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United States | Southeast | Virginia >> Riding the Gran Fondo Il Lombardia by Elisabeth Santucci

Riding the Gran Fondo Il Lombardia by Elisabeth Santucci

Brazilian Elisabeth and friends travelled to Italy to ride and watch the Race of the Falling Leaves with Italy’s one and only Garda Bike Hotel!

The Gran Fondo Il Lombardia is the final Monument of the season and one of Italy’s cycling icons, what drew you to ride it?

It’s located in the charming and breath-taking region of Lombardy in Italy. Having watched the Pro race many times, my friends and I wanted to take on the challenge of climbing the fierce Muro di Sormano climb and the opportunity to travel abroad as a group.

Photo: Elisabeth Santucci (centre) and friends

Photo: Elisabeth Santucci (centre) and friends

A large group of us travelled to Garda Bike Hotel, some to cycle tour and some of us rode the Gran Fondo too. I ride with a club here in Rio de Janeiro named after our coach, Beto Vitorio.

Elisabeth, what got you hooked on cycling?

I stopped exercising for twenty years after I got married. I had a short career as a swimmer and water polo player prior. My Husband and I have three kids. As my kids reach adulthood and I have more time, I felt the need of a much healthier lifestyle but struggled to choose an activity.

Motivated by friends, I tried cycling and got fell in love immediately; the feeling of freedom, the beautiful places to ride in, Rio de Janeiro itself is blessed with an incredibly beautiful landscape, the nice people you meet and the constant challenges you face turned cycling into a passionate hobby!

I try to ride twice a week for 2 hours. Living on the flat, its 17 km to some 1,000 m high climbs that were used in the 2016 Olympic road races.

Photo: Garda Bike Hotel guides and clients.

Photo: Garda Bike Hotel guides and clients.

How long have you been riding. How many Gran Fondo’s or other notable events have you ridden?

I started riding in 2013 and rode my first fondo, the Gran Fondo New York in 2014. My friends and I were the very last to start, as we lined up at the back of the Washington Bridge. I guided them out along the route for the first 20km. We had so much fun together, we decided to repeat for the next two years in a row, also participating in other fondos in Brazil as well as Mexico.

In 2017, one of my cycling friends moved to Italy, so a group of us decided to visit and ride with her. I find out about Garda Bike Hotel and started participating on Italian Gran Fondos with them. The first was Prosecco Cycling, then Maratona Dolomites and Gran Fondo Strade Bianche.

The Gran Fondo Il Lombardia was my 4th Italian Gran Fondo and it felt so special. With three dedicated guides from Garda Bike Hotel, we lined up right at the start surrounded by very experienced and passionate Italian Cyclists.

I am so glad we had Garda Bike Hotel’s experienced guides with us so we could take advantage of the privileged front start position. At some point I realized I was riding right behind the wheel of the famous extreme ultra cyclist Omar di Felice.

After Lombardia, I rode the Gran Fondo Galo Nero and can’t wait to return to Garda Bike Hotel and participate in another one.

Did you bring your own bike to Italy?

After discovering Garda Bike Hotel, I only ever use one of their top Pinarello racing bikes!

Garda Bike Hotel was the only place we found that had the bike sizes we needed for the whole group and were perfectly maintained like brand new all of the time.

I used a Pinarello F10 for the Gran Fondo which was perfect. I also have my own Pinarello at home too.

You travelled in a group, tell us more about them?

I’ve been to Garda Bike Hotel in large groups and on my own. There are always nice people to ride with in any case.

I went with a large group this time; Alice Tamborindeguy, Olga Oakim, Carla Diamante, Bruna Miranda, Isa and Fatima Bragança, Rolland Duarte and Ana Calil who didn’t ride the Gran Fondo.

The people who rode the fondo were Carla Penna (with daughter Sofia), Ana Vitoria Carneiro, Daniela Dias and Felipe Calil.

