The remarkable MadonnaVelo Cycling Group live a cycling dream.
There is something a little magical about cycling in Europe but imagine heading over to ride bespoke courses in regions of your own choosing, with nine of your best friends. Well that is just what happened in May / June this year, when a ladies cycling group from SE Queensland (and parts further afield) Departed Australia bound for Milan and ultimately, Lake Como, Tuscany and the French Riviera.
When Sheridan (founder of the MadonnaVelo riding group and owner of Storm Cycles at Tugun on the Gold Coast) approached us in mid 2016, she had an idea to take her group on a dream European cycling tour. There was at least one "non-negotiable" in the brief, we MUST visit the famous "Madonna del Ghisallo" chapel that sits perched above Bellagio and was the inspiration for the name of the group. Sprinkle in a little bit of Tuscany, the French Riviera, ride routes that were challenging without being too brutal and all the culinary delights of each region and we had a tour.
So the crew of: Sheridan, Lee, Jacki, Lisa, Mary, Kirsten, Sheree, Tina, Claire, Denise, super-guide Eve and a hopelessly out-numbered, yours truly arrived in Lake Como for stage one. The cycling in Como is divine, all of it (of course) showcases the magnificent lake and involves steep climbing in all directions from the lake shore. Now although there were some nerves in the group, I could not have been more impressed with both the tenacity and spirit of the girls, as they took on climbs such as the 13km Colma Sormano and the steep slopes of Val Rezzo. We did of course ride the famous 10km climb from Bellagio to the Chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo and all were taken by the energy and views at this most significant place.
Day three dawned with the promise of more stunning views and challenging climbs. On the agenda was the mighty Monte Cornizzolo, the most difficult climb in the region and most of the girls had put their hand up for the challenge. Four of these tough and resilient riders made it to the summit of a climb I would rate the equal of Mortirolo, sadly only three made it down by bike. Our friend Lisa crashed on the descent after striking a drainage culvert on a shaded section of road. She required helicopter assistance to get off the hill and was flown home to Australia three days later. I am happy to report that she is now well on the way to making a full recovery. A difficult moment in an otherwise brilliant four days of cycling in the Italian Alps.
Next stop, the unmistakable rolling hills of sun-drenched Tuscany or more specifically, the Chianti region to the north of Siena. Along with world famous character and charm, the Chianti region is awash with steep hills, small country lanes, vineyards and olive groves. Our four days of cycling in Tuscany were always going to be tough but the heat of an early summer blast made things very difficult indeed, possibly our hardest riding of the tour. Just as well we had the most amazing Tuscan Villa in which to "recover" from the days exertions. A divine pool surrounded by 13th century buildings and row upon row of grapevines. Our wonderful host, Guiseppe (of course) made up for his lack of English (not a single word) with an abundance of Italian charm and hospitality. He was like a long lost relative committed 100% to making our stay as remarkable as it could possibly be.
Again the ladies excelled themselves on the bike and I could see they were getting stronger by the day. But more than that, characters were emerging and most were finding some real confidence and freedom with which to express themselves. Tours are amazing like that, a platform for growth quite unlike any other. I just loved watching the story unfold, out-numbered, a little intimidated at times but always entertained. Thank goodness for Eve, not sure I have had much hope of pulling it off without you.
And so to France and the French Riviera "capital" of Nice would do just nicely for our farewell swing of "MadonnaVelo Europe 2017".
Nice is not often thought of as a cycling mecca, but the maritime alps are in fact full of delightful cycling roads. From the wonder of the famous "route de Napleon" to the remarkable climb up to the ancient town of Gourdon, this is a region full of cycling surprises. The girls conquered everything I threw at them, from the iconic col de la Madone to the massive Mont Chauve that towers above Nice, nothing was too difficult for the MadonnaVelos. Our days here were complemented by walks into the amazing old town, fantastic food, for which we were spoiled for choice and swims in the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean.
And like all good stories this one had an end, a remarkable experience now committed to the life story of each member of the group. I would like to thank Sheridan Bosworth for the opportunity and honour of touring with this wonderful group of ladies. I would also like to thank Lee, Jacki, Kirsten, Denise, Mary, Sheree, Tina, Claire and Lisa for your support and friendship on the roads of Italy and France. I truly hope you loved the experience. To the characters we met; Mattia, Guiseppe, "that Italian waiter in Castellina" and so many others, you are appreciated and remembered. New places and memories for life that I am sure will grow fonder with time. Finally to Eve Conyers, whose support was remarkable. You were unflappable and no job was too much to ask, thank you for all that you added to this tour.
Brian Bubba Cooke
Lifelong (almost) cyclist, exercise physiologist and above-all-else just love riding my bike. Been lucky enough to ride some of the world's most epic roads and now live on the beautiful Gold Coast, hidden gem of Australian cycling.