Riding the Granfondo Alè la Merckx with Garda Bike Hotel
Belgian cyclist Els Janssens Floren and her husband tackled one of Italy’s iconic Gran Fondo’s from Verona
Els, the Merckx Gran Fondo is one of Italy’s cycling icons, what drew you to ride it?
Every year my husband and I like to set a cycling goal, which typically involves riding a Gran Fondo or two. We’re a real cycling couple!
In 2019, my husband and I decided to ride the Ale Merckx, my husband is a friend of Eddy Merckx and we love Italy, the food, the culture, all the cycling colors. I love Italian fashion, especially shoes! We typically spend two weeks in Italy every year.
My husband’s father is the legendary cyclist Marcel Janssens, a Belgian professional who famously won two stages in the Tour de France, and finished 2nd place in 1957 after Jacques Anquetil. He also won the 1960 edition of Bordeaux–Paris. He finished second place in the 1961 Paris–Roubaix and third in 1959. Unfortunately he died in 1992 after suffering a heart attack at the age of 60. He was also the first cyclist to reach the top of the mighty Col du Galibier in 1957 and won the Henry Desgrange Trophy.
In 2007, 50 years later our family celebrated by all riding up the Galibier too!
7th July 1957 Marcel Janssens was first on the top of the Galibier!
Els, what got you into cycling, apart from your husband’s obvious connection?
I got into cycling after our fully grown children flew the nest. It all started in 2002 when I rode 1,000 km. In 2003 I rode up Mount Ventoux on a MTB in just over 3 hours!
In 2011 at the age of 50, I learned to ride through the Belgian winter and rode around 3,000 km!
Did you bring your own bike?
Yes we drove down and took our bikes with us. I have a Pink Pinarello Dogma F10 and my husband Colnago C64 Gold which is a limited numbered prototype.
When we got to Garda Bike Hotel, the Garda staff, Davide and Andrea took our bikes off us and put them straight into the incredible bike basement.
My husband really appreciated the gentle care and the immaculate cleaning by Garda Bike Hotel co-workers. My husband loves his bike. It has to be clean.
So how did you get on in the Gran Fondo?
I wanted to ride the longer distance Gran Fondo 130 km with 2,700m of climbing.
A week before the Gran Fondo, the organizers stated that you had to reach the 61km mark (with 1,300m of climbing) in 2h 50m to make the cut off time. If you didn’t make it you had to do the Medio Fondo.
You also had to finish the Gran Fondo in 6 hours to get an official time!
I am used to riding on my husband’s back wheel to shelter from the wind, so in effect I could ride the first 30 km faster.
Garda Bike Hotel’s support was invaluable, they prepped our bikes the day before, put on our race chips etc., all we had to do was pin a number on our back at the start. The evening before the Gran Fondo we had a full briefing at the hotel with all the staff and were given contact numbers should we need assistance on the day.
With Garda Bike Hotel, we had VIP priority start in the front pen with Mario Cippolini and Ale women’s pro cycling team which was simply amazing!
Part of the package was an easy ride with Mario Cippolini and friends from Verona the day before, where we got to ride and talk to him. One of my highlights for sure!
How did your strategy play out?
Starting in the front pen was a sure bonus, Italian Gran Fondo’s are fast and I hung onto my husband’s wheel for the first flat 30 km!
When the climbing began I rode at my own pace and my husband waited at the top. Our plan worked, I just made the time cut off of 2h 50m after 61 km over the first climb. I was one of a handful who continued at the back on the Gran Fondo course and was awarded a 20 climb!
The last 10 km of the climb were breathtaking, I felt so blessed, riding at the back Lantern Rouge style, one of the last 10 riders up the huge climb. The view was simply amazing.
My husband waited at the feed station, about 2 km before the top, where we fully hydrated and continued on.
It was pretty much downhill the whole way back, at an average of 1% and fast! My husband saw one of the other guests, Lou ahead in a small group of cyclists. We bridged across and naturally started riding with him.
