The Jeroboam Altopiano di Asiago was the first of the Italian events in this global gravel challenge series, with 4 distances from 37.5km up to the full 300km route. The 3 Italian events are based in the Veneto and Trentino regions, taking in old military roads and less explored tracks. The 300km option offered an exhilarating route with 4 feed stops and plenty of spectacular views over its 8400m of climbing.
The ride HQ was based out of the Col del Sole BikeHotel, up on the Asiago Plateau in the small village of Tresché, An ideal base for cycling with numerous trail heads leading away from the village. Even if you wanted to experience these events (or the local riding here) and you didn’t have a gravel bike, the hotel has a number of 3T exploro bikes available for hire in 700c and 650b wheeled versions.
Arriving the afternoon before the start, I was made very welcome by the hotel staff. I don’t speak Italian and only a couple of the staff speak broken English. However, if German is one of your spoken languages, both the head Chef and one of the staff speak good German as this region is on the border of the German speaking part of Italy.
The single bed room was everything needed for a comfortable night’s sleep, spacious with a decent shower. The goodie bag from sign on had some great produce. A special edition ‘post ride’ beer from the artisan Cimbra Brewery and a large chunk of locally produced cheese. All of the 300km participants were supplied with a small tracker.
The pre event dinner was a set menu, but wasn’t simply a bowl of bolognese or pizza. It was a hearty and perfectly suitable pre-event 4 course feed. There was pasta, of course, but as part of the 2nd course, a mini lasagna alongside mushroom risotto. Meat, potatoes and then a helping of tiramisu rounded off the meal.
With a staggered start between 7h and 7h30 for the 300km riders, everyone rode off in small groups, the downhill was short lived, all too soon into the climbing, and a decent length one at that, up through the forest onto higher aspects of the plateau. Once past the high point of Monte Cucco, the route stayed high, skirting round the mountainside, steady pedaling along the rolling terrain swapping between fireroad and smooth tarmac, with views of high peaks on one side and the valley far below us on the other.
I joined up with 3 other riders, all local, one being the creator of the route, riding together for a while, chatting about the local trails (as one of them spoke good English). A chunky gravel descent split the group as tyre choice and skills dictated speed, the 50mm WTB Ventures on my Shand were turning out to be an ideal fit. Switchback mountain back road climbed back up to the first checkpoint, which had not just sweet goodies, but also a choice of sandwiches too. 500m further on was Cima Ekar, an astronomical observation point built in 1973, the largest telescope in Italy.
Dropping back down along some more gravel+ trails, I came across a young guy fumbling over a tube, looking for the puncture. Stopping to see if he needed help, it turned out that he was a roadie on his first gravel event riding 35c tyres tubed and he had only brought a single spare. Subbing him with 1 of my 2 spares and hoped that he made it round the rest of the 300km route!
Short, punchy climbs tested the limits of riders’ gear choice with descents on loose dirt testing the drifting skills. A fun, switchback descent lost much of the height gained, dropping back to civilisation passing through the town of Asiago. We cruised along tarmac for a few km before veering off, upwards, back into the hills, up to a 1600m forested plateau and surrounding views of high peaks. Broken tarmac and gravel+ forest trail meandered further upwards passing a tiny, local ski station, just a couple of short drag lifts to its 2000m peak.
The descent was fast, those on narrow tyres having to pick their lines with diligence, the 50mm WTB Venture affording some better compliance and grip for better speed, making the loose switchbacks that bit more engaging (read fun!). A brief jaunt along the mountain road joined up with trail a few km on, offering views of the brightly coloured houses of communities west of Asiago as we climbed upwards towards check point two, 80km in. There was the same warm greeting as the previous CP along with the same food options. I also picked up a spare tube, as there was that nagging voice in the back of my mind of having only a single spare. CPs 1 and 2 were this close together to accommodate the 75km and 150km riders.
The climb’s col passed by the ancient military barracks of Monte Interrotto used during WW1, dropping back down along forest tracks, still holding deep pools of water from the recent rains. Meandering back through the outskirts of Asiago, it was a chilled descent following a river path then back upwards, a gradual climb along quiet roads, winding its way through lowland forests, making good time on this smooth, traffic free tarmac. The forest came to an abrupt end at a 1350m high plateau, a large area designated for xc skiing in the winter months, a spattering of refuges and dwellings to accommodate both winter and summer visitors. With a cold dampness in the air from the darkening clouds, the hot meal at Rifugio Valmaron, check point 3 was welcome, especially as we had to sit outside due to the covid regulations. For the event entry fee, you received a voucher for a hot meal at the rifugio. It was a great feed, a wholesome soup plus the option of a portion of bolognese with a hot drink too.
Donning the Gore Shakedry and Trail goretex shorts for the impending rains, once off the plateau, the 1000m of descent to the valley floor allowed the feed to be digested! Descending back down through the forest along fast double track, that 1000m gained seemed to be lost all too quickly. A gap in the trees revealed the storm closing in. Catching up with a group of 3 I had chatted to at the rifugio, we spun along together along the flat km of a riverside cycleway, all of them speaking good English, me ashamed at my lack of Italian. Within moments, the storm hit, with a torrential downpour just as we arrived at a massive landslide across the bikepath. Its debris of large boulders seemed crossable, but the consensus was one of caution given the heavy rains and the stability of the face unknown. Detouring past on the other side of the river, we saw just how extensive it was and glad of our decision.
