Riding Strade Bianche with Garda Bike Hotel
Calla Barras shares her unforgettable Italian Love Affair on the White Roads of Tuscany
Calla, Strade Bianche is one of Italy’s Cycling icons, what drew you to ride it?
We found out that Garda Bike Hotel was laying on this trip and we knew it was a unique type of race! The start is in the beautiful Tuscany town of Siena and you can also watch the pro races.
I’ve been riding a bike since my dad taught me when I was four years old! In live in Vancouver so naturally I’ve ridden the RBC Whistler Gran Fondo and the Peter Sagan Fondo in California.
There are two available distances in the Gran Fondo. The long route is the Women’s elite course at 140km and the shorter route is 87 kms. Both feature 20-30 kms of the famous white Gravel roads. Which route did you ride?
My husband did the short course and I went for the long course. I wanted to see all of the country side and be out there as long as I could!
Did you bring your own bike?
We both used the brand new Pinarello Grevil bikes provided by the Garda Bike Hotel. They were all set up by Davide, our mechanic and guide, who also happens to be an elite bike racer! He gave us a bike fit and we got used to riding the bikes with a steady ride near Lake Garda on the first day.
The next day we got in the vans and drove down to Siena where we checked-in to our palace hotel, the Palazzo Ravizza, very grand and very old, it was so amazing. Nicola had managed to secure the palace as our race accommodations. He has an incredible way of finding the very best experiences for his guests!
On Friday we rode the short course of 78 km and I was hooked. I hadn’t been riding very much but I signed up for the long course. There was no way I was going miss one kilometre!
We were joined by Daniele, our local guide. We stopped at the first gravel section where Nicola, Davide and Daniele gave us instructions of how to safely ride the gravel sections.
That evening we got in the vans for a special dinner invitation with the Bora Hansgrohre race team. We were welcomed and treated to a privileged tour of the kitchen and equipment buses, then to a wonderful sit-down dinner with the team. They shared stories and were hospitable all evening!
Did you watch the Pro Race, what are your favourite memories?
On Saturday we watched the start of the pro races in Siena, then went into the VIP area and had a special tour of the Bora Hansgrohe team bus with some of the Bora team and mechanics. We walked around Siena and were really excited to see the famous steep hill that comes into the town, the climb of Via Santa Caterina.
For me the most amazing memory was where we were standing at the start, the riders coming down a short hill into the sharp left turn, They were across the entire the road, all the colours, the riders, cars, motorbikes and all the spectators, very dramatic! It blew my mind as they come right at us before they all turned sharp left!
We then went back to our special VIP area at the finish line where we had front row seats and watched the riders finish. We were out of the crowds, being treated like Royalty, with food and drink laid on. You could see the suffering in the rider’s eyes as they passed under the finish line in the centre of Siena.
From our special VIP area, we were able to see the awards presentation, take photographs and watch the Prosecco start flowing!
That night we had a ‘team dinner’ with our entire group at a local Siena restaurant, San Dominico, where we shared stories, laughed and ate in preparation for our Fondo the next day.
So how did you get on in the Gran Fondo?
On the Sunday it was our time to shine, we were at the front in the VIP corral, under the archway in Siena. Garda Bike Hotel guide Andrea went out of his way and got us some hot espresso. We were the envy of all other riders!
I rode with my guide, Daniele and the rest of the guests as a group and then we split up when the Short and Long courses went their separate ways.
Being with a guide made me feel safe and well protected. The start was full of excitement, full of testosterone, a full-on Italian race! My guide, Daniele knew how to navigate through the start, choose the right path, all I had to do was stay on his wheel!
The first gravel section I had ridden a few days before on the bike, so I was well equipped and felt really confident and the bike was perfect and suited the terrain.
Daniele would tell me how to ride, when to stand up, change gears and pointed out the path to take, education is priceless.
It was a spectacular early spring day, big blue sky, and dry, with no wind. The scenery is gorgeous. After leaving Siena the Italian countryside opens up to reveal the visual landscape of Tuscany, which took away any thoughts of how my legs were feeling.