Photo: Part of the group who enjoyed sight-seeing the day of the race.

Photo: Part of the group who enjoyed sight-seeing the day of the race.

The Garda Bike Hotel Experience is very unique, you get to know people during the ride, after that, you can join them for a drink and dinner if you wish. Nicola and Alberto, and the rest of the staff are so friendly and professional and see to your every need. You never feel alone from the minute you arrive, it feels so friendly, calm and relaxed, a real home from home!

So how did you get in the Gran Fondo?

The Lombardia course is 110km long with the steep climb of the Muro di Sormano or you can choose an alternative route that is longer but less steep. I did the Muro di Sormano.

It was so steep and very narrow. The climb is one of the most difficult climbs used in professional road racing with an average gradient of 17% and a maximum of 25% over 1.7 km it climbs 1,105m!

The Giro di Lombardia dates back to 1905 and is the last of the five Monuments of the season. Previous winners include the Italians Alfredo Binda, Gino Bartali, Felice Gimondi and Fausto Coppi, who triumphed a record five times.

Photo: The punishing climb of the Muro di Sormano

Photo: The punishing climb of the Muro di Sormano

Where did you start?

With Garda Bike Hotel we were at the very front, VIP departure with our three guides, Latino (Anderson Cordeiro Rita) the one who pushed us like a rocket, Davide Magon and Danile Bonechi.

Photo: Part of the group who enjoyed sight-seeing the day of the race visited the Madonna del Ghisallo Chapel

Photo: Part of the group who enjoyed sight-seeing the day of the race visited the Madonna del Ghisallo Chapel

Did you ride in the group or with a friend?

Out of our group of 15, five of us took part. It was fantastic at the beginning, I couldn’t resist going with the flow, so I got separated from the group after the fast start and did the Muro di Sormano and Madonna del Ghisallo by myself!

The rest of the group told me the guide support was fundamental for them to have a great ride, helping them during the tough climbs and pushing them at the flats. Garda Bike Hotel’s guides were invaluable in protecting us and looking after us for the whole day.

What was the atmosphere like?

Fantastic! Even my friends that panic during these events felt so safe and calm. Everything was planned in detail by Garda Bike Hotel to give us the best experience ever. So much so you didn’t even realize throughout the day!

Did you finish and how did it compare to your ambitions?

I was frustrated that I couldn’t ride the whole Muro di Sormano. But I loved the experience!

Riding with Italians is quite different then with amateurs from around the world. In America, Mexico and Brazil you ride with all kinds of beginners but in Italy, even non-professionals are very experienced and competitive.

The route is so beautiful, I loved it!

How did Garda Bike Hotel make your day special?

They made the whole experience very special. On our way from Garda to Como, we stopped at Lecca for dinner to have a briefing on the route from a Bora-Hansgrohe pro cyclist David Formolo! We were all given a beautiful book, a bag and a bottle from the team.  The next, day we cycled an astonishing route to Alpe di Collono, we had lunch on the top and came back to our Hotel, at night we had dinner at a very elegant restaurant in Como.

On Saturday, we went to the famous Madonna del Ghisallo chapel close to Lake Como. The chapel is dedicated to the patron saint of cycling. The chapel is a place of pilgrimage for Italian cyclists. Next door to the chapel is the cycling museum. The collection includes the bikes ridden by Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi and Eddie Merckx in their Tour de France victories, as well as a collection of pink, yellow and rainbow jerseys and other memorabilia - read up on your history of Italian cycling to get the most out of it!

We had lunch at Bellagio and went to the finish line of the professional race to watch the arrival from a privileged VIP trailer, toasting with a Prosecco, then we came back to our Hotel to rest, relax at the outstanding SPA and have dinner.

