Superrandonnée dei 100 Bersaglieri – that means more than 600 kilometers and 15,000 meters of altitude gain in just 60 hours, including breaks.
My video (6 min):
My birthday is approaching – help! It’s already the 61st – on Facebook, I see that someone has dared to ride the Superrandonnée dei Cento Bersaglieri again. So far, only just over two dozen have dared this challenging adventure, including only one woman. I wonder what possessed me this time, because I spontaneously decide to give myself this as a birthday gift. But can I do it? I am tough, but probably too slow as a ‚lumaca‘ (snail). I promise myself that if I don’t make it, I will sign up for senior gymnastics soon. That must be motivation enough. And if I should have even the slightest chance, then only at the expense of breaks and sleep.
At 5 a.m. on October 6th, it’s supposed to start. The shock fully wakes me up: Musseu suddenly appears unexpectedly in front of my California, mercilessly filming groggy Gabi. Then the start is captured. Now I just have to pedal and pass 18 control points with lots of altitude meters in between. I am supposed to immediately send the photos as proof on WhatsApp. The adventure can begin.
And what will await me in the next two and a half days (60 hours) becomes apparent to me in the first few kilometers on a smaller scale. We go uphill right away, and it’s quite steep. Musseu described it beforehand as ’spaccagambe‘ – there isn’t a direct translation, but ’spaccare‘ means ‚to smash‘ and ‚gambe‘ are ‚legs‘ in Italian.
In the constant up and down, I am not particularly fast at Lake Garda, where I had thought I would quickly cover those few kilometers – the elevation profile shamelessly deceived me there. Of course, compared to what awaits me, these few ‚hills‘ are nothing. Just wait, Gabi!
A brief pause along the lake, little traffic, a very beautiful morning atmosphere. Suddenly I turn pale, my jaw drops in shock. Musseu wouldn’t happen to… Not far ahead of me is Punta Veleno, considered the toughest climb at Lake Garda. An average gradient of 14.6% with peaks of 20%. And there is no break. Luckily for me, I have to turn off earlier. The luck is short-lived, as similar to Punta Veleno, it’s an uphill climb to Lumini with gradients of up to 18%. Later, I will be told that among insiders, this climb is called ‚la sorella piccola‘ – the little sister of Punta Veleno.
I descend, searching in vain for the next checkpoint, ‚The Plane Tree of the 100 Bersaglieri.‘ The Bersaglieri were a corps of the Italian Army, originally part of the Piedmontese Army, which later became the Royal Italian Army. Apparently, during World War II, some soldiers hid in the branches of this monumental tree. I don’t have time to rest in the shade of this tree, which apparently sprouted from a seed in the 14th century. I passed the tree and have to go back a few kilometers for the proof photo. Bad luck, especially since I don’t have time to lose.
Now it’s uphill again, steadily climbing. No leg-friendly percentage indications on my Garmin… High above me, I see Spiazzi. Although I decide not to go on pilgrimages (nearby is the spectacularly carved into the rock monastery Madonna della Corona), I decide to refresh myself with cola and a ‚Fiamma,‘ a chocolate-covered chocolate mousse tartlet. I also need to refill my water.Then onward – away from the tourist hustle and bustle. I realize soon that the little flame (Fiamma) doesn’t provide strength for long.
A few kilometers, but several meters in altitude later, a little bench invites me for a bread-eating break. I can’t go on. It’s incredibly hot; you’d think it’s midsummer, not two weeks into autumn. If I’m already feeling weak now, after not even 100 kilometers and 3000 meters of altitude… how will it develop further? I still have almost 150 km to go to the planned sleeping spot, with another 3000 meters of altitude to climb. I’m pessimistic, even though it’s brilliantly bright here.After gobbling down my bread, the water for rinsing is already gone… I lie flat on the bench for a power nap. Sleep doesn’t come, and when a beech nut falls on my head, I frustratedly continue. Motivation is something else.
It’s incredibly steep now, and I get off the bike and push for a kilometer. I’m already considering that I won’t cross the Adige Valley but will instead turn north towards home or maybe better, south, and retrieve the car. The 100 Bersaglieri are definitely not for me!It levels out again, and a energy-replenishing mini descent takes me to the proof photo at Rifugio Graziani under the Altissimo peak. From there, it’s downhill for many kilometers.
