My ‘big’ bicycle tour – The Complete Story

From Bad Endbach to Asolo Bicycle Solo Tour 2016                                                  May 7th to 15th – Mika Manninen

cube-mika The idea of cycling down to Italy came about back in September 2015 when it was revealed that the 2016 Giro d’ Italia, Stage 11, starting in Modena, would go through and end in Asolo (our favourite Italian town!) after 227 km. The thought of doing a long distance ride had interested me very much for a while. There are two ways to do long distance rides, either all in one day or over several days as I have seen a Strava Buddy (Harald Legner) do in the past. I guess you can call it a bit of inspiration.

il-gazzettino-treviso-18052016                                                      The Italian Newspaper, Il Gazzettino, Treviso local edition, printed an article about my trip and wrote that it had been a bet, between Franco (our favourite barman in Asolo, owner of the Corte del Re) and me. I don’t remember setting a bet, as I usually don’t set wagers! Anyway, the 1000km in a week was always a feasible distance that didn’t put any pressure on me and required no bet to do so! I’d call that editorial license!

My cycling season 2016 started off on the 4th of January & by the time I saddled up in Bad Endbach to start this big trip on Saturday, May 7th, I had 7,500km behind me already. So I felt very confident that I could achieve this goal in the 9 days I had allocated to it. (One of those nine days being a rest day). My pre-event training had come together well (with the highlight being a trip to Mallorca) and my bodyweight of 72kg was spot on for getting over the Alps.

I wanted this trip to be a solo, unassisted one on a roadracer (RR), but for most people that was the worst part. ‘Oh, if something happens or goes wrong….’ That was the sentiment…! And the next question was, which route. And when I calmly replied, I’ll figure it out on the road, it was too much for some. I guess they gave up on hoping my trip would or could succeed. I had checked out a few possibilities a week before heading out, but didn’t download any for following later on a GPS device. I had a starting point, two certain places to go through ‘en route’ and a finishing point. Sounds easy doesn’t it? I knew a normal day would start at 9 a.m. and end after 3 p.m. That was six hours in the saddle.

I hadn’t even planned how the trip would start. With my two trusted cycling mates, Frank and Stefan, we decided at the last moment which route the first 30 km of my tour would take. There is nothing like being a bit spontaneous now is there?

On the Friday evening before the big day, I prepared the bike with a wash and oil up. I fitted new Continental tires with a second cut tube around the inner tube & 50ml of latex fluid. I was trying my best at preventing the preventable. The biggest event of the evening was getting everything into my backpack which I had bought especially for this trip. (For details about what I packed, I’ve noted the contents separately)

Saturday, 7th May (Day 1)

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-13_0 The big day started very sunny and the weather forecast was for much the same for the entire week. The only thing was, I wasn’t staying in the area. Further South, the prediction was for rain and storms.

I had planned to start my trip at my favourite bicycle dealer (Hipf Race Bikes), as a mini event for them. I was nicely surprised to see my friends turn up. We barbecued sausages and had a bit of Prosecco. Then it was time to hit the road.

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-16_0 At 11 o’clock, the three of us rolled out. This was the first time I had the fully laden backpack on my shoulders. With such a specifically designed backpack, I was hoping it wasn’t going to pose a big problem. I was full of anticipation to see what this trip would bring.

The pace was brisk and promised a steady weeks worth of riding for me. After 30 km in our mini peloton, we split up. This was now the true start of my solo tour. All I needed to do now was get through Giessen. I had borrowed a special mobile phone holder, which was great for such an adventure. It looked like a ‘flatscreen TV’ on my handlebars (words of Bernd Pfeiffer – Hipf Race Bikes), alongside my regular Garmin Edge 800. I used my mobile phone also as a navigation device, due to the good map that the Strava App displays. And when that wasn’t good enough, then I opened Google maps. The Garmin Edge has a smaller screen and the topography map has too much detail to see at a glance.

I quickly discovered that the easiest way to navigate was to go analogue and have the sun to my left in the morning, in front of me at midday and on my right in the afternoons. Though at some junctions it was better to go digital. Or better yet, be social and ask a friendly local.

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-3 The days ride so far was full of freedom. No rush, no worries…..