Passing through Cismon del Grappa, with a name like that, this was obviously the start of the, indirect, climb up to Monte Grappa and a last pitstop for water at a water fountain until check point 3 40km on. Not far, but most of that was climbing and it was humid. A broken road climb and brief descent led to Lago di Corto, crossing over on its wire suspension bridge, where the climbing started proper with 1000m straight up, along forested, gravel+ terrain.
The muddy, mountain access track, some of it super steep and loose, was slow going, access only for 4 wheeled drive vehicles to people’s mountain side dwellings. There wasn’t much chat now.
Riding up the final km on the main road, we caught sunset and the last views of the valley’s urbanisation behind us, heading into the darkening shadows of the surrounding 1500m peaks. This was a false summit though, a brief interlude descending threw us back upwards, rollercoastering for the next 5km, finally reaching the 1450m high summit just below Monte Pertica. From here, the route followed the mountains’ contours along narrow tarmac roads, skirting around the higher peaks, to reach the final check point at Rifugio Alpe Madre around 22h. A small, but welcoming refuge with a fire and hot food.
It’s warmth was a welcome sensation, a dangerous temptation for damp and chilled bodies. The convivial atmosphere tempted me away from simply refueling and heading back out. Hot food and conversations of broken English flowed around the communal table, whilst socks and shoes dried around the fireplace. I took the option of a few hours sleep on one of the sofas, having packed the PHD Minimus Jacket, as all the beds had been pre booked.
Breakfast was the usual dried goods served up by refuges, and plenty of hot coffee of course. Late comers in the night were strewn out on the dining room floor tucked up in sleeping bags.
The dry, warm socks felt like an indulgent luxury. Greeted outside by the pre dawn avian chorus, but by the time all the various faffing had been completed amongst the group, the day’s light was starting to break over the distant peaks. I included myself in that faffing, as the front tyre obviously had a slow puncture, now flat as I wheeled the bike out. Sorting it with a tube, I was finally ready.
A flat or uphill start is preferable when starting out on a damp, cold mornings to warm up the body, but we had a slight downhill. A brief climb warmed chilled bodies before a winding 10km descent, and we still weren’t at Monte Grappa. Views began to reveal themselves with the sunrise as we descended 300m along dirt tracks and gravel roads. Some added height gain to reach Monte Grappa. Loose gravel tracks switchbacked back up the mountain, the sun’s warmth finally reaching us as we turned onto main road. My co riders, being locals, wanted to stop at the next rifugio a km up the hill for cake and coffee and I’m not one to refuse cake.
The final km to the summit was via tight switchback singletrack and a brief section of hike a bike. Passing the memorial grounds to Italian soldiers lost in the battles up here during WW1, a near 1600m of descent lay ahead. (Just like the challenge of riding the 4 climbs of Mt Ventoux, which includes the gravel track, there is the challenge of the 10 climbs of Monte Grappa!).
The descent flowed its way down the mountain, the road almost traffic free at this time of day, with interludes of gravel tracks cutting across the mountain side. The bottom section was a series of tight, tarmac switchbacks, numerous road cyclists making their way up. Rolling into the town of Bassano del Grappa, crossing the river into its old town where we stopped for an early lunch in one of its teeming streets.
Refueled, the km ticked by along flat, quiet backstreets of Bassano’s suburbs. Once back in the countryside, short, sharp climbs past through hilltop villages, reminding us that we still still had some significant climbing to do. It wasn’t all tarmac, taking in sections of trail wherever possible en route to the final 1000m climb, from countryside double track to canal side singletrack.
We all settled into our individual climbing tempos once the climb started, along a narrow switchback road, the surrounding trees offering some shade from the day’s heat. Turning off onto a gravel track, the heat reflected off the white stoney surface. It became ever narrower, becoming switchback singletrack with no relenting in its gradient, but more fun than the road.
The top of the climb was the impressive WW1 mountain fort of Monte Cenigo. Fortifications built into the rock face where some of the worst fighting of WW1 took place here on the Asigao plateau. It is a hike a bike, around its cliff edge pathways, through its trenches and tunnels hewn out of the rock face. Impressive, but a sombre place. From here, it’s 6km all downhill along forested track, back to the BikeHotel Col del Sole.
Included amongst our goodie packs was a voucher for a beer from the Cimbra Brewery, along with a voucher for food, all set up in the grounds of the hotel for some social time with other riders post ride.
The 300km route explores some of the more wild, gravel+ trails and quiet back roads around Asiago and Bassano del Grappa. The 2 feed stations provide plenty of calories as do the 2 refuges, where the food is hot and wholesome. You certainly get good value for the entry fee at the Jeroboam events, given the goodie bag and food and drink vouchers. You did have to pay for the night and food at rifugio Alpe Madre, but even that is at a discounted rate if pre-booked. Even if you haven’t, you won’t be turned away! The HQ villages are in ideal locations for heading straight out onto the trails, with accommodation or camping options close by. Tyre wise, bring 40mm (on 700c) at a very minimum or 650b with larger tyres for better performance over the rough stuff. Sub 20 hours is a strong ride for the 300km if you’re in it to race or ride it with an overnight option and some convivial company.
I used my Shand Bahookie drop bar, a versatile machine that can take tyres up to 29×2.4. The WTB Venture tyres were mounted to 9th Wave Cycling Yarrow wheels, their 29mm ID giving the Ventures a voluminous footprint. I use PNW Components Coast 520mm wide flared bars which complement the Bahookie’s geometry nicely. Saddlebag is the Revelate Designs Terrapin. A reliable and fully waterproof holster system.
Each of the events follows a similar format and you can check out the series here.