Sunday, 26 May 2013

Brescia Bound

This time last year I went for a bike ride around Lake Como in the morning and returned to Milan in the afternoon for rest, recuperation, a shower, lunch, and a bit of television. Then I popped out of my flat and went around the corner to watch the finale of the Giro d'Italia. I felt quite lucky to have just been able to walk 15 minutes up the road to Castello, Parco Sempione and the Duomo to see all the action.

This year is a different story. I now have to join the masses and travel! Granted, it's only a one-hour train ride to Brescia (+ getting the tube to Milano Centrale station and crossing Brescia town centre), but there won't be time for a good bike ride and a leisurely lunch!

The Giro d'Italia almost always finishes in Milan. But this year our city has lost out somewhat. None of the stages have even come close to here. I think the nearest it came, was last Wedensday's stage when it started from Caravaggio, not far from Bergamo. Hey ho! Maybe next year.


So, I'm off to Brescia, and from what I saw a couple of weeks ago when I was there, the folks are looking forward to the arrival of the riders who have spent the last 3 weeks riding the snowiest, rainiest race in the most beautiful place in the world under a shroud of cloud and mist!
At least the sun is shining today!
So, what do I know about Brescia? Not loads, but here are a few facts for starters - some of them are care of the Giro d'Italia website, and others I gathered from my wanderings:

It is about 100km from Milan and 70km from Verona. It's population is 194,000, making it the second largest town in the Province of Lombardy (after Milan). The town centre (centro storico) is very old and pretty, with the main area being around Piazza Loggia. Nearby are two noteworthy cathedrals - an old one, and a new one. There's also the ancient Monastero di San Salvatore known as Santa Giulia, which houses a Roman museum. This was recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When I was there a few weeks ago the proprietor of my bed and breakfast made a point of recommending this place. Oh, and one of the darlings of Italian football, Andrea Pirlo (Juventus player) hails from this fine town.

The Giro d'Italia has visited Brescia on 15 previous occasions - the first time was in 1983 when it hosted the start, and stage 13 finished there. The last time was in 2010 when Andre Greipel won there. Let's hope Mark Cavendish can do something there today.

And the biking for us ordinary folks? I wouldn't bother trying to replicate today's stage as it's nothing to write home about - though a trip around Lake Garda wouldn't be so bad if you could avoid the tourist traffic. And while racing seven times around Brescia town centre makes for something exhilarating and interesting to watch when the Giro is in town, if it is just you and some mates it could be somewhat exasperating for you, and annoying for busy shoppers and tourists!  There are better places to ride around nearby.

For instance, there is a network of cycle paths around the town which allow for family rides to nearby parks. Then, from the centre of Brescia, behind the Castello is the via Panoramica. It is a 10km climb to Monte Maddalena. You get great views of Brescia as you go up, and further up the climb you can also see across to the hills near Bergamo. That's quite a popular climb for the locals. Once at the top there are a couple of cafes. On the day I rode up this, some people were twiddling up it on hybrid bikes, while club cyclists were racing up it cronoscalata style.

If you are on a mountain bike you can easily ride down the other side to arrive in the suburb of Nave. I was on a road bike, and rode down the other side anyway. It was doable, but I must say the road is in very poor condition with loads of potholes, gravel, and in places, barely any tarmac at all. With decent tyres and a very moderated speed you shouldn't get too many problems - it's just a bit tedious. I saw one other person coming down on a road bike. I even saw a brave soul riding up this 12km stretch! Everyone else was on mountain bikes though, and it seemed that roadies would ride up it and then ride back down the way they came up. Still, it's a good work-out.

After that, there is an easy climb heading north east, up to Odolo from Nave, Colle di Sant'Eusebio. The gradient is steady and easy to pedal along.
In a north-westerly direction is the Passo Tre Termini. This is a little tougher, with stretches above 10%. The beauty of this climb is you are very close to one of the nearby Italian lakes, the Lago d'Iseo. When you are above you get a nice view of the sigma shaped lake. If you have the energy you could do a pleasant ride around the lake, or even press on to Bergamo. If you don't, well there are plenty of cafes in Iseo and nearby Sarnico.
A cycle event, Gran Fondo Valli Bresciane is held in the area, and that runs over the main climbs in the area.

So, off I go in a hope that what I lose in the convenience of popping round the corner to the Giro, I gain in an exciting finale on the sunniest day of the toughest race in the most beautiful place in the world - Brescia!



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