Finestre to finish in Torino. Read more on PEZ here and see full trip details and sign up at Velo Classic here.
Now back to our story…
With so much great riding on the Ligurian Coast, I grabbed the bike for a closer look at the 2015 Giro d’Italia stage 4 from Chiavari to La Spezia. I rode out of Levanto to climb the Passo del Termine and check out the roads above the famous Cinque Terre.
I was first here in 1994 when the Giro finished just down the road in Lavagna. I was immediately smitten with the place – the sea, the mountains, palm trees and warm weather, and have been back many times since. It was a no brainer which week of the 2015 Giro I’d be covering when I saw the route would spend 5 days here on the coast.
After a few hectic days getting here and mixing it up in San Remo, the much more relaxed and less crowded environs of the old fishing town of Sestri Levante were a welcome change. After posting photos of yesterday’s start, I duly tracked down a negroni, followed by a fantastic meal of local fish at El Pescador – a restaurant I first visited with my parents on their anniversary back in 2001. The same family still runs it, and as most Italian-run eateries here are, were thrilled that I’d returned.
This view is from a couple kms up the Passo del Termine, looking back to Levanto.
My plan for the ride was a close up, on bike look at the final section of the 2015 Giro’s stage 4. Unlike the western part of the Ligurian Coast that hosts Milan – San Remo, this more easterly area just west of La Spezia is never flat, and almost never straight. At 150km, the stage is not long, but the small roads and four climbs (3 of them rating KOM points) including a 3km long tester just 10km before the finish, should set this one up for some great racing, good opportunities for the attackers, and a day of vigilance for maglia rosa Michael Mathews.
I’ve ridden the Passo del Bracco a couple times before, but had never gone by bike to the Cinque Terre, so a tee off from Levanto and straight up the 9km long Passo del Termine was a good way to get going. And if that town name sounds familiar , it should. Levanto is home of my favorite bar in all the land – Barolino – where (as I’ve discovered) the most famous barista in all the land still keeps the drinks flowing and smiles going – of course I refer to the one and only Marco.
Turns out my Youtube video of him fixing me & Mrs. Pez a negroni has made him a celebrity of sorts, at least around here – everyone in the bar this morning was quoting bits from it.
Marco – this guy looks better every time I see him.
I’d emailed Marco before my trip, but had not heard back, so I wasn’t even sure he was still here. But when I pulled up to Barolino for my pre-ride cappuccino, I paused a minute at the door and sure enough heard his booming laughing voice from inside. I walked in, kept my mouth shut and stood by the bar as he served a drink. He looked at me a couple times, then the triple take registered and his face lit up – mine did too. Two old pals reunited. Much loud talking ensued, including Marco telling everyone within earshot that I’m a ‘giornalista’ for the Giro. And when I asked him about the lost email, he just laughed and showed me his business card – good old fashioned mail works just fine around here.
Already my day was made, and I still had a great ride to look forward to.
Levanto comes 58km from the finish in La Spezia, and is also the day’s feed zone. It dates from medieval times and has the requisite castle ruins and impossibly small-streeted old town, and while the town itself lies in a large flat basin, it is surrounded by mountains and passes that reach to over 500m above sea level.
The white wines here are excellent, with vermintino the most popular grape variety.
The Passo del Termine starts right away from the edge of town and like all the climbs around here, gains altitude very quickly. In no time I was snapping scenic shots of the town below, valley around, and more of those little towns you think only exist on postcards. The locals have a long history of being resourceful, and use chunks of land we wouldn’t even consider back home.
About half way up the climb is the turn to the western edge of the Cinque Terre (Five lands) – tiny and well preserved towns that have managed to maintain a very old world charm, even as they’ve become inundated with tourism in the past 20 years. You pass through a small saddle in the climb, and then boom – it’s a big view of the Mediterranean Sea. Today was calm, so the moist marine air gave a sense of clouds and even higher elevation.
There’s a couple km pitch of 10% grade on the climb, but it’s mostly a very manageable grade and an easy pedal with a 39×28. Over the top the road plateaus and ducks inland for a few kms before returning to follow a ridge along the coast. It’s never straight and I expect we’ll see a small group or lone attacker get away again. I’ll be surprised if it’s a bunch sprint again like stage 3, but then again, these pros are a fast bunch a fellas.
Monterosso, on the west end of the Cinque Terre.
With any luck they’ll find a little time to take in the stunning views of the sea and mountains. The roads here are normally quiet, so riding is excellent. I passed a few cyclists and hikers, but very few cars.
While the views are amazing, it’s not the only surprise you’ll find in these parts…
We’re still on the Italian Riviera, and its ‘lifestyles of the rich & famous’ cues. Check out that yacht… (at least I think it’s a yacht.)
Back into Levanto for a quick stop for lunch. My pizza post on Facebook the other day was so popular, I figured it couldn’t hurt to show you another. This stuff is so far from what the fast food industry calls pizza back home that it’s really a different class of food altogether… and yes it was damn tasty.
Thanks for reading and ‘a domani’