Number 5 in our series of sportives you have to ride in your lifetime is a gem on the Adriatic. Not widely known in the UK with only a few hundred Brits in attendance each year, this is one of the biggest events in the Italian amateur cycling calendar. Entries for the 2019 event sold out in record time – just 4 minutes! And this is not a small, local sportive. 13,000 riders take to the streets of Cesenatico every year to take on the Nove Colli.
Started in 1971 by the local cycling club GC Fausto Coppi, this is the father of all Gran Fondos in Italy and stands together with La Marmotte as the original classics. Nove Colli translates as nine hills and the route takes you out from the coastal plains into the hill country for the meat of the route before spitting you back out for a sprint home to the sea. For leading amateurs on either side of their pro career this is a big race in Italy with the action shown live on Italian TV. With two route options this can either be a great day out in the hills or one of your biggest challenges of the season.
With the same route every year, over 40 years of experience and some 1,000 local volunteers, this is a big sportive with incredible organisation. The entire 200km route is closed to traffic and there are mechanical stops and feed stations far more often than you need them. This means quick speeds and long stretches of riding in the same groups without traffic lights and vehicles to slow you down.
The route is a cracker with two long quick sections on the coastal plains – average speeds likely to be anywhere from 35-50km/h and some great climbs in gorgeous countryside. Best of all, Nove Colli is ideal for all sorts of rider with different aims / levels of fitness. The short route is gentle enough for most riders with under 2,000m climbing but this route also has enough for serious cyclists and cat racers with steep climbs and some quick wheels to hold onto. The long route at over 200km and nearly 4,000m is as tough as many of the big mountain sportives.
Emilia Romagna, the host region of Nove Colli, is a lovely place to be at the end of May and is incredibly friendly to cyclists. The food is mostly sensational with some great seafood restaurants. The local specialty is piadinas, a delicious flat bread either stuffed or plain.
Date – May 24th 2020
Distances – Long 200km | Medium 130km
Elevation – Long 3840m | Medium 1871m
Start Town – Cesenatico
Finish Town – Cesenatico
Entries – With accommodation packages only.
Accommodation – Join us in Cesenatico right on the coast. We have 3 & 4* with guided warm up rides, entries and pro support. 4 nights from £799
At 200km this is one of the longer sportives in Europe. Starting in Cesenatico at 7am (pens open at 6am so this is an early start), the long route (200km, 3840m) begins with a mad dash to the hills and then the 9 hills come in quick succession – 9 climbs in 150km, about 40% of the kilometres will be uphill. As the profile map suggests, once you hit the ascent of second climb it is almost all climbing and descending. There are well stocked feed stations and helpful mechanical stops at the top of most climbs so you should not need to worry about a lack of food or running out of water.
The medium route (130km, 1871m)follows the longer route until you get over the top of the fourth and hardest climb – the Barbotto. The roads will be much busier when both routes are together and the first couple of hills are packed. Off the top of the Barbotto there is a long descent down the the coast with some cross winds when you are on the plains. This route has similarities to Velothon Wales & Ride London. Even if you are not in great shape the medium route should be a lot of fun.
Aside from the Barbotto (and more of that below), there are no gremlins on the route. The hills are quite English in nature but longer in length, mostly gentle 4 & 5% gradients with short sharp sections thrown in for fun. Most of the nine hills are between 4-8km in length. The main features of the sportive then are the two sections where some nouse can change your finish time by many minutes and the one nasty climb of the day:
1. Straight from the gun – 13,000 cyclists take up a lot of space and the start is spread across numerous grids around town. Cannons go off signifying the start for each grid and you will be riding the first flat section in tight bunches. If you have not ridden in many European sportives you will be surprised by the speed. Be ready for it, pelotons are big and quick and if you can get on the wheel of a quick group and stay nice and tight you will protect yourself from the wind, save energy and save minutes on your finish time.
2. The Barbotto – The fourth climb of the day and final one for the medium route this follows almost immediately after the Ciola. The headline numbers are not too scary (4.7km at avg 8.3%) but the final kilometre is the kicker here with sections of 10 and 13%. Too cheer you up the steepest sections, a dj blares out euro dance tunes and the crowds of people cheer you on. The road is wide enough that space is never a worry. Lines of people will be walking their bikes up the right hand side, don’t panic, this is steep but short and if you are riding the medium route its all downhill from here.
3. Descending back to Cesenatico – The first section was all about choosing the right group to join from the thousands of riders on the course. Once you have finished your final climb (Barbotto for medium route, Gorolo on the long) you have just under 30km sprint home. Cyclists will be much further spread out by this point and there will be times when you are riding on your own. On the way down from the hills to the sea the wind can play a part so the key here is when you find a group (either catching up to one or being passed by one) make sure you stick to the back wheel. If the group is too slow there will be a quicker one coming passed soon which you can join. Again, using your head in this section will save minutes off your finish time and the thrill of riding at high speed in a group is unbeatable.
Cesenatico is a great spot for a long weekend. The main attraction in town is the old canal with historic fishing boats. This is also Marco Pantani country and there is a museum dedicated to his life. During the Nove Colli weekend there is a big expo in town with most leading bike brands exhibiting their latest kit and a few Italian retailers selling outrageous kit. There is plenty of great riding in the days leading up to the sportive. This region is used by many Italian & international teams as a spring training location and the routes on offer have a nice balance between flat and hilly terrain. There are many stunning old villages in the hills to explore and enjoy an espresso – perfect for a 50km warm up before the main event.
Nove Colli is without a doubt one of the very best organised sportives in Europe with a stunning route over closed roads and brilliant support on the course. With two route options this can be treated as a great ride in the hills to mark the end of your spring training or as your big cycling challenge for the season. And, its in a beautiful setting in Italy. Whats not to like about that.