Sunday 29 November 2009

The 2009 Lost Boys Tour of Europe: Cycling the Etschtal Bike Path

Friday, August 14:  Our time in Südtirol was drawing to a close, but there was still another day of cycling in store.  Our plan for today was very straightforward: we would take the train to the end of the line at Malles/Mals and simply follow the Etsch River bikepath all the way back to Bolzano.  Today I would also wear my very chic Stelvio cycling jersey that the guys bought for me at the top of that climb as a keepsake.  There is a profile of the climb on the shirt, and on the sleeves is “2760,” the altitude.  Another plus is that it matches my black-and-red Tarmac.

The weather was beautiful yet again and although the train was insanely crowded we were not as concerned since we would not have to fight to get the bicycles out at an intermediate stop.  We were only five today as the others in the group were on their own, including Glen and Carol, who had been sick but were now taking advantage of the weather to ride the Stelvio themselves.  The train ride took about two hours but the scenery and good spirits of everyone made it go fast.

Getting out in Mals, Zeezu immediately demanded that we stop at the station café since cycling in Italy without an excellent coffee simply could not be done.  We were soon on the road and came to the walled village of Glorenza/Glurns for the second time on this trip.  We had thought of stopping for lunch here but since we had only ridden 3 kms from Mals, we thought we would still keep going.  We continued along the excellent paved bicycle path that follows the Etsch/Adige until we reached Spondigna.  Thinking that there might be a restaurant in Prato allo Stelvio, we turned right and followed the road leading to the Stelvio.  Unfortunately, there were no restaurants to be found in Prato, although there were plenty of ice cream places.

Disappointed, we headed back to the river and the bike path and continued onwards.  After several other false starts, we managed to find an open restaurant in Schlanders where we could sit outside on the patio and enjoy life in Europe to the fullest.

Riding through the endless apple orchards
The path, which in some places turned into gravel, led us through orchards and vineyards as it gradually descended the valley.  Just outside Merano it turned into a series of switchbacks, each curve marked like the Stelvio, as it dropped steeply.  We rode quickly through busy Merano and were soon out in the countryside again, heading for Bolzano.  The path was lost momentarily near Lana, but we soon regrouped.

Me in my new Stelvio jersey, looking like a total Guido
(photo by Dr. Chef)

I was feeling very fresh and went into time trial mode, pulling the others along the excellent path.  We were joined by two locals who sat in on the paceline.  After a while, they pulled around and passed us, and I jumped on the closest wheel.  We accelerated to a steady 40 km/h but then I looked behind and saw that I had lost everyone else in our group, so I dropped back and rode at a saner pace.  Later on, Glen and Carol, who returned from the Stelvio by train, told us that they had seen me leading our little paceline on the bikepath at an impressive speed.

We passed the castle overlooking Bolzano and caught up with the two locals.  I pulled in behind them and cleared my throat, which had exactly the effect I had hoped for: they both accelerated and we pulled in behind and had an armchair ride back to the outskirts of Bolzano, where they left.  Unfortunately, entering Bolzano on this, our last ride, there was no choice but to get totally lost again.  The bikepath signs make no sense at all, and it did not help that there was a construction detour.  A father and his son took pity on us and cycling ahead with Dr. Chef they led us back to the centre of the city and our hostel.

Another beautiful day in Südtirol: 96 kms (60.1 miles) and a surprising 860 meters (2822 feet) of climbing.  Now it was time to pack up the bikes...

1 comment:

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