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25-06-2024 | Marcel van Herten

Terre dei Varano: undiscovered hidden gem in the Marche

When the question came up if anyone wanted to report on the Granfondo Terre dei Varano, I was as eager as the proverbial Italian polli to raise my hand. Knowing how beautiful the Marche and the Monti Sibillini are, I jumped at the chance. So, I headed to central Italy with my family for four days, setting up camp at Borgo de' Varano. The trip did not disappoint.

Cycling in Marche, Italy

Enjoying without expectations

With temperatures well above 30 degrees, the area around Camerino promised a hot summer getaway. My preparation was far from ideal after a four-week vacation without a bike. Faced with a mountainous course, I had modest expectations for my performance. So, without any pressure, I tested my new Orbea with Classified, immersed myself in the Italian granfondo circuit, and most importantly, enjoyed the experience. The event also featured the Italian Gran Fondo and Interforze Championship (for police and defense services), which added to the excitement.

Gran fondo Terre dei VaranoI let the three kilometer wall-climbing time trial on Friday pass me by. But on Saturday morning, I joined the randonnee at 6:00 am. After forty-five kilometers, I turned off, while the rest continued for another 160 kilometers and four thousand meters of elevation. I continued my ride as a nice training session and reconnaissance for Sunday's gran fondo. In the afternoon, I took my wife and daughters to the beach of Cupra Marittima. That's the beauty of the Marche region, mountains and beautiful beaches are always within reach.

Hard, fast but relaxed gran fondo

After a blessing by the local parish priest, a peloton of 600 riders set out Sunday morning around eight o'clock from La Rocca, the Old Town. The neutral start to the foot of the hill aligns with the organization's safety mission. Numerous warning signs, extensive deployment of marshals, and local police, along with road closures, ensure that it never feels unsafe. Big compliment!

Gran fondo Terre dei Varano

The atmosphere in the peloton is fairly relaxed, with minimal jostling. Nevertheless, the pace picks up steadily as we approach the first climb of the day. Given my expectations, I don't feel compelled to push too hard. With more challenging climbs ahead, I pace myself, completing this appetizer as a warm-up.

The main course for today: the ascent to Sassotetto. Which translates to "Stone Roof" and is officially known as Valico di Santa Maria Maddalena. This climb spans over thirteen kilometers with some sections exceeding 10% gradients, made even tougher by the scorching sun. The nearly thousand meters of elevation gain is a hefty effort, but the breathtaking views during the climb provide a great reward. The descent offers a stunning panorama of the peaks of the Monti Sibillini.

Wet Dolce

After the Sassotetto climb, nearly a thousand meters of elevation remain through rolling countryside. From the lake of Fiastra, it's a ten-kilometer climb to Cupi (Passo di Arastretta), followed by treacherous ups and downs until kilometer 100. I pass riders on my left and right, while others latch onto my wheel from behind. 'Nice,' I think after the last technical descent. With over twenty-five kilometers left, descending gently through a valley, we can pick up the pace. The weather in this part of Italy is occasionally unstable, and a heavy rain shower cools everything down. This also seems to dampen the motivation of others to take over. With a group of Italians in my wheel, I think, "Straight line home."

Gran fondo Terre dei Varano

But everyone stays stoically in my wheel. I could use the extra training. This is the terrain where my Orbea Orca Aero shines. I set the cruise control to 40-45 km/h and whizz through the valley. The last eight kilometers are still pretty uphill. The town sign of San Marcello provides some extra motivation to digest the dolce of today back to La Rocca. Satisfied and having enjoyed the ride, I roll over the finish line in Piazza Umberto and plunge into the buzzing crowds around the finish line. For full results, check the Endu website.

Grow diamond

What a treat this gran fondo was. It was tightly organized with top-notch safety, a beautiful course, good roads, warm hospitality, friendliness, delicious food, and excellent accommodation at Borgo de' Varano. The enthusiastic group of cycling enthusiasts made it all possible. After the terrible earthquake of 2016, the region is recovering, and events like this certainly contribute to that. I already fell in love with the region and will definitely return. Above all, come and experience it for yourself. Just like Luc and Els from Mechelen did after reading our article in the run-up to last weekend. But don't forget to pass it on.

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