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Lake Garda
#1
Just got back from Italy yesterday where I'd spent 2 weeks at the stunning Lake Garda.  It wasn't a cycling holiday, I went with my family for a "normal" summer break but managed to fit in a one day guided ride while I was there, here's my potted review :

Months ago when we'd picked Garda for a our holiday I set about finding a local guide to take me on a ride.  I figured I'd just get lost or at the very best, not get the most out of the day I had set aside for riding if I just turned up and hoped to find some trails.  After emailing a few companies, most of them weren't interested in allowing me to tag along for one day on an organised ride.  Unless I'd booked a holiday with them I was out in the cold.  They did supply me with the email address for a local guide though, and a guy called Luca agreed to shepherd me from Riva Del Garda at the north end of the Lake, up Monte Tremalzo and back down again, hopefully in one peace.  The cost for this was €100 plus another €30 for bike hire.  Sounds steep, but he will take up to four for the same price so if there's a group of you, it's a lot more reasonable.

Garda as a whole is a bit of a biking Mecca, though I saw far more road bikes and hybrids than MTBs.  More lycra than Batmans wardrobe and tons of carbon fibre !  Garda is also full of Germans which means you see different brands of bikes on the trails, Cube and Canyon are both big, didn't see any Lapierre !  On the drive up to Riva Del Garda, I passed Monte Baldo which you may have heard of, there was a review of the trails there in Dirt recently.  There's a cable car there and the place seems to be where most of the Mountain bikers are based.

Anyway, the ride.  I met up with Luca in Riva and picked up my bike for the day, the Canyon Nerve AM :

resim

Nice bike !  Light, good components and looks good.  Apparently this retails for about €2200, Canyon are a German company who sell via Internet only which is I guess why I've never heard of them ; )

Started off on a gentle trundle along the lakeside in Riva then climbed up what used to be the road out of Riva towards Limone.  This is partly a gravelly fire-road style track and partly tarmac.  Climbs gently by the side of the lake and rolls through a few tunnels.  Looks a bit like this

resim

This was also the latter part of the descent but more of that later.  This part of the climb I found OK, gentle, picturesque, but it was hot.  Oh yes.  The day I rode (19th June) it was about 30 degrees centigrade and sunny.  Climbing up to about 400m or so was a doddle, much easier than the rocky climb at Glyncorrwg, but after that, as it started to get steeper, I really started to struggle.  We stopped for a breather in a small village where we filed up our Camelbaks at a well/fountain.  Lovely clear, refreshing, cold mountain water.  Just what you need when you're flagging.  This is a shot of the bike at that village, you can also see the "grip" of the rear tyre ! I think the rental fleet takes a bit of a battering out there...

resim

Despite the refill of cool water and munching on some nuts I was seriously struggling at this point.  A combination of heat, not having had a proper breakfast and not really being fit enough for this sort of thing combined to really see me struggling.  There were some seriously steep roads leading out of this village (Some switchbacks having a 1 in 4 gradient) and I was soon pushing the bike.  I struggled on a couple more km to the edge of Lake Ledro (About 500m up) where we stopped for Pizza.  Ledro was a seriously easy on the eye place to stop for Lunch...
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I did say there was a lot of lycra there right ?  Well yes, I am wearing a rash vest.  I figured that the factor 50 sun protection would compensate for the "sack of sausage meat" style  Tongue

From Ledro the route climbed fairly gently at first and I was feeling OK, but then it just got steeper and the climb just went on and on.  Pretty soon I was just exhausted,  the climb topped out at 1,275m and I would guess that I only actually cycled about 600m of that.  The rest of the way I was just pushing and sweating and gasping for breath.  it was about 1km up that I started to realize that I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew and that my fitness wasn't exactly what I needed it to be.  Ok, I've been to wales, and over 2 days, over the course of 3 rides I might climb 1100m, but it's 200m here and 300m there, not the whole lot in one go in serious heat.