At the bottom of the valley, the ‚Bicigrill Ruota Libera‘ awaits me. I sit there comfortably in the shade and contemplate. What to do? Is it worth pushing myself like this? It’s already afternoon, and who knows when I can find a place to sleep. Ride through the night and possibly the next one too? Impossible! Does this whole endeavor even make sense? I surely won’t make it to Verona on time. Why continue torturing myself then? The shadows are longer now, the heat has passed. I decide to give it one more shot. I want to climb the Peri-Fosse. I can still roll down afterward.
It’s a bit cooler now, and the 11 hairpin turns through the sparse forest are relatively easy for me. After each kilometer, I ‚force‘ myself (just kidding!) to stop briefly for a drink. Even the short stretch with a 15% gradient near the end, the existence of which suddenly occurs to me on the way, isn’t that bad. Another break in Fosse for cola and ice cream. It seems I won’t get out of pausing today… Well, never mind, I won’t make it to Verona anyway. Let’s keep going.
I have to climb up to the Lessinia Plateau. The bar is already behind me when it dawns on me: I don’t have enough water. Just a small bottle left. Who knows when I’ll find the next fountain the next day… Did I mock a fellow cyclist who knocks on doors for sunscreen, water, and a restroom break? Now, it seems to be the only solution: I have to ask at one of the last houses in Fosse. I ring the bell. A kind elderly lady opens the door; she doesn’t seem to quite understand what I want, but when I hold out my water bottle, she gets it. Lucky me! Because after that, there really isn’t any water for a very long time.
Motivated, I now conquer an unpleasant gravel section and pedal my way up towards Malga Lessinia. It’s slowly getting dark. The sky is beautifully tinted in red. On the nearby horizon, two large figures emerge, two deer, which startle just like I do and bound away. The trees become sparse, and the cool breeze grows stronger. At the highest point, I put on my thin down jacket. A short descent, and then I have to climb up again to Malga San Giorgio.
Originally, I had planned to climb the next ‚mountain‘ as well, but it’s almost 10 p.m., and I decide to roll only as far as Selva di Progno because doing more than 6000 meters of altitude in one day seems a bit excessive to me. And perhaps the upcoming ‚poisonous‘ gradient in the early morning might feel easier.
The last descent of the day is on a newly asphalted road. What luck I have! I speed downhill. Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement, and suddenly a thick gray lump is rolling (?) toward me. I hear claws clicking on the pavement, and before I know it, the creature is next to me. I swerve just in time to avoid it. What was that? It dawns on me; it was a full-grown badger. With trembling knees, I pick up speed again. But now, I’m rolling at a much more cautious pace. Who knows what else is roaming around at night. It’s a shame I’m passing through here in the dark. Apparently, it’s quite exciting here; I see cliffs beside me and large rocks, perhaps a ravine? Not my preferred way to cycle, as I prefer to admire landscapes during the daylight.
The rest break is brief; around 4 a.m., I’m back on the saddle. Two climbs (as suspected, ‚poisonous‘) and I’m rolling towards Recoaro Terme, located at the foothills of the Small Dolomites. Breakfast time! Then it gets serious: I have to climb 1200 meters in altitude to reach Rifugio Campogrosso under the beautiful peaks of the Carega group. The dark red color on the elevation profile also signals trouble. The ascent, in the increasingly warm sun, is relentless once again and makes me doubt myself for the umpteenth time.
But the suffering passes, and the next descent and rest stop at Passo Xomo work wonders. Until the ascent to the plateau of Sette Comuni, there’s still a way to go; first downhill, then, as the Italians say, a ‚falso piano,‘ where it seems flat… The countless hairpin turns up to the 7 Comuni are in scorching heat, but with a moderate gradient. Somehow, I have to convince myself of the positive side. Proof photo in Rotzo (a funny name, they speak Cimbrian in this linguistic island). Unfortunately, it’s half an hour too early for the gnocchi specialties offered up here, but I treat myself to a delicious tost with Asiago cheese.Then it’s time for a supermarket stop; I need to stock up because the next day is Sunday. Interestingly, I only drink kefir during long bike rides, and it immediately refreshes me. My body somehow craves it. And they say one should listen to their body; well, at least in this regard. If I had listened to my body yesterday, I probably wouldn’t be here now… It had already told me after 100 km and 3000 meters of altitude, ‚Gabi, you’re crazy!‘
Great, now it’s almost flat and fast over the plateau, including through Asiago. However, I find the traffic here less pleasant. At the other end of the 7 Comuni, there’s a descent into Valsugana, and on the other side, near Primolano, I go uphill again, passing the fortifications from World War I.