Photo: Bora-Hansgrohe pro cyclist David Formolo and Elisabeth Santucci

Photo: Bora-Hansgrohe pro cyclist David Formolo and Elisabeth Santucci

On race day, Garda Bike Hotel staff had our bikes prepared with number plates, water bottles, food for the race and also a package with our breakfast ready for us. They took us to the starting line, took our coats back to the Hotel so we didn’t have to take them with us during the ride, guided us during the event and then back to the Hotel.

While we were racing, part of the rest of our group did an easy ride and took the opportunity to do some sight-seeing to charming places at Lake Como.
We all had dinner together in a very elegant Italian restaurant to celebrate the day. We were so happy that the Hotel Van became a mobile disco with everybody dancing and singing on the way home!

Photo: The race is near the shores of the beautiful and stunning Lake Como

Photo: The race is near the shores of the beautiful and stunning Lake Como

What was it like climbing the Muro di Sormano, otherwise known as ‘The Wall’? Did you make it to the top!

No, I didn’t. I regret that I did not prepare myself properly for the race. Most of us walked some meters upthe Muro di Sormano. It was so steep and narrow.

The ascent to the famous Chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo! How about that one?

Yes! I loved the climb, thinking of all the marvelous cyclists that rode there before me gave me even more enthusiasm. Its 10.6km long with a total ascent of 552m, meaning the average gradient is a relatively benign 5.2%, but it includes several sharp stretches at over 10%.

How did your race strategy play out?

We planned to race all together but I just let go and found my own rhythm and after Muro, I found myself riding with ultra-cyclist Omar di Felice and his domestique. I sat behind them and it was a real blessing.

All of our group ended in good shape thanks to Garda Bike Hotel’s guides and we were very happy with our achievements!

There were only 70 women who took part and I finished 13th overall female.

For you, what were the highlights of your trip, the food, the sites, the culture and the people?

Garda Bike Hotel easily got us in the mood to enjoy the most of the food, the astonishing landscapes, the historical places, the amazing roads and the fantastic bikes we rented, with the Pinarello F10’s and some with Pinarello Nytro’s!

We all had so much fun! The Hotel we stayed at in Moltrasio was The Grand Hotel Imperiale. It was wonderful, with a fantastic view from the lake, a gorgeous swimming pool, a Spa, beautiful gardens, elegant, cozy rooms, and a nice restaurant with a delicious breakfast. We were a comfortable distance from the starting and finishing lines. And for me, this Gran Fondo was a remarkable one!

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?

Three years ago, we were travelling to Italy to cycle in a group of 10 women, we wanted to rent bikes and it was really difficult to find bikes for everyone. We didn’t know the routes either.

It was when my friend saw Garda Bike Hotel on Gran Fondo Guide that we did some research. We got in touch by email, and they answered immediately. We all agreed that would be the perfect choice for us.

Photo: Latino pushes Ana Vitoria Carneiro up the brutal Muro di Sormano

Photo: Latino pushes Ana Vitoria Carneiro up the brutal Muro di Sormano

As Gran Fondo Guide, we rated Garda Bike Hotel’s friendly and extremely professional staff above five star service, which blew us away, would you agree?

Indeed, they are extremely kind, attentive to everyone to provide the very best experience for the whole duration of your stay from the minute you arrive. They go further than you would expect. The service beats any world class hotel like the Dorchester in London.

For example, my friend said she was a truffle lover and that evening Nicola surprised us a special plate of white truffles for our dinner.
This caring way they treat all guests like family friends, made us come back many times. They make us feel home. All the staff. They know your name, they remember what you like. It really is a one of a kind experience.

That’s why so many guests, come back year after year.

Would you agree that Garda Bike Hotel is without doubt the best choice if you don’t speak the language and come from abroad, wanting an authentic experience?

Certainly. You will have the best of the local food, wine, roads, and sites, all with comfort and safety. Garda Bike Hotel will show their guests a slice of Italy that you just can’t experience elsewhere, it’s incredible.

Garda Bike Hotel are renowned for repeated visits from clients, how many times have you stayed there and are you planning your next visit?