This is around 1km high on one of my many "rests"

resim

We did see a lot of other bikers on the climb, some were coming down the trails we were climbing, some were climbing along with us.  Almost all of them were German and a surprising number were completely without helmets, Camelbaks or knee or shin guards of any sort.  Saw a lycra clad german chap descending past us who must have been 55 at the very youngest.  No helmet, no pads, nothing on his back and just a small 1L bottle strapped to his ancient looking hardtail.  Sort of put my struggle to get up the climb right in perspective.

Despite my whining and huffing and puffing and stopping and pushing, my guide was cheerful and patient and helpful and just a bloody nice bloke.  If anyone is interested in a guided ride in Garda I will happily supply his contact details.  Eventually we got to this (very unspectacular) point which happened to be the highest point on the ride

resim

At this point, my 2L Camelbak was empty for the second time of the day and I really had had enough climbing.  Up here I saw the biggest bee I have ever seen in my life, I swear the thing was about 4in long and fatter than my Thumb.  While I was watching it land on a flower I felt a sting on my leg, looked down and I was being eaten by a huge brown fly.  Nice.  Insects and bikers aside, it was a fairly lifeless mountain.  In Wales you're never out of earshot of a sheep, but there were no animals larger than a lizard as far as I could see up on Tremalzo.  

From the high point of the ride there was a short downhill section, then a bit of a traverse that brought us to a small log cabin where volunteers leave lots of bottled water, wine and beer !  There's an "honesty" box there, you leave whatever you think the drink is worth and take what you need.  I filled up the camelback for the 3rd time at this point, didn't get any pix though as I was a bit distracted at this point.  Then we started to descend.

The downhill was very different to anything I've ridden before.  Most of the trails were pretty wide, not what you'd call singletrack at all, mostly a good 2-3m wide.  The surface was the real surprise though, it was rocky, but the rock is loose, not at all like the rock surfaces you see at Afan.  Obviously as you're starting to descend a mountain it starts to get steep, so you're trying to balance a bit of speed with the fact that the surface is so loose and sketchy.  It takes some getting used to, I'll say that.  Luca had a flat within about 5 mins of starting the descent, which we fixed near a helipad at the side of the lake.  This is where the copter comes to pick you up when you've broken your collarbone trying to corner on some sketchy rock...

resim

As you will notice, all the pix of me on the bike are of me pretty static.  That's mainly because the downhill bits were so fast and so intense you dont really get much of a break to stop and take a photo.  The trail just got rockier and gnarlier and started to get (much like the climb) a bit beyond my ability.  Some of the natural rock gardens just looked terrifying to me, particularly with seriously fatigued limbs.  Some of it really is pretty intense and it's all natural, no one has sat there and thought "how will someone ride this?" nature has just dumped it there and invited you to come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.  I had a short trip over the handlebars on a sketchy corner but nothing dramatic.  Soon the trail lead to a more wooded section where there was some lovely looking singletrack.  Here is Luca showing me how it should be ridden.

resim

Unfortunately, about 100m past this point, I mis-judged a relatively small drop and went over the handlebars again, landing a lot harder this time.  I hit my hip pretty hard and scraped my knees over the top of the pads, plus took a bit of a whack to the head that left me with a mouth full of grit and slightly blurred vision for a couple of minutes.  I could blame exhaustion and heat, but I crashed because I was too nervous, trying to brake instead of roll and I didn't have the skill to ride the terrain properly.

This knocked what remained of my confidence out of me, so we took a short break and diverted back to the smoother, fireroad style trails away from the rocky singletrack.  The trail soon turned into a wide, concrete track which swooped in switchbacks down the mountain.  This was seriously fast and fun.  At one point there was a banked turn with the lake on the other side.  It looked stunning, but I'm sure there was a hideous drop on the other side of the trail. At this point we were going too fast to worry about stuff like that, I was dabbing the brakes to keep the bike under about (i'm guessing) 40mph on these sections.  The surface was concrete but even here there were bits of loose rock strewn about and some of the joins between one concrete section and another were fairly jarring.  This trail eventually lead into  a similarly steep tarmac path with more tight turns but this time the added fun of slaloming through the odd walker here and there.  By this point we were probably back down to about 200m again and we rejoined the trail we'd climbed up at the start of the ride.