In fact Lou just sat at the front, sucking us along, it was such a great feeling, like we were really racing. We caught another group and it was head’s down to get back to the finish in Verona.
We crossed the line in around 6h 20m and celebrated. Actually 20 mins of my time was spent eating and drinking. Surprising we made it into the official results. I was one of a handful of females who completed the Gran Fondo!
Garda Bike Hotel were simply amazing, Andrea has waited there all that time and instantly took our bikes off us as we crossed the line, loaded them onto the dedicated van while we got some food and drink and climbed aboard the luxury people carrier for the short ride back to the Garda Bike Hotel!
Garda Bike Hotel’s staff made it such an amazing experience from start to finish, we really felt like VIP professionals, so exhilarating!
For you what were the highlights of your trip, the food, the sites, the culture and the people?
Finishing the Gran Fondo! The food at the hotel is amazing, especially the all-day buffet.
The trip to La Speranzina restaurant in Sirmione on the shores of Lake Garda with the group was the greatest night and an opportunity to get to know the others who were also riding.
Garda’s very friendly and professional staff.
The beautiful streets of Verona are the perfect place to start and end the race but riding with the legends of cycling Eddy Merckx and Mario Cipollini through Verona the day before was surreal.
The Ale race clothing was awesome.
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?
My husband found Garda Bike Hotel online, knowing it was very was near to the start in Verona, having read loads of very positive reviews, so we chose their package.
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?
Fantastic, treated like pros from the start to the finish!
The race day preparation, and support from the hotel team during and after the race was excellent.
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?
Yes of course, because the staff deal with everything, you just concentrate on riding and recovering in style!
Garda Bike Hotel are renowned for repeat visit from clients, how many times have you stayed there and are you planning your next visit?
Last year was our first time, I’d like to do the Giro d’Italia trip on my pink Pinarello!
Overall how would you rate Garda Bike Hotel out of 10?
9 out of 10.
We would thoroughly recommend the package for cyclists wanting to experience the unbelievable exhilaration of a Gran Fondo with thousands of mad keen Italian cyclists of all ages charging off at the start with music, fanfare and cheering of supporters making this a memory that will last for a long time!
This article is dedicated to Marcel Janssens (1931 —1992) a Belgian professional road racer. Janssens won two stages in the Tour de France, and finished 2nd place in 1957 after Jacques Anquetil. He also won the 1960 edition of Bordeaux–Paris. He finished second place in the 1961 Paris–Roubaix. RIP Marcel, we honor your memory.
Ride the Granfondo Alè La Merckx with Garda Bike Hotel
07th June 2020, Granfondo Alè la Merckx: Since 2009 this event has been an unmissable appointment for us at Garda Bike Hotel, and it has particular meaning aswe consider it the most important Granfondo of the year. Located in our beautiful Verona, it is organized by ALE’, who we are proud partner with for our bike kit Last year was a fantastic experience… and for 2020 we want to make it even more special! It will be an unforgettable weekend, where you will have the opportunity to spend time with Mario Cipollini, aka Super Mario, regarded as the best sprinter of his generation. And, it ,won’t be just about cycling, it will be a true “Dolce Vita Experience.” We”lol take you to enjoy the local cuisine and to taste some wine in local wineries!
The departure of this Granfondo once again takes place in one of the “pearls” of Verona, the magnificent Piazza Bra where, with the Arena and the palaces of the historical Verona families as a backdrop, the participants will begin their fantastic adventure of the Alé La Merckx Granfondo race. From the regal stage of Piazza Bra, the Mediofondo (82km, 1,450m vertical) and Granfondo (129km, 2,600m vertical) routes will depart to awaken the cycling lovers of Verona, the homeland of Shakespeare’s inspiration.
We have built this package for you with flexibility in mind. Stay at Garda Bike Hotel before the Alè la Merckx, to warm up for the big event, or after to relax with rides along the lake, or through our beautiful vineyards. It is totally up to you, and we will personalise your holiday to your liking!
