One of the things I love about life in Italy is the cycling, and today the Giro d’Italia goes over the nearby hills where I regularly ride my bike.
There are many famous climbs that have featured in the Giro’s history, such as the Stelvio, the Gavia, Pordoi, Abetone, and many more. Today’s Giro d’Italia stage is going to be run over the relatively more “pedestrian” climbs in the Colli Euganei, near Padova. But as we shall see, even these relatively minor roads have their history.
The Colli Euganei, or “Euganean hills” are a group of volcanic hills that form an island in the middle of the plains of the Veneto. As such, they also form an island of nice riding in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the heavily populated flatlands that surround them.
One of the climbs that nearly everyone who has ridden the Colli Euganei has climbed is the road that takes you to Castelnuovo, a small cluster of houses around a church at the top of the hills.
This is not a long nor difficult climb, with the summit at just 287 meters above sea level. The most popular route to the top leaves the town of Torreglia and starts climbing just a little bit as you roll out, and then slowly gets steeper as the real climb starts next to the creek, or “torrente” in Italian. As you go around the first switchback, or “tornante”, you can take a one-way road up to the Monte Rua hermitage if you want to add that steeper and rougher road to your ride.
Continuing on the main road, the climb gradually gets steeper, leading up to a 10% section, before flattening out and subsequently descending for a few hundred meters. At the top of the steep section, you can take a road off to the left leading up to the steep Passo del Roccolo.
Once the short respite is over, the rest of the Castelnuovo climb is fairly steady and ranges from 5-7% until the top, where there are some nice views of the plains below.
From the top, you can ride down the west side of the hills, or turn north and descend to the small town of Teolo. This is what the Giro d’Italia stage from Imola to Vicenza will do this year, as it then heads uphill again out of Teolo and around the side of the hills towards the town of Rovolon. If you’re watching on TV and the weather’s nice, expect some nice views of the plains from this section. From Rovolon, the road drops down to the plains again, and any escapees will need to contend with another 10 kilometers of flat terrain before heading up to the day’s highest point in the Berici hills, topping out at Crosara, at 397 meters, and considered a 3rd category climb. Another descent, and then the race hits the uncategorized, but short and steep climb up to Perarolo, which is another 200 meters of vertical gain. No alpine climb, but at just 13 kilometers from the finish, a good place to attack. After descending a final time to Vicenza, the stage finishes at the Santuary of Monte Berico, which is only 100 meters of elevation gain, but at the end of the stage, it’ll make for painful legs.
In 2013, the Giro raced in the colli Berici, where a similar stage was won by Giovanni Visconti.
The Castelnuovo climb is, for the purposes of this stage, only rated as a 4th category climb. Still, though, even a small climb has its footnote in history:
Around the turn of the century, Francesco Casagrande was a Giro contender, having placed 2nd in 2000 thanks to his climbing skills. Indeed, in the year 2002, Casagrande was in the lead in the mountains classification when the race went over the Castelnuovo climb at the very beginning of an otherwise flat stage. With no strategical importance, the riders took the climb at a stately pace with none other than sprinter Mario Cipollini riding up the hill in the front ranks to receive the cheers of the crowd (including the author). Things heated up at the sprint for the points at the KOM, where Casagrande, denied his points, rode a Colombian rider off the road, and was subsequently ejected from the race, and his last real shot at the overall in the Giro ( http://velonews.competitor.com/2002/05/news/road/giro-gets-downright-weird-casagrande-sent-packing_2294 ).
The climb has also figured prominently in the Giro del Veneto, which has fallen on harder times as of late, but was once a more illustrious race, won by the likes of Costante Girardengo, Fausto Coppi, Francesco Moser, Fiorenzo Magni and Moreno Argentin.
Being an island of good riding means that the Colli Euganei are the only good places to ride for pros from the province of Padova. In the past, Castelnuovo and the other roads have been the training grounds for racers like Olympic gold medalist Silvio Martinello (now a commentator for road racing on Italian TV station RAI), Roberto Pagnin, Massimo Ghirotto (both winners of the Giro del Veneto), Alberto Ongarato, and many others.
Islands, however, are often small, and the Colli Euganei are no exception: you can probably ride most of the roads in these hills in a couple of days. To the north, near Vicenza, the Colli Berici are probably good for another couple of days’ riding, and are about an hour away from Padova by bike. There’s a lot more riding up north around Bassano del Grappa, which is also a good jumping off point for some truly epic rides, like the Monte Grappa. Check out www.veloveneto.com if you’re interested in organized riding and racing in that area.
What to see in the area: Padova is a great town to stay in if Venice is too expensive for your budget. You can hop on a train and be in Venice in less than an hour. Also, being a university town and far less touristy than Venice, you can eat well at reasonable prices, and get a view of what life is like in an Italian town where people actually live and work. Padova has plenty of attractions of its own and is worth several days. See some of the other posts on this site for more places to explore in the Veneto: