Early May is the changing of the seasons for cycling sportives. Gone is the early spring of cobbles, headwinds and waffles. Now is the late spring of warm Italian Granfondos with long climbs, loud kits and amazing food.
The Granfondo Colnago is part of the Colnago Cycling Festival which includes a bike expo, round the lake ride on the Saturday and the main ride on the Sunday. Ernesto Colnago himself attends and happily chats with riders and poses for photos with the proud owners of his bikes old and new.
The setting is second to none. The town of Desenzano del Garda puts a lot of effort into this event and it really pays off. The sign in area is in the town centre and the expo takes pride of place next to the shops & restaurants by the lake. The organisation is excellent with partly closed roads, lots of service vehicles and a huge amount of police & marshalls ensuring we never have to stop even when sharing the road with other vehicles.
The race started at 7am which meant being in the pens by 6.30am. We started right on the lake and the weather was perfect, sunny with a light breeze and not too warm. Riders had the choice of three routes from 77km to 159km with a max of 2000m climbing. The first 15km was rolling, mostly uphill but with a couple of quick descents. The pace, as usual at an Italian granfondo, was quick from the off with lots of riders in small teams / clubs pushing a strong tempo. The roads were completely shut to traffic for the first section and as we started to spread out more we joined open roads. The route was stunning and stayed mostly on quiet lanes with marshalls at every junction – not once did we have to stop on the whole route. We had stunning lake views for the first 30km of the ride as we reached the base of the biggest climb of the day – San Michele.
Into the hills
The main climb was great, challenging at times (13% gradients in places), long enough at 6km to get the heart going but always very manageable with an average of 6% with plenty of hairpins and some amazing views over the lake and mountains north of Garda. Whereas the first 15km was ridden in big, fast pelotons, by the time we had got to the base of this climb there had been enough up and downs to spread the field out and at times we were riding alone up the slopes of San Michele.
As we reached the summit we had our first feed at 33.5km and we had done more than half of the climbing for the day. Off the top of the climb was a brilliant descent full of tight hairpins, long straights and lovely views over the lake.
The toughest part of the granfondo (we did the medium route) was ahead of us as the route split for the first time and the short route cut out the middle section. From around the 40km mark to the top of the next climb (Coste) at 70km, the route is either on a gentle climb or even more gentle false flat but all the time the legs are getting a work out. When the Coste started properly with some steep sections the drag of the last 20km meant there was not much left to give and by this time the temperature had risen and breeze stopped. This is mostly a very comfortable sportive suitable for all ability types and even the light suffering on the steeper sections were over quickly.
The Sprint Home
The last 35km are quick. The majority of the time is spent descending. From the top of the Coste, the road drops quickly with some steep straights and lovely hairpins. From this rapid descent the road eased off to a fast flat section where we were lucky to get onto the wheels of a group and fly through the next 10km. The road then rolled up and down for a while until the last 10km.
All the routes were back together by the last few km into town and there were lots of spectators cheering us back to the finish. The pace was close to 40km/h for most of the last 10km and we were overtaken several times by groups going a lot faster. The final stretch took us along the lake front and onto the closed roads and advertising hoardings of the festival. The finish felt very pro with big crowds, music playing and sponsors all around. The icing on the cake was a delicious pasta party.
This event is so good for many reasons:
The route is gentle enough for most riders to tackle but quick at the front and with enough climbs to challenge elite riders. The setting is absolutely stunning in both the host town and the places you go on the route. It is also organised perfectly with friendly staff, a brilliantly marshaled course and the glamour that you would expect from Colnago.
In early May, this can either be a training event for one of the big mountain sportives or a brilliant cycling long weekend / week on Lake Garda. We could not recommend this event more highly.