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The Nove Colli - A Great Italian Cycle Race

  • Submitted by: Karen Benson, United Kingdom
  • Submission Date: 21st Jun 2007

Having done charity cycle rides in France and Spain my cycle buddy Gina and I were off for our biggest challenge - The Nove Colli or Nine Hills – an annual Italian road race famous throughout the world – and one which we would be participating in! Arriving after a 2 hour flight from Stansted it was a real surprise to land in bright May sunshine. Were we nervous? You bet. Scared? No, terrified!

We were soon transported to the town of Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast. Not for us the gentle and easy cycle routes around our hotel and along the coast - as well as enjoying some great Italian food and shopping we were here to undertake an arduous and gruelling circuit. Our sanity was questionable – we had picked this as our first major grand fondo and although there are two rides to choose from we had decided to do the longer, harder of the two races!

Having come to cycling relatively late in life in our thirties, we love the challenge of a long hard ride now that we have (just!) hit our forties. We knew The Nove Colli had been originally conceived as a light hearted get together by a group of friends in 1971 and is now one of the most important European Grand Fondo. It starts and finishes in Cesenatico on the penultimate Sunday in May and cyclists can choose between the 130 km or 205 km and enjoy discovering 9 of the region’s most beautiful hills. It was recently renamed the Marco Pantani Nove Colli, in memory of the town’s most famous cyclist.

We arrived at our hotel, the Lungomare in Cesenatico which is right on the beach and offers all the facilities a cyclist could want. The hotel has a range of great bikes to use free of charge although we had both transported our trustee steeds from home on the plane with us. After a swim in the hotel’s pool, we set off on our first warm up.

Cesenatico is a typical Italian seaside town with lots of restaurants, cafés and bars and with plenty to offer families. The nice surprise for us was the way cyclists are welcomed everywhere – there are probably more cycles than cars on the road – and we soon grew to enjoy Italian cycling.

The town had been an ancient fishing port and has a pretty canal area which we cycled to and visited the Nove Colli admin centre where we collected our cyclist packs, including our prized Nove Colli shirts. We then head off towards the Apennine ridges. The first 30 km were flat and gave us a chance to warm up and prepare for the climbs ahead. We eventually reached Galatea which stands in a broad valley and then begun the climb to the top of Monte delle Forche. It was a difficult climb but helped prepare us for what lay ahead the next day!

The main square of Cesenatico had been set up as a tented village in honour of the Nove Colli with some great live events and entertainment taking place. After having seen the range of professional cycling equipment on offer for purchase and hire, we almost started to regret the lengths we had gone to in transporting our own equipment from the UK.

The Nove Colli took place on our third day and the send-off was a truly unbelievable event. We were up in the early hours with the rest of the cyclists from the Hotel Lungomare and were fed mountains of carbohydrates in the form of pasta lovingly prepared by the kitchen staff who had worked all night long getting ready for this big event.

We began with the short ride to the starting point of the race in the antique fishing port of the Old town. It was an unbelievable sight – Gina had tears in her eyes - thousands upon thousands of cyclists lined up along the canal moving in small, extremely well organised groups, ready for the challenge ahead.
We began with an easy run to Cesena and reached the first hill – Polenta - after 25 km and it was a sea of cyclists. It wasn’t too bad and as we reached the bottom there was 20km of bumpy road – not what we were expecting. The second hill - Pieve di Rivoschio – was steeper but the views were spectacular - tiny villages perched in the hills, a patchwork of fields, orchards of soft fruits and vineyards.
Then came the Barbatto which although it was only 6km had a final stretch with a gradient which ramps up to a devastating 17%. With hairpin bends to conquer and some great runs we thought we could relax until, after 135 kilometres we hit the seventh hill – and then came our lowpoint. Pugliano had another 17% gradient uphill climb. In Gina’s words 15% is fun, 16% is tough and 17% unbearable!

With only two hills to go the eighth one proved bearable with a downhill run from Pugliano to help us along. With 160 km behind us and eight hills covered we thought the worst was over. The last hill, the Gorolo, loomed ahead with a 13% first stretch and the last peaks at a muscle burning, soul destroying almost unbearable 17% gradient – again!

It was then downhill to the plain and the sea and the finish line where we were met by huge cheers from the crowd. We were exhausted but exhilarated having covered 205 kilometres and 9 hills ranging in height from 49 metres to 780 metres!

The hotel arranged a masseur for our tired muscles and after a long session in the sauna, an afternoon by the pool and a cold glass of local Trebbiano we were ready for the hotel’s buffet supper which was a selection of national and international dishes - homemade pasta, fresh fish and a selection of wonderful desserts which we felt were thoroughly deserved! Like our fellow cyclists in the hotel, we were buzzing from the most exhilarating ride we had ever done and everyone spent the evening exchanging stories.

The Hotel Lungomare is an ideal base for cyclists and their breakfast buffets are a great way to start a day’s cycling. It is run by three generations of the same family and we were made to feel extremely welcome – they simply couldn’t do enough for us. They washed and dried our sports gear and we all felt as if we had managed to pack three week’s worth of cycling in to what was a 5 day break.

The hotel provides cycle maps and a secure storage room for bikes. There are tennis courts and several golf courses close by and we hope to return next year to do the Nove Colli again and improve our time. There are also a lot of other cycle routes we want to cover to say nothing of at least twenty more ice cream flavours to try …