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Montevecchio, Pantani, and a place to come back to

Alia Parker's picture
The top of Montevecchio, Emilia Romagna, in memory of Marco Pantani.

I have sandbags weighing down my eyes – heavy, gritty, sandbags. My first two days in Italy have been too much fun. Still recovering from the long sleepless flight from Australia, two days of cycling, late nights wining and dining, and very little sleep, my body has staged a coup.

I'm falling asleep at the breakfast table and the coffee isn't helping. In half an hour I need to be kitted up and chasing the guys through the mountains – the same steep hills Marco Pantani rode on his way to greatness. Among them, Montevecchio, one of his favourite training rides. It may be a short climb at 4km, but with grades up to 14% and no less than 8%, it's a tough one.

Cycling Emilia Romagna. Cycle Traveller

As I think about it, I swear someone loads sandbags onto my shoulders too, and I slump in my chair. It's not going to happen.

Cop out

The decision is made. Today I will ride in the support van and have a 'photo day', because, quite seriously, I need to show you some fantastic photos of what I've been up to and I can't do that while riding. This makes my body happy, but my brain is feeling cheated – it knows my body, if pushed, can do the ride. But it also knows I'll struggle to keep up with the guys feeling like this; they're really fast, and I don't like to be a drag, so the body wins.

The Emilia Romagna countryside. Cycle Traveller

Riding with our group today are some special guests – some of the senior members of G.C. Fausto Coppi.

This cycling club – named after the 'Champion of Champions', Italian cyclist Angelo Fausto Coppi – has been around for 50 years and has over 500 members. It reared Pantani himself, and organises the famous Gran Fondo Nove Colli (FYI – there are up to 12,000 spots in this ride and they sell out within minutes of registrations opening).

The guys riding with us today are some of the club's earliest members and they have some serious cycling swagger.

Montevecchio cycling.

Indulge me for a moment and let me go on a slight tangent to drop some stats about the man this cycling club honours – Fausto Coppi.

Born in 1919, he won the Giro d'Italia five times, the Tour de France twice, won the Paris-Roubaix among many others, set the hour record in 1942, won the World Championships in 1953, and was dead by the age of 40. Wow.


Back in the support van I'm struggling to stay awake. Cycling is definitely more fun. We're ahead of the riders now.

Top of Montevecchio, Emilia Romagna, Italy.

The vehicle starts to climb and rounding a corner, the word 'Pantani' appears scrawled in pink capital letters across the road. It's like an alarm clock just went off and I'm wide awake.

This has to be it – Montevecchio. There it is again, Pantani, and another. We wind our way higher, reaching the top without breaking a sweat and jump out near a memorial to Pantani to watch the guys make their way up.

And here they come – Marcus AKA Beardy McBeard, smashes it to the top to finish first. I take a photo (it is 'photo day' after all), which I find quite ironic because Beardy is a real cycling photographer. If you want some inspiring shots of this year's Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, check out Beardy's Caravan.

Marco Pantani, Montevecchio.

The others file in, welcomed by the words, “Sempre con te Marco” – always with you Marco.

Montevecchio is one of the 'nine hills' of the 200km Nove Colli, and it's easy to see why Pantani liked it – there's no break in the climb, it just goes straight up.

A living spirit

Back in Cesenatico is the Marco Pantani Museum, which houses Pantani's trophies, bicycles, gear and even original paintings.

Marco Pantani Museum, Cesenatico.

It's a strange experience visiting a museum dedicated to someone who in many ways still feels 'alive'. It's been 11 years since Pantani was found dead from a tragic depression-fuelled drug overdose at the age of just 34.

Plagued by doping allegations, Pantani's life fell apart. But here, along the coast of Emilia Romagna, Pantani isn't just a controversial hero of history – he remains very much a friend, a son, a local riding with Fausto Coppi, a familiar figure cutting the streets on his Bianchi.

He would have been 45 years old this year, and he is genuinely missed.

In these parts, his spirit is still very much alive.

Verucchio, Italy. Cycle Traveller

Finding content

It's evening and we're heading out for another late night of wining and dining, and that's far from a complaint.

We drive up to the old hilltop town of Verucchio to dine at Al Mastin Vecchio. Our tables outside the old stone building look out over a grand view of terracotta rooftops and rolling hills.

It is so peacefully quiet; the only sounds to be heard are of our merry laughs as we once again indulge in a wine tasting and a very fine banquet.

Verucchio cat, Italy. Cycle TravellerVerucchio steals my heart – it's one of those places that's best described by a feeling, and as dusk falls around us, that feeling is pure content.

We didn't cycle up here, so I must come back one day to ride. Conveniently, the hotel – Oste Del Castello – is a Terrabici bike hotel.

Tomorrow is our last day of cycling and it promises to be a lovely one. Sleep or no sleep, I will be riding. By the way, 'photo day' did yield a few snapshots. Enjoy.

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Alia Parker was a guest of Emilia Romagna Tourism.

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