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Nove Colli: The original Italian sportive


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Feeling the need to go off the beaten track and progress beyond the  usual, myself and a few friends stumbled upon an event that’s apparently been around for decades. Nove Colli: Italian for Nine Hills is an event steeped in history. It is in the centuries old coastal town of Cesenatico on the picturesque Adriatic coast.

This particular pocket of Italy holds particular weight with me as it was home to the legendary Giro & Tour tour winner, Marco Pantani. Watching Il Pirata on TV sparked an interest in cycling all those years ago. Should history and culture influence your choice in where you choose to ride your bike and what sportives and gran fondos you choose to participate in, it should be noted the genius Leonardo Da Vinci designed the canal found here.

Italian metropolis rarely fail to impress and much of the original town still stands, frozen in time. The pride Italians take in their culture is world famous and fortunately this carries over into cycling. Though new to many of us visiting from abroad, Italians will make you feel the most welcome at any of their established events. The people of Cesantico are of no exception.

Book your trip to Nove Colli 2019 with ATR here

We arrived on the Thursday with flights into Bologna Airport. A short pre-booked transfer later and we are at the hotel. Most hotels are bike friendly here and have daily guided rides included so that took care of Friday when we recced some of the Gran Fondo route in the local area.

Pre-event, the town was awash with cyclists from all four corners of the planet. Though you are always aware of which country you’re in, it was great to fly our respective flags amongst the consistently best dressed cyclists in the peloton. When it comes to looking good on the bike, Italians always do it better. In keeping with our expectations, the pre-event cycling expo on Saturday felt electric, with  much to see and do and of course buy! I’m not sure if I’ve enough time on the bike to sport all the jerseys I’ve bought myself over the years!

When Sunday race day came, myself and my friends were up early to cycle the easy couple of kilometres from our hotel to the start. Here were amassed locals and riders alike, all contributing to the buzz rarely found at the start of an event of this nature back home.

Again, having had decades of editions, everyone seemed well versed in making you welcome and bringing the energy. I must admit we struggled to sing along with the Italian national anthem shortly before the gate opened and the event started. 13,000 riders make this a huge event but one with the Italian passion for cycling that has to be seen to be believed! This place and these people have it in droves! Just experiencing the hype ahead of the event was worth it and I’m sure it added to my enthusiasm and pace on the way around the route. Part of me wished I was riding a Bianchi complete with Campagnolo Super Record, alas not this time. May be next year? Or at  Il Lombardia in October perhaps?

This event offers two route options (130km or 200km) and you are free to choose which you take on on the day, meaning preparation and training schedule discipline don’t govern your enjoyment factor whether or not you hit goals.

The scenery around the Emilia Romagna region of Italy is nothing short of breathtaking.  The long 200km packs in plenty of climbing to truly test the legs but with such backdrops and vistas, we didn’t really notice. Nove Colli reminded me again how visiting anywhere on a bike really can’t be beaten! 

3840m of elevation is substantial and spread across nine peaks and 200km.

Having the kudos of experiencing climbs that feature in the Giro d’Italia adds to the appeal of this event. Barbotto was probably the most memorable of the peaks, serving up 18% gradient and well over 500m of elevation before you reach the Italian rock tribute band at the top. Switchbacks are rarely enjoyed back home and being able to master short straight descents followed by a succession of sharp hairpin bends was a joy.

It was here that I recalled some advice I’d  received as a child in a go-kart. Lose all your speed before the corner, always focus on the exit, don’t look where you don’t want to go and have faith in your tyres! Closed road events are special for a whole host of reasons, but being able to descend using an entire road makes them worth it alone. Following a local on the final 30km downhill before the finish was an added bonus, providing some great lines to follow on these smooth flowing glorious roads.

There is little more welcoming than the view of the clear blue sea indicating the finish line was now not far away. This visual provided an added boost as I reined in the last few kilometres. Supporters lined streets and made the completion of this event all the more merrier. I imagined myself as Marco Pantani, undisputed king of the mountains back in the day.  Regardless of finishing time, no one is forgotten and every finisher is treated like the first. I  can recall how intimidating my first sportive abroad felt and being in an unfamiliar country can add to this. Not in Cesantico!

I’m coming back again in future years. I’ve got the bug and I’ve enjoyed discovering an event that the masses back home have yet to discover to be honest. Nove Colli is no secret, but it holds a magic that I’ve got a taste for. Brava Italia! Brava Nove Colli!

All Things Ride 4 night packages start from £599 per person including Airport Transfers from Bologna.