18.07.2020 – 702km – 49h27min
Q36.5 friend Giacomo Sandre, had the chance to compete at an unsupported bike ultra-marathon in Italy, the Veneto Gravel.
He tested our Equipment while riding through nature and historic cities in one of the longest gravel races in Europe with a 700 km route and approximately 4200m vertical meters.
The tour starts and finishes in Piazzola sul Brenta, passing through all the major cities of Veneto, Italy. Along the way there are 7 Checkpoints where it is mandatory to stamp your race card and the arrival time is marked at each of these partial finish lines.
Normally the event is held in April, but the 2020 edition was postponed to July 18th without a mass departure: everyone could begin the race at the time they wanted.
On July 4th, I started the real preparation for the race, without having much experience in Gravel routes longer than 200km.
The first day of training I did a maximum mileage test on my fully loaded Specialized Sequoia Elite. It took me approximately 18 hours to ride 336km, but the next day I was barely able to walk and the thought of finishing the Veneto Gravel in two stages of 350km was unimaginable. After that, I did numerous “short” training runs to get use to managing a +20kg bike.
The weekend before the event I did a partial reconnaissance of the path. Since I didn’t have a GPS tracking device, I wanted to make sure I could navigate the 700km using only my smartphone, Komoot and some power-banks.
The event offered a staggered start between Friday evening and Saturday morning. I chose to leave not too early on Saturday, July 18th because I had planned to sleep on the beach in Caorle / Eraclea.
The day before the event I had dinner in a local restaurant near the start of the race with a another participant I had just met who humbly gave me some tips on ultra-cycling and I shared with him some information about the trail which I learned from my reconnaissance. The guy was Stefano Ferigo and he finished the event in 31h30m, taking the first place!
My solo adventure began on Saturday, July 18th around 7 AM, I started by myself because the majority of the participants had already left at 6 (some even left the night before).
In a short time I reached various groups of slower riders, all the strongest riders were still in front of me as they had left earlier. After a while, I caught up with two guys from Verona and I rode with them for 200km.
Unfortunately, due to a rear wheel puncture, I had to say goodbye to them a few kilometers from Caorle. I lost 10min in my overall time due to the repair. After riding lots of dirt roads, my first day ended in Caorle after 285km. I had averaged 28.5 km / h, an easy pace for my standards. The guys from Verona kept on going, stopping after about 36 hours.
During the night most of the participants continued on, first stopping at the 400km mark and a few even finished the event without stopping. But I needed to sleep and decided to take a break for almost 6 hours.
I left in the dark a little after 4 AM and pedaled in absolute solitude, my legs were heavy so I started with an easy spin.
I watched the sunrise as I rode by the Venice Lagoon, and arrived in Treviso where I had breakfast at the mandatory checkpoint pitstop.
I left again and reached Padua, always riding alone, along a flat and boring landscape of endless straight paths. Here I met two riders going slightly slower than me but, I joined them anyway and we had lunch together in Abano Terme.
We left together to climb the Euganean hills with a full stomach (not my best decision). The heat was intense, but somehow I managed to find my pace and I left the two brothers behind me on an uphill climb.
The path continued through a very hot and flat landscape towards Rovigo, luckily a small group joined me and the time passed quickly.
We spent about 25min waiting for 5 trains to pass at a train crossing!
I continued with them after Rovigo, but at around the 500km mark we faced a crisis: the 40km of battered gravel embankment of the Adige and the beating sun made them want to take a short 15min food-recovery stop. We were 50km outside Verona, they stopped , I continued on.
Eventually, I stopped for dinner at Isola della Scala with some Dutch people that I meet on the route: we had pizza by the meter, 60cm each. I left to reach my destination of Verona, where I expected to sleep a few hours. They camped in a tobacco field in Isola della Scala.
My legs were good however my head was less than lucid, but I decided to continue anyway. Alone in the dark and literally in the fields on the outskirts of Verona, I tried my best to follow the dirt track without falling into the ditches due to numerous, sudden 90° turns.
I caught up with a senior rider whose pace was slower than mine, but I followed him: the important thing was to survive my first night on the bike. We passed through the city of Verona at about 11 PM where we took advantage of the last chance to find something open and ate a snack in a bar across from Verona’s Arena. We kept each other awake and continued towards Vicenza reaching another Checkpoint during the night.
Three of us started the climb of the Berici Hills around 3:30. The night was pitch black and with 650km of the route behind me, I was the most disadvantaged because my stage was 100 km more than theirs and I had covered 365 km of it without stopping.
After five or six asphalted climbs at 16-17% in complete darkness and as many descents, all within about twenty km, we realized that we had reached the top of the last ascent: a beautiful gravel descent greeted us just as the landscape started to light up from the East.
The first rays of the sun recharged me, but after a while, the heat began to hit again.
However, I was in good shape and I decided to pull a bit for the last 30km to the finish.
Only two of us arrived together at the finish line around 8:20 on Monday, completing a 420km stage done in 28h.
I immediately had a beer in my hand and my overall time was marked at 49h27min: I was happy to come in as 56th with a total of 194 finishers and 74 DNF’s.