This is a 4 night (minimum) package
Cycling Services & Facilities
• optional stay at Lake Garda on demand.
• other optional trip customizations possible on demand.
• VIP Entry to the Granfondo Alé la Merckx (limited places available).
• Collective Transfer from / to Verona (the Granfondo place) the day of the race.
• Technical recovery service during the Granfondo
• Full Garda Bike Hotel Cycling Kit by famous italian brand Alè
• Daily group ride
• Professional Garda Bike Hotel guides
• Support of our Van and driver / mechanic who will look after your bike
• Daily laundry service for bike clothing
• Bike room with alarm, workshop and washing area
• Insurance for Assistance - Medical Expense Reimbursement - Luggage Insurance. CLICK HERE for more info.
Accomodation & Meals
ENJOY GARDA HOTEL **** / Garda Bike Hotel (Peschiera del Garda)
• Accommodation in double rooms with full board board,
• Buffet breakfast every morning,
• Lunch buffet
• Dinner a la carte
PLUS ONLY FOR THIS "VIP" PACKAGE
• Special Dinner in "1 Michelin Star Restaurant “La Speranzina” in Sirmione on Friday night. - Transfer to Sirmione by private boat.
• Special Dinner in a local winery on Sunday evening after the race
Exclusive private transfer with private driver with our Mercedes minivan from and to Verona “Valerio Catullo” airport (available from 8 am to 8 pm) with prior arrangement. This is the nearest airport to Enjoy Garda Hotel.
We can also arrange transfer service from and to the main airports of Northern Italy, such as Milano (Linate - Malpensa), Milano Bergamo, Venice, and Bologna. Let us know, and we’ll organize it. All you need to think about is having fun riding your bike!
The following is a sample of a weekly program that will give you all the highlights of the Lake Garda region and prepare you for the Granfondo.
The ride program is subject to change depending on the weather, the mix of abilities and local conditions.
Monday, 01st June
Arrive and transfer to Garda Bike Hotel in Peschiera del Garda. Welcome drinks while our staff sets up your bike for your first ride.
Tuesday, 02nd June
Our first ride will be along the Riviera degli Olivi. You will discover a corner of the Mediterranean in the south of the lake that is flat and embraced by the gentle slopes of the Riviera degli Olivi. This ride will cater to all abilities.
Wednesday, 03rd June
Epic James Bond ride: this is Nicola’s favourite ride! Your will ride to the other side of the lake, to Tremosine. Defined by Winston Churchill as the eighth wonder of the world, we’ll ride the road of the Forra: it is a real jewel set in the mountains and background of a pursuit of the most famous agent in the world, James Bond in Quantum of Solace.
Thursday, 04th June
This day will be dedicated to riding the Morenic Hills. We think of this area as Little Tuscany, an area that tends to be flatter, but also marked with rolling hills and winding roads.
Friday, 05th June
We will ride the main climb of the Granfondo, from Fumane Valpolicella to Lessinia. We will take you to the plateau of Lessini, with over 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) containing a surprising variety of natural species as well as historical and archaeological sites of inestimable value. In the evening we’ll go by private boat (weather permitting) for a gourmet dinner in Sirmione at the Michelin Starred Restaurant “LA SPERANZINA” with a beautiful terrace on the lake.
Saturday, 06th June
This will be the highlight of our week! We will leave from the hotel either by van or by bike to the starting point of the race (VERONA) to participate in the VIP Ride with the Champions. After cycling with current champions and other cycling friends, we will return by bike or van.
In the evening we'll have a "Galà dinner" all together at the hotel.
Sunday, 07th June- This is the day of GRANFONDO.
After breakfast we will depart for VERONA where you will participate in one of the most beautiful Italian Granfondos, crowning an unforgettable week of passion and cycling. You will be entered into the race as a VIP! After the race we’ll go back to the Hotel and in the evening we take you for dinner in a local winery.
Monday, 8th June
Recovery day with an easy ride to Borghetto, our “Little Venice,” a nearby romantic village. The trip ends, and you’ll check out and transfer to the airport.