In the last three years, I’ve been there so many times, with groups of friends, with my family and also by myself. We are planning to stay there next year and do the Gran Fondo Alé la Merckx with some of the friends from our first visit.

Overall how would you rate Garda Bike Hotel out of 10?

It really, really, stands out, 10 out of 10 is not even enough to describe the whole experience!



Official Tour Operator, Garda Bike Hotel are excited to offer limited groups of cyclists, cycling trips of a lifetime. Below are cycling packages confirmed for the summer & autumn of 2020


September 13, 2020

The Strade Bianche is a unique Gran Fondo, famous for its hilly, white (unpaved / gravel) roads, the same roads that make up the famous Strade Bianche Pro bike race. The white gravel, common throughout the picturesque Tuscan countryside, provides the unique character of the race.

As a tour operator for the Strade Bianche, we will offer you the best possible “white roads” experience.  Not only we will guarantee your registration to this event, which sells out year after year, you will also have VIP status, up front at the start of this monumental race. Our staff will take care of your every need. We’ll have a program of personalized rides with expert local guides in a group of no more than 15 cyclists, so everyone will be showered with attention and 24h support from our staff. 

It will be an unforgettable experience, not only because of the unique character of the roads, but because we’ll be bringing our “Dolce Vita” style to Tuscany. We’ll have the chance to visiti the medieval Siena and because Tuscany is so well known for its Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and many other wine varieties, you can be sure we’ll taste the local wine. We’ll dine on Tuscan specialties, like Ribollita (a hearty Tuscan soup) and Bistecca alla Fiorentina (a mouthwatering steak, grilled to perfection). 

In true “Dolce Vita” style, you’ll ride at the front of the Gran Fondo on a brand NEW 2020 Pinarello GREVIL bike.

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



September 27, 2020

Join over 2000 cyclists for one of the highlights of the Gran Fondo cycling scene in north-east Italy. This is a brilliant Italian Gran Fondo cycling event celebrating the end of season Prosecco harvest. The start line for the Prosecco Cycling Gran Fondo is in the centre of Valdobbiadene where you will be sent off to the sound of the Nessun Dorma Aria from Turandot, with waiters waving bottles of wine at the peloton.  After this dramatic departure, it’s a short climb before setting off for a fast, winding descent through the hills and Prosecco vineyards of North-Eastern Italy. Very much an end of season celebration of riding and wine and food.

Garda Bike Hotel initially attended this Granfondo in 2009, and it was a spectacular event. The Prosecco Cycling features a unique route that has been successfully tested over the last few years. Last year, the route was 98.4 kilometers and had a total altitude of 1,680 meters.

During this Tour you will ride a Pinarello Dogma F12 disk!

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/granfondo-prosecco-cycling-package



TBC: October 2020

We love when the Giro D’Italia comes to our part of Italy…the excitement, the passion, the glory… it fills our neighbourhoods and villages and touches everyone. We relish this spirit as our world turns pink.  Sharing our love of the Giro with friends and guests is personal for us.  It is the most authentic Italian cycling experience we have, and it is right in our backyard. There’s no better holiday for the avid cyclist that appreciates the pro peloton and the history and culture of this great race.  Let us show you our Giro. This is our 8th year offering a Giro package, and with our experience and local knowledge, you can trust that we will provide you with quality hotels, smooth transfers, special Giro stage access close to the action, and of course, a cycling holiday that you will talk about for years to come…

We’ll ensure that you experience the action of the Giro first-hand, taking you to many of the key mountain stages in Northern Italy to see the pros do battle, watch stage finishes and be part of the excitement of the podium ceremonies.

Most importantly, you can be sure that our focus will be on you! And the best part…. you’ll be riding a Pinarello Dogma F12, with Di2 and disc brakes, included in the Package!