The famous white dust didn’t really kick up very much, unless you were right behind someone, but it wasn’t an issue at all. We were all spread out across the road.
There were 4 or 5 feed stations, with bars and gels, fruit, people to help refill our bottles while we ate. Very well organized and there were medical and mechanical teams out on course if anyone had any trouble.
I knew the final climb of Santa Caterina was going to be one pedal stroke after another just to get up it. It felt like it was a kilometre long! There were so many spectators watching that you didn’t dare stop and get off your bike, it was gruelling! I couldn’t stand up my legs were so tired after 140 km of riding.
Funnily, being a woman, all the women spectators were screaming at me all the way up! I finally made it to the top and to the final turn.
Getting to the top final climb was better than finishing!
For you what were the highlights of your trip, the food, the sites, the culture and the people?
Our group was 12 people from all over the world, a small and intimate group. The camaraderie that came together was a magical experience. We had a What’s App group and we still chat to this day!
Our dinner after the race was unbelievable, we took a short drive to the Italian countryside to a local farm for another exclusive dinner, again fresh farm to table, we heard stories from the owner, laughed all night and shared plate after plate of delicious food. It was great end to an amazing day!
You would never have the experiences without Garda Bike Hotel in terms of local authentic food which was to die for!
The bikes were all set up by the mechanics, so comfortable, so relaxed, you don’t need to worry about a thing, just ride and soak it all up.
Just being in Italy is so romantic, the food, the hospitality and the countryside – unforgettable.
Garda Bike Hotel are renowned for their all-inclusive Italian cycling experiences, what drew you to them in the first place and how did you find out about them?
I found out about them through my husband, we were both avid cyclists before we met, and he wanted to share this amazing experience with me.
We go back at least once a year, as much as we can!
As a Gran Fondo guide, Garda Bike Hotel’s friendly and extremely professional staff was above five star service, which blew us away, would you agree?
It’s so comfortable, inviting, and warm, the staff are so happy to be there and you are the recipient of this. They do your laundry, they feed you, they set up your bike, and you don’t have to lift a finger if you don’t want to.
At the same time it’s very professional. It’s the “6-star bike treatment”.
Would you agree that Garda Bike Hotel is without doubt the best choice if you don’t speak the language and come from abroad and want an authentic experience?
Without question. It feels like my home away from home.
Garda Bike Hotel are renowned for repeat visit from clients, how many times have you stayed there and are you planning your next visit?
Yes, we are planning to go there next year and do a Gran Fondo. We have stayed 7 or 8 times, my husband has been there 10 years in a row!
Overall how would you rate Garda Bike Hotel out of 10?
12 out of 10, thanks to Nicola and the team he has created. He takes his job very seriously, he is a master craftsman, he’s remarkable, unparalleled. It’s just the best service and experience in the world!
Limited Edition VIP: Experience Italy’s Strade Bianche with Garda Bike Hotel
Dine with Bora-Hansgrohe the team of Peter Sagan. Watch the Pro race with exclusive access. Ride Tuscany’s “white gravel roads” at the front of the Strade Bianche Gran Fondo on a new Pinarello Grevil bike
Official Strade Bianche Tour Operator, Garda Bike Hotel are excited to offer just 20 cyclists, the cycling trip of a lifetime.
This world class experience includes preferential start at the front of the Strade Bianche Gran Fondo, which sees over 5,000 cyclists tackle the same “White Roads” the professional’s race every spring.
In true “Dolce Vita” style, you’ll ride at the front of the Gran Fondo on a brand NEW 2019 Pinarello GREVIL bike.
You’ll dine with BORA-Hansgrohe the team of three times World Champion Peter Sagan at an exclusive intimate dinner.
Limited VIP Places
To provide this exclusive, intimate and authentic VIP Italian cycling tour, numbers are strictly limited to just 20 cyclists.
Register early to secure a place as it will sell out in advance.
To find out more, please visit: gardabikehotel.com/en/strade-bianche-granfondo-cycling-experience