Another crisis strikes me: I’m approaching Caupo, the starting point for the ascent to Monte Grappa. I’ve been here before, but back then, of course, I rode up early in the morning. Now, however, it’s just past 6:00 PM, and dusk is slowly settling in. I remember that back then, in Seren del Grappa, we ate at a small pizzeria and could rent a room there. Maybe I could challenge fate and give them a call? If they had a room available… then I could have a leisurely breakfast tomorrow and roll down to Bassano del Grappa via the beautiful bike path instead of climbing the mountain in the darkness now… Should I?
Originally, I had planned to cross Monte Grappa and then find a room somewhere. That probably wouldn’t work anymore because by the time I’d be on the other side at the base of the mountain, midnight would certainly have passed. Oh dear! Can I afford a few hours of sleep at all? And how healthy is that? After 400 kilometers and over 12,000 meters of ascent, depriving my body of sleep? And what about the descent from Monte Grappa? Over 20 kilometers… will I have to battle fatigue?
I contemplate for a long time, and by now, I’ve already made the turn. Here begins the longest ascent to Rifugio Bassano, stretching almost 29 kilometers with an elevation gain of 1600 meters. Maybe I can climb a bit and then roll back down… As I calculate and calculate… it takes me more than 8 minutes for one kilometer; how long will it take me to reach the summit? Oh no, far too long! While my brain is ‚jogging‘ – occupied with mental exercises (calculating doesn’t come easily after so much exertion), so while I calculate and calculate, I’ve already covered the first 8 kilometers.
I take a short eating break, and then it’s not that bad anymore. Short steep climbs alternate with flat sections.
There! In the darkness, a car suddenly stops in front of me. The window rolls down. The driver asks if I’ve heard or seen anything. He had lost his two-year-old ‚femmina,‘ a girl, in the afternoon, and there are wolves here… That’s terrible; how can a child get lost? I express my shock. As I continue riding, it dawns on me that the ‚femmina‘ was a young female dog. But still, poor thing! And wolves? Here? I pick up the pace.
At some point, I reach the turnoff to the summit. The almost three kilometers still feel like chewing gum, but then I’m at the top! And it’s only half past nine, earlier than I had hoped. A strong wind blows up here, almost pulling the bike out of my hands. I quickly change into dry clothes and start descending immediately. While I initially feared that I might experience microsleep attacks during the nighttime descent, I’m still relatively alert when I arrive in Bassano.
The search for shelter proved to be initially unsuccessful. A park was too brightly lit and exposed to passersby, a hotel garden would likely be locked, and besides the roads and sidewalks, there was nothing else. Just before the next ascent, I found the perfect sleeping spot. A church with a hidden park. I set up my camp, and just as I was about to squeeze into my sleeping bag, I heard footsteps. Two men turned the corner and headed toward an entrance near me. Oh no, what should I do now? I’m not invisible, and the reflectors on my bike suddenly caught the emerging light. I timidly asked if I could sleep there. One of the two men, I presumed they were the priest and the caretaker, kindly agreed and even unlocked a function room for me, where I could use the restroom and washbasin. So kind!
I want to allow myself 3 hours of sleep now, that’s all I can afford because I still have a lot ahead of me, and I have to be in Verona at exactly 5:00 PM to qualify for the Randonneur ranking. For the Tourist ranking, I would have a total of 8 days, but I have to work on Monday. I sleep well; my alarm rings much too early, and by 3:00 AM, I’ve packed my things and continue cycling.
