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Bologna - a lovely place to ride

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Fellow rider at San Luca Sanctuary 3,800 metres of portico , a covered walkway, connects the city of Bologna and the hilltop sanctuary Madonna di San Luca. We as cyclists are interested on the latter half of it. That translates as 1,900 painful and rewarding metres from Via Saragozza upwards – that's where Il Giro stage 1 (individual time trial) in May 2019 and that's where I in October 2019 started the climb by bike. It's stunning to ride oneself live a climb that you've seen the pros do on world tour, and that you've raced as a trainer simulation in Zwift as well. Sorry - I'm getting carried away. This article was to be about road biking in the area. Bologna is not a one-hit wonder. Let's rewind a bit. Weather statistics say October here is 15-20° but I've been blessed with 20-24° and sunny skies. Birds that left Finland two months ago keep on singing here. I didn't have the option to take my own bike with me. velocerental.com seems to have good bikes but is a bit on the expensive side. As a budget option I rented a Bianchi Via Nirone 7 (Shimano 105, triple 50/42/30, cassette 11-25. Ambrosio Evolution wheels and Marathon Plus tyres have a considerable say on the weight issue) from bikeinbo.com. Bianchi Via Nirone, first with SPD-SL pedals that didn't fit my cleats. Got another pair though. Everyone seems to be on the move on bicicletta in Bologna. No matter whether it's city, mtb, or road, no matter the age – everybody rides. Roads are in good condition and car drivers are alert and polite. The infrastructure for cycling is not so developed but it doesn't play a major role for a road cyclist outside town. Along Via Jussi to the foot of the Apennines I happened to find one particularly popular cycling route right away. Via Carlo Jussi (SP36) takes you from South-East corner of the city to Farneto and Botteghino di Zocca. Initially, we drove to Parco dei Gessi in Farneto in order to hike with the dogs and possibly see the Grotta del Farneto . Nice trails for MTB, too. We did hike a bit on the steep slippery paths, and on our way up we saw plenty of cyclists on their MTBs coming down. Luckily we managed to rescue our small doggies. Also, I paid attention to the number of riders on SP36. So, my first ride was on the very SP36 to Zena (Strava: BO - Zena - BO ). I took a wrong turn in the city so I had some interesting additional VAM in Ponticella first. Then, I made the long, steady 2% climp to Zena, came back to Botteghiro di Zocca and from there the 2km long 6% uphill (plus 2-3 km a bit easier) towards Pianoro. After that it was nice 1-2% downhill to the outskirts of the city in San Ruffillo. Via Carlo Jussi (SP36) is picturesque. Via della Colina westwards is a cat4 climb. For the second ride the plan was there: same, same but more (Strava: BO - Barbarolo - BO ). This time I kept on riding the rest of the road from Zena to the T-crossing where I turned right to Barbarolo. Zena is only on 210 m altitude, and the T-crossing at Fornace di Zena is on 260 m. Now, there was a more demanding climb of 5 km / 300 VAM towards Barbarolo. After that some up and down, and finally after Livergnano it's mostly happy descending. For the third ride I still wanted to do some more of the same (Strava: BO - Loiano - BO ). This time I turned left at the end of SP36 T crossing. That gave me a 13 km uphill (550 VAM) to Loiano. It was only 14 km longer than the last one, and 180 VAM more but the Relative Effort based on HR was more than the two previous rides together. As such these kinds of rides on these roads fulfilled the basic strategy for an end-of-season/start-of-winter ride: long warm-up riding getting gradually harder, then the hard part (uphill), and the rest is easy home-coming. San Luca Sanctuary and other punchy climbs in South / South-West There are three parts on the Madonna di San Luca climb: for the first, the road goes on the right hand side of the portico and is sort of rideable (gradient under 12%). I even could take my phone out of the pocket to take some photos. Also, I saw that people walking the portico were watching our efforts keenly, almost cheering at us cyclists. First straight of San Luca Sanctuary is not impossible. With Dante's inscription of a certain gate: "Abandon all hope, you who enter here!" Then you take the first gate to continue on the left hand side of the portico. Now it really starts to hurt: my Garmin showed 18-20% for longer than I dared to think. I just kept on focusing to keep the bike moving. These gears were not enough here. For a glance I saw myself reaching max HR but then I had to put all my effort on the pedaling again. After the second gate you go to the right side of the portico again. This is the easiest part, under 10%. Then again, you're exhausted already. For me the first thought was to avoid dying but soon as there were only a few hundred metres left, I even managed to do something like a sprint finish. I even catched some riders in front of me.  That must have been one of the hardest efforts I've done. I steered to the side of the street to get my breath back. Sipping water, five minutes passed and my Garmin Edge 520 went to sleep.  When I was to continue, Garmin didn't wake up but after two forced restarts. Oh sh#¿t! Now I don't know my max HR, nor whether I did it faster or slower IRL than in Zwift.  That is one thing that Garmin has never gotten right: make your software damn foolproof reliable. After the Sanctuary it's undulating to La Ghiacciaia and Pianoro. The climbs are short and punchy, many times over 10%, up to 20%. So, this is very different riding than the three rides along SP36. Only from Pianoro back to the city it is very similar, although I took SP58 instead of SP65. Such an understanding wife and such tolerable Bichon Bolognese dogs that allowed me to take 4x half day for riding on family vacation :) In short + the cycling culture is there + great selection of different kinds of roads to ride + not so hot as in Central / Southern Italy but warm enough  - a bit difficult to reach from Finland (nearest direct flights to Milano) - rent bikes on the expensive side

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