Had an exciting moment when a big tractor passed me slowly with a cyclist in tow (Alexander Koop). I’m not too sure who was more surprised, him or me, as I was the one with the big backpack.  I picked up the pace a bit and could stay with the cyclist and tractor for a while. We didn’t even say HI!. (But later on Strava we discovered that we are Strava buddies. He said he had thought twice about the Cube logos, but was too busy slip streaming that tractor so he had no time to ask or say anything. He wished me ‘well’ for the rest of the trip) That brought me into the town of Nidda. Had a quick break for a muesli bar and to check the navigation. Then I was back on the road.

I even stopped for a longer break a bit later, as it was hot. Backpack, helmet and shoes off. Had another muesli bar and some sweets. And a back stretching lay down on a park bench. My drinks were either nearly empty or warm, so I found a drink shop and topped up.

Late on a Saturday afternoon, you usually don’t search for a place to stay without booking in advance, but with 99.5 km ridden, it was time to end the first day. I entered a small town (Lieblos) from the forest side, so there were no signs of bed and breakfasts or hotels. So I asked the first guy I saw,  and the good news was, down the street on the left.

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-11 I found the hotel and it was closed……. “NO”….. But I didn’t give in. I went around the back and eventually found the owner. The price was a bit over my planned budget, but hey, he had me! Nothing to do but a quick shower and watch the last 15 km of the day’s Giro. That was the purpose of my trip after all, to recreate a bit of my own Giro. They started today too, in Holland! Now I was really in the mood to have a good week. But for now I was hungry. Went for a walk and found a Chinese restaurant. ‘All you can eat’ deals are the best. I rocked the buffet bar and grill. Grilled ‘roo’ meet with a pinch of salt, cool as.

On the way back to the hotel for my first nights rest, I bought some bottled water and filled up and mixed my water for the bidons (water bottles) and put them in a fridge in the hallway.

That was a wrap for day one after 100km. “Lights out, good night”.

((MotD)) Moment of the day: Cycling away from the bicycle shop. Cycling with Alexander.

Sunday, 8th May    (Day 2)

Started the day with a good old German breakfast. As I went outside between the buildings and put the GPS and mobile onto my bike, stowed the water bottles & put the backpack on my shoulders I could see a blue sky. Relief, the weather forecast was holding true.

Pressed ‘start’ on the two devices and day two was ‘go’.

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-41 The region is slightly hilly, but flowing, so I was in a good rhythm until I read the sign, ‘Mittelpunkt Europa’. I thought twice, had a quick glance over my shoulder (which isn’t easy to do with the five kilo backpack) and turned the bike around. I followed the sign. What would I find at this European middle-point?? Being early on a Sunday, I hadn’t expected to see people there either. But there were around 10 people setting up pop-up pavilions and tables and chairs for the day. Seems like it’s bit of a tourist attraction on the weekends. This middle point can change when a country joins the EU or maybe leaves. After a quick look around and the obligatory signing of the visitors book, I was off.

After around 60 km I came upon a rider who was out on a Sunday ride. I introduced myself and told him what I was up to. He laughed. I asked if I could ‘ride his wheel’. No problem, was his reply. We started to chat, and he showed me a shortcut to the Main river. Crossing the river in Freudenberg after cycling 90 km, we said goodbye and I searched for a place to have a rest. To get out of Freudenberg there was a big climb, that took its time under the midday sun. Over rolling hills, I continued South, with fields of green and yellow on both sides of the road. It was time to start looking for a hotel, but without towns, it was a little bit difficult. mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-78 But after 140 km, I found a place to stay in a small town (Berolzheim). I ordered a sparkling apple juice at the bar and enquired about a room. I had to wait for the wife to return from her Sunday outing, so I was there just hoping that there was a room free. And to my delight, there was. Checked in, put my bicycle in a garage, where the rubbish bins were, which really didn’t please me, as it smelt. Washed my cycling gear and went down to dinner.

That was the end to day two, with 240 km ridden in two days.

((MotD)) Meeting up with Nam Pham. (We became Strava buddies – That is easy to do with Strava Flybys) & Riding on roads with hardly any traffic.