Now, I have a significant mountain ahead of me with just over 1000 meters of altitude, followed by 6 more, which I used to call ‚hills‘ at that time. Today, it shouldn’t exceed 4500 meters of altitude over nearly 150 kilometers. Only now do I realize that I have to climb back up to the 7 Comuni plateau. The road winds its way up in the darkness. Occasionally, a car passes by in the opposite direction. What are they doing so early? I hope they see me, all bleary-eyed as they probably are.
At some point, I feel the urgent need to eat and take a short break. Shortly after, I pass through a village and can hardly believe my eyes: now at half past four, I’m standing in front of a brightly lit bar, from which music and loud laughter emanate. Huh? Are they already open? I desperately need a latte macchiato with two sugars!! No, they’re not ‚already‘ open, but ’still‘ open! I get my coffee and get into a conversation, greeted with incredulous amazement about how early it is. A man named Luciano tells me that since yesterday, everyone has been taking turns buying a round, they’re all having fun. Luciano can hardly believe my endeavor; he even feels the need to offer me a room, thinking I must urgently need sleep. No, thank you, I actually need to urgently continue. It’s not easy to say goodbye.
But then I pedal through the cool night air towards the highest point. Solitary forest. There! A car behind me, slows down, drives alongside, slows down, and finally stops next to me. With the window rolled down, Luciano says the offer for the room still stands. He wants to help me. I firmly say, ‚No, thank you!‘ and the car continues on. Shortly after, another car approaches me, then again a car behind me, slows down, drives alongside, slows down… then it overtakes me and disappears. I breathe a sigh of relief, thinking it might be the same person offering help again. And just when I thought the drivers here were early risers, I was proven wrong: there are people on the road who probably shouldn’t be driving due to their alcohol level…
Fortunately, I have to turn now, and at Bocchetta Galgi, I quickly gear up for a fast descent. It’s getting bright, and at this early hour, I find an open bar full of hunters. Here, I stock up on pastries. Fueled up, I continue my journey.
The first ‚hill‘ calls. If only I hadn’t thought so dismissively about what lies ahead of me, these few hills… In the first meters of the ascent, it becomes clear to me, these are not hills, but ‚poison dwarfs‘! Relentless gradients turn the 300 to 400-meter ascents into torture. Moreover, the sun soon beats down mercilessly. Musseu seems to have added every possible steep hill back there. I can’t stop calculating… Will I make it by 5 o’clock?
Meanwhile, my Garmin Edge has decided that enough is enough… The screen is no longer oriented in the direction of travel but has been north-oriented. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. As if my poor cyclist brain isn’t already tortured enough, I am now faced with a seemingly impossible task: if I ride north, everything is fine; my arrow points in the right direction. But if I ride south, my route arrow on the screen is coming towards me. Still manageable. The real trouble starts when I reach a junction. If my direction of travel is south, it means I have to turn right when the arrow on the device points left. Oh dear, oh dear. How much time is this costing me? It becomes especially tricky when I have to turn southwest or southeast… I think I’ve confused my readers enough by now… While Garmin is always my loyal companion, I suppose I can handle such a challenge in one go, but I shouldn’t subject my device to it.
At some point, despite everything, I reach the second-to-last ascent. I know this one, although not from this steep side. Then all that’s left is Castel San Pietro, the wonderful viewpoint high above Verona. Proof photo taken, and now I’m just rolling downhill. In my excitement, I naturally miss the destination. I had this fixed idea that the endpoint was Negrar, where I started. By the time I realize, I’m completely lost in the streets of Verona. The Garmin problem offers no help; I have no idea where I am, so Google has to come to the rescue.
So, I waste a whole hour until I find the last checkpoint. Doesn’t matter, I’m still an hour and 15 minutes ahead of my ‚closing time’… Finally.
The adventure ends with a giant ice cream with 4 scoops… I really earned that!!!
Looking back, I am incredibly proud of myself—600 kilometers with 15,000 (!!!) meters of elevation gain… I probably jumped into this adventure totally naively, and even today, I can’t believe that I managed to do it, both in terms of distance and time. And now, it seems I don’t have to join the ’senior gymnastics‘ just yet…
Conclusion: I can only recommend the Superrandonnée dei 100 Bersaglieri to anyone who is a bit (or a lot) resilient…
Thank you, Musseu! When I first heard about it, I thought to myself: Something so crazy, definitely not for me… I have no idea what devil possessed me then…