With the lake at our right and some lovely, swoopy, fast trails this was a lot of fun.  The tunnels were amazing too, cut into the rock with the odd "window" looking out to the lake, you basically cycled into pitch blackness.  On the climb we were going slow enough for our eyes to gradually adjust but coming down at 35mph + we were going from bright light to pitch dark too quickly.  When you were in the "dark" sections you couldn't even see the bike or the road beneath you, an unexpected pothole could seriously ruin your day at this point but fortunately the tarmac in the tunnels was pretty smooth.

Very quickly we were back in Riva watching as a huge storm gathered over the mountainside.  Probably the only favour the mountains did me that day was holding that storm off till I was back in the car !

Overall it was a pretty awesome ride, but clearly a fair bit beyond me.  The fitness that guys like Luca have to be riding that sort of trail (and much harder ones) 4 or 5 times a week is seriously impressive to mortals like me.  I can't say it was something I'd be rushing out to do again.  The uphill was a real killer for me and the descent just scary, overall I enjoyed the Penhydd descent at Afan far more than descending Tremalzo and that didnt kill me on the way up  Wink  This is mostly down to my skill levels though.  I think someone with real ability on a bike could have an awesome ride out there, I've got a fair way to go to get to that level though...

So that's 3 new places I've ridden this year (Garda, Afan and Friston) next first time ride for me will be Thetford later in the summer, pretty much the polar opposite of an Alp !
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#2
Looks like it was fun although the uphills sound painfull lol. I need another holiday!
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#3
"Breezer" Wrote:Looks like it was fun although the uphills sound painfull lol. I need another holiday!


Fun ?  The less lethal parts of the descent were fun, but the climb was one of those "I've started so I will finish" experiences  Tongue
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#4
Nice write up - sounds like quite an experience!!
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#5
+1 nice write up, stunning shot at the highest point of your ride!
Keep it foolish...
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#6
And did the Wife mind you going off and hurting yourself? Really good write up and nice pics.
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#7
"Deadpool2e" Wrote:And did the Wife mind you going off and hurting yourself? Really good write up and nice pics.

The Mrs had been breifed well in advance of the ride ; )  I'd planned it back in March.  The injuries she wasn't overly impressed with, but I didnt tell her I'd hit my head for a couple of days when she'd had time to forget about it.  The bruise on my hip is huge though.  It's been steadily changing colour from pink to purple to yellow to green all week.  Feels like I've got an egg sellotaped to my side if I lie on it  ;D
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#8
I did the same in Afan over a month ago now and it is still a bit tender if i poke it, and the bruising took ages to go down.

Excellent wright up. I'd like to go there one day.
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#9
Strange I thought this was in Switzerland as im sure thats where you were on about going for holiday heh. Just looked it up on the map. I drove through Davos and Livigno (big mtb place) last year when doing the Stelvio Pass, about 100 miles north or something of where you were
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#10
"Breezer" Wrote:Strange I thought this was in Switzerland

It's pretty close to Switzerland and Austria, I was amazed at the heat, it was far hotter than I expected given how far north it is.  We've been to the Costa Brava in June and it's been around 20 or 22 degrees but in Garda it was generally between 30 and 34 degrees.  Luca told me they had heavy snowfall there in the winter, some places had 35m of snow ! Whole (uninhabited) valleys up in the mountains were completely filled with snow.

Apparently where we rode still had some snow until the end of May !  Baldo and the mountain next to it (The name escapes me) still had snow at the summit last week but those peaks are over 2,300m.  Must get cold on those higher trails up there...
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