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: https://www.gardabikehotel.com/en/giro-italia-cycling-package



October 4th, 2020

Colnago, the iconic and historic symbol of Italian Cycling, has chosen Lake Garda as the setting for their flagship amateur event, the COLNAGO CYCLING FESTIVAL.

Join 5000 enthusiastic cyclists for this spring opener, and experience the magic and enchantment of Lake Garda, the passion of Colnago and the adrenaline and challenge of this gran fondo.

The Granfondo Colnago starts just 15 km from us on the beautiful waterfront of Desenzano del Garda and is one of the TOP 10 Italian Granfondos. With two route lengths to choose from, we cycle to the hilly west coast of Lake Garda, as well as the southern side of the lake and the hinterlands, with fantastic views of the lake and surrounding areas. This is a unique festival in our area, with many events exclusively for cycling lovers and families wanting to discover Lake Garda by bike!! Treat yourself to a cycling holiday with us on Lake Garda,and enjoy the festival!  Arts, Culture, Sport, Entertainment, Food and Wine, Nature and Shopping in a Lovely Landscape.

From Friday through Sunday, you will discover how to prepare, face, and complete this challenge like a professional – whether you plan to race against the field or push yourself to your own limits.  All this in the country that taught us how to cycle with passion, how to build bicycles with style, and that has the most stunning cycling scenery in the world!

We will take care of everything for you, so that you can focus on the event.   We’ll register you, take you to pick up your race bag, and bring you to the start line of the Gran Fondo!  We understand you are in a new country and at an unfamiliar event, so we will make sure you don’t face any confusion or have to guess at the process.  We’ll be there to navigate you through it with ease.

In fact, all you have to do is book a flight, get on the plane, and ride the event.

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/granfondo-colnago-desenzano-cycling-package

Tag: gardabikehotel
Jul 04 2020 - NEWS: Riding Prosecco Cycling with Garda Bike Hotel, by Terence Mauri
May 23 2020 - NEWS: Strade Bianche is the first Pro race scheduled to take place on August 1st
Jun 22 2020 - NEWS: Riding the Gran Fondo Il Lombardia by Elisabeth Santucci
Apr 23 2020 - NEWS: Ride with Garda Bike Hotel on Zwift this Saturday!
Apr 17 2020 - NEWS: Ride with Garda Bike Hotel on Zwift this Saturday!
Dec 10 2019 - NEWS: Riding Strade Bianche with Garda Bike Hotel by Jonathan Cooper
Feb 22 2020 - NEWS: Riding the Granfondo Alè la Merckx with Garda Bike Hotel
Jan 10 2020 - NEWS: 5 Star Cycling Experience: Riding the Giro d’Italia with Garda Bike Hotel
Nov 26 2019 - NEWS: Riding Strade Bianche with Garda Bike Hotel by Calla Barras
Jun 09 2019 - NEWS: Ride the Granfondo Il Lombardia on a Pinarello Dogma F12 Disk with Garda Bike Hotel!
Apr 12 2019 - NEWS: Ride the Maratona dles Dolomites Gran Fondo with Garda Bike Hotel
Oct 28 2018 - NEWS: Limited Edition VIP: Experience Italy’s Strade Bianche with Garda Bike Hotel
Aug 25 2018 - NEWS: Ride Prosecco Cycling with Garda Bike Hotel
Aug 13 2018 - NEWS: VIDEO: Italy's New Lake Garda Bike Path is Breathtaking
Sep 13 2020 - EVENT: Strade Bianche Gran Fondo
Sep 20 2020 - EVENT: Gallo Nero Gran Fondo
Sep 27 2020 - EVENT: Prosecco Cycling
Sep 27 2020 - EVENT: Prosecco Cycling
Oct 04 2020 - EVENT: Colnago Cycling Festival
Oct 04 2020 - EVENT: Colnago Cycling Festival
Oct 11 2020 - EVENT: Granfondo Il Lombardia
Jun 04 2021 - EVENT: Granfondo Alè la Merckx