Monday, 9th May   (Day 3)

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-5 There was no breakfast buffet to start the day, but a plate with enough to get me rolling. The feeling of getting on the bike early in the morning and riding into the unknown is something you don’t experience on your local rides. It was a Monday morning, but hey, I was on holidays. I was on my way to Gaildorf, famous for its motocross track. I hadn’t planned to pass through Gaildorf, but had hoped to, and now I was getting closer. Stopped a few times to take photos of covered bridges over streams, which I found amusing. Finally I made it into town after 80 km and my first priority was to find a bicycle shop. I wanted to oil the chain. The owner was just on his way out to lunch, but obliged and showed me the way to the motocross track. There I took photos of the grass covered hills where you could barely see the track and had a bite to eat. mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-8

I went back into town, found a bar and filled up my bidons with tap water. That should last me the rest of the afternoon. Again I had no idea where my day would end, but with 130 km I started to search for a hotel. I ended up in the town of Aalen, and even though there were plenty of signs for hotels, I found only one. I went to reception, expecting it to be expensive, and it was. But hey, it was a fancy place and a buffet breakfast was included. Even got to store the bike in the luggage room, and not the garage. Monday is a rest day for the Giro, so there was a replay from Sundays stage. Went out and had a look around town. Found a Mexican restaurant, with half price Caipirinhas. Whooo hoooo.

Went back into town, had a gelato, and called it a day after 375 km over 3 days.

An interesting point for tourists in Aalen, there are life-sized wooden statues of people stuck onto the side of buildings all around town. There was one opposite my hotel window.

To be on the other side of 375 km was a great feeling after just three days. I went to sleep very satisfied.

((MotD)) Stopping at the Gaildorf Motocross track. Half price Caipirinhas.

Tuesday, 10th May   (Day 4)

As expected, breakfast was great and I was ready for a big day. Got out on the road and figured out pretty quickly it wasn’t going to be an easy day. The problem of finding cycle paths and cycling a steady incline for 100 km. It was an interesting day for navigating and the weather was overcast.

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-42 It was with a little bit more than surprise, when I passed a Hunde WC (Doggy Toilet) with my name on it. Nothing to do but to push on. I stopped at a bicycle shop in Lauingen, but they weren’t very helpful in giving me tips on getting further South. It looked like it could have rained any moment.

I crossed the Donau River which is a sign that I was entering the lower half of Germany. Took a photo, and in light drizzle, got back on the bike.

I was on a roll, and cycled a further 70 km to stop for lunch at the 115 km mark for the day.

Interesting site of the day, seeing storks nesting on an old crane.

Continuing on, the clouds started to look even more menacing, so I was pushing for distance (and achieved 175 km) but also looking for a place to stay the night. Had to ask twice, but then I found a great place. A real Bavarian hotel and restaurant. Most hotels have wireless, and they had boring passwords, but here, they had sissy&franz as one! Go figure. After a ‘big’ hamburger, I went out for a walk to stretch the legs after a total of 550 km in four days. Somehow the bad weather was circling the area but not affecting my evening. It was a great feeling to see the Alps after just four days of cycling.

((MotD)) Doggy Toilet Mika.

Wednesday, 11th May    (Day 5)

Breakfast was a lonely affair. Either I was very early or damned late! Somehow I’m not so good at navigating in the mornings, so it seems. This time a mix of signs around Schongau and urgency of heading south put me on the ‘long’ trail. There is never a ‘wrong’ trail. In Peiting the navigation fun continued, but I quickly recovered the situation. Following the signs to Garmisch-Partenkirchen was like the proverbial dangling carrot for the donkey. It also meant a lot of climbing. mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-63 I was entering the Alps. I stopped for a well deserved lunch and chose Curry Wurst & Chips. I had one concern and it was how to get down into Innsbruck. The 3.5 km downhill section of road has a ban for bicycles. I cycled past three signs informing of the ban, but somehow I wanted to see the sign for myself. Finally, it was there, on a solitary post. Confirmation that I needed to find another way. I went into the nearest village, but soon discovered all the streets were dead-enders. After all, this village was on a cliff. I asked a man walking his dog and he laughed. He wouldn’t risk going down, in case the police were there. He said, ‘go back the 4 km’s and go via Telfs’. He added, it doesn’t matter – it’s extra kilometres for you. So I did just that with pleasure, even though it was an uphill climb. The ride down into Telfs was fast. I had a top speed of 77 km an hour. Pity it lasted only a few minutes. After the descent I came alongside an older cyclist and talked to him for a bit. Again he was surprised about my trip and the fact I had a backpack on a road racer.

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-19 The national road into Innsbruck is a familiar one to me. I’ve been driving on it since 2001. So on this occasion it was with a smile as I merged from the road onto the obligatory cycleway. I went past the airport and into town. It was afternoon rush hour, so I was stuck at times in traffic at the lights. Slowly but surely I made my way through and then finally started the ascent to Brenner. It is a nice, narrow and windy way. I was getting close to finding a place to stay after 165 km in the saddle for the day and 715 km in five days. I found a really nice hotel again, at a reasonable price. I missed the Giro stage on TV by a few minutes, but hey, I was 15 km’s from Italy. That was worth the push. Went in the sauna and then to dinner. The weather forecast for the next two days wasn’t good at all. It was windy outside so it could deliver anything in the morning, even snow!

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-21 mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-23

 

 

 

 

 

 

((MotD)) Racing down into Telfs. Curry Wurst & Chips.

Thursday, 12th May (Day 6)

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-24 If I had known at breakfast time what a day I would have, I think I would have stayed in the hotel, but the weather didn’t look that bad. One hour later, after the steady climb into Brenner, I was soaked and cold. As the road flattened out and my speed picked up, it was too much for me. I started shaking and shivering. All I could do was pullover and search for shelter. It was around 2° to 5° Celsius, so I needed to get out of my wet cycling gear pretty soon. Going forward wasn’t an option any more. Preventing illness was my priority now. I searched for a place and found it in a restaurant. It wasn’t even 11 o’clock in the morning but the workers were preparing for lunch. I got changed into my jeans and put on every shirt I had. I sat next to their wood-fired stove and slowly warmed up. mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-28 Many thoughts were going through my head. Do I call it a day? Where do I go? Then slowly I got the idea which I actually already had weeks ago. A backup plan for bad weather. And in the end it worked exactly as I had planned. After having a pizza in the restaurant I packed my wet stuff in a rubbish plastic bag. I went to the railway station, pushing my bike and carrying that plastic bag in the other hand. Searched for the next train to Brixen, 25km away. It was leaving in five minutes at 13:00 hours. I ran into some Italian rail workers and they said get on the train and buy your ticket from the conductor. But, and it is a big but, in Italy it is an offence to be on a bus or train without a validated ticket. Luckily the conductor was on the platform and he told me to get onto the last carriage. There are hooks for transporting bikes. It is a funny feeling to hang a carbon bike on a hook. But better was yet to come. mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-65 The train trip to Brixen lasted 45 minutes. Relatively slow due to the descent. Now I was only 30 km from the hotel in Antermoia where I wanted to stay. But it was behind a mountain pass of 2000m! I asked a taxi driver and he checked his navigation and said €120. So, next option. I went and asked a bus driver. He didn’t quite believe what I wanted to do, but helped out and sent me to the correct bus. It was already waiting and was half full. The driver wasn’t sure at all about my plans. He was sure that all the hotels near the pass were closed, that the pass it self was closed and that it could also be snowing on top. I would only be 20 km’s away from the hotel and 16km from the pass after the final climb (of around 350 elevation metres). It was worth a go. I paid for the bike and myself and then the bus driver took me to the back of the bus and hung my bike on the rack on the outside. mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-34 In the words of Orica Green Edge, ‘put me on roof’. Then I went and sat down on the backseat, to watch my bike. Swaying to and fro…. I can tell you, it’s not the best feeling watching a carbon bike doing that on twisty roads going up a steep hill.

So there I was, standing in the rain at 1700m above sea level, in fog. The bus drove away and the driver waved a final friendly goodbye. Now I had only one choice. Get changed into my dry riding gear and give it a go. I would need a bit over an hour to get up and over that pass. My cycle shoes were soaked from the morning ride, but luckily I had been given two plastic bags, so I ripped one down the middle and wrapped my feet in the remaining corners of the bag, and put on my shoes. That would keep my feet dry for a while. Even though I had booties, the rain soaks its way down the legs to the feet. I zipped up my backpack and put a rain cover on it.

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-37 Then I was off, into the fog. It was steady going and I was actually pretty warm from the effort of climbing this mountain. Finally I reached the pass and then I had only 4 km to go. The road was full of cracks from winter, which were long, deep and sometimes 5 cm wide. They’d swallow a 25 mm road wheel with no trouble at all. So there I was with water running down my cycling glasses obscuring my view. I took it relatively easy and made it to the ‘Pension Maria’ just after 4:30 PM. Checked in, packed a laundry bag (which was nearly all the clothes I had) and headed down to the sauna. That was the end of the shortest kilometre day, with 40 km, but the toughest by any standard. I already knew that this day wouldn’t be forgotten so quickly. That rapped up six days of cycling with 755 km.

((MotD)) Freezing, warming up, getting on the train, getting on the bus, riding over the Pass & arriving in the Hotel. Lesson learnt – Get real rain gear!

Friday, 13th May (Rest day)

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-40 I had so much looked forward to a ‘small’ ride high in the mountains on my rest day, but it wasn’t to be. The weather wasn’t clearing up, but the forecast for Saturday was for a clear morning with afternoon rains. With that in mind I was planning an early start around 8 a.m. (Just to make sure I missed the rain)

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-50 So, what do you do on a rainy rest day?  I went for a walk instead with an umbrella. On my return to my room I ordered a lunch, watched a replay of the previous days Giro and then watched the entire live telecast of the days stage. That gave me then just enough time to go to the sauna before dinner. That was the end to a very uneventful Friday the 13th.

((MotD)) Doing nothing!

Saturday, 14th May   (Day 7)

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-53 My plan wasn’t bad at all. It was a sunny morning and the roads were nearly dry. I set off at 7:40 a.m. at a height of 1600 m above sea level. I descended pretty quickly into the valley (at 1000m) and from there I would have one more incline to get over at the Campolongo Pass, at 1850m.

 

 

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-57 Once in the valley, I removed my vest and opened my jersey for the steady climbing I would be doing for the next hour or so. I made a quick stop to take a photo of the sign at the Campolongo Pass. This is where a long distance rider can be very happy. From there it was all downhill to Belluno. Soon I’d be leaving South Tyrol.

I found a hotel on a lonely stretch of road at 12 o’clock, checked in and went downstairs to the pizzeria that was the starting to fill up. What was I going to do? There was nothing around the area for kilometres, just farms and houses. The weather didn’t look so bad, so I just decided to go for an afternoon ride, of all things. Riding through Belluno and 20 km into the ride I was heading in the direction of Cortina d’ Ampezzo and entertaining the idea of actually reaching it. Unfortunately it started to rain at the 25 km mark, so I turned around and rode the 25 km back to the hotel. I was drenched, but it wasn’t so cold, so I was fine. mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-73 My hotel room resembled a Chinese laundromat, with cycling gear hanging all over the place. But I refined the system, using a broomstick and an electric heater I had found in the hallway. I just hope the hotel could wash those towels. For dinner I had another pizza. Now I only had less than 80 km to go. That would be an easy Sunday ride if the weather was good. My plan was to arrive in Asolo for 2 p.m.

That afternoon ride made up for the train trip, so I was still going to be pretty close to the thousand kilometres for my trip.

((MotD)) Cresting Campolongo.

Sunday, 15th May (Day 8)

I started the day with a typical Italian breakfast, which I guess isn’t supposed to be for sports people. But I was so close to Asolo now, I wasn’t going to start to complain.

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-72 I packed my back pack for the last time and went out to get on the bike. The weather was good and the roads were quiet. It was all a steady downhill from here, with a drop in elevation from 350 m to the lowest point of around 125m after 70km and then the final climb of 2.5km to Asolo at 200 m above sea level. I had an average speed of just about 30 km an hour so I was going to be very early in Asolo. So I decided to ride around the Montello near Montebelluna. I even stopped at the hotel (Col delle Rane – our usual place) on the way to Asolo to say hi, but it was very quiet there. From there I had less than 7 km to go and I arrived at 12:30.

mika-o-manninen-germany-to-italy-bicycle-trip-2016-1000km-86 It was a great feeling to arrive at the Corte del Re, and see my Italian friends. Franco Cappelletto and his family. We’ve known each other for over 15 years.

And that was it, mission completed. 

It was time to party and enjoy a weeks holiday in Italy.

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((MotD)) Riding the Montello and arriving in Asolo. And seeing Ute again after a long week.

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View the video that appeared on Orica GreenEDGE’s Back Stage Pass, Stage 12, Giro d’Italia 2016. (Click on the photo below to link to the video.)

 

(Click on the photo below to link to the album.)

 

 

 

 

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