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03-05-2024 | Sven Ilaens

GF Bra-Bra: a lovely gran fondo through the Barolo region

It's Sunday, April 28, and my phone's alarm clock is ringing next to my bed. Today the Gran Fondo Bra-Bra will be held in the Italian municipality of Bra. Bra, part of the region of The Langhe is best known for its winemaking. The names Barolo and Barbaresco probably sound most familiar.

I stroll to the hotel breakfast, where there are obviously a few more cyclists getting ready. Most of them are smiling, but some are peering at the window with troubled eyes. After all, it's still raining.

The start is given in the central square of the ancient Roman town of Pollenzo, which is part of Bra. There are about 1100 participants at the start of which one third will ride the gran fondo of 149 km and the rest the medio fondo of 94 km. I myself am in the penultimate start box. I take another look at the gray sky and am already happy that it's not raining anymore. Always dangerous, such a start with wet roads in a peloton.

The start is given, with some familiar names at the front of the roll call: Fabio Aru, Adrie van der Poel, and a delegation from the Fenix women's team. The company that is also the main sponsor of the event. Slowly but steadily the peloton pulls away, just a little caution for the Roman stone road through the village center and we can pick up speed.

A destra

The first 10 km are flat, followed by three climbs in pretty quick succession. Soon the first climb pops up, and as expected the street is completely occupied by cyclists as far as I can see the road rising in front of me. The organization has completely cleared the road along the entire course up to and including the broom truck, so that's no problem at all. Regularly the phrase sounds: 'A destra'. Keep to the right!

In the descent I take no risks and also follow the meandering of the road on my Garmin. A functionality I use more often on unfamiliar roads, at a glance you have an idea how sharp the bend is. Our little group rides up the next climb and we are somewhat out of the crowds. After all, the fast groups are riding far ahead of us, meanwhile the masses are behind us. The third climb is also the longest of the three, 10 km at 4%. The two cookies I had in my back pocket are already consumed, so I decide to stop for 10 seconds at the feed station not far before the summit. I quickly grab three cakes and can continue my way with the group.

At the split between the long and short distance, suddenly half of our group turns left onto the medio fondo course. Something you see more often at Italian gran fondos. The pace slows down a bit on the plateau we are on and there is also a dense fog. Eight degrees, says the traditional green pharmacy sign. But I don't feel the cold.

Surprise climb

After this, it would only be short climbs to my knowledge. But then we turn left onto a road on which my Garmin spontaneously indicates 4 km at 7%. I can somewhat convulsively stay with the group, but have to stop at the top to refill my water bottle. There goes the group... However, the gentleman at the refreshment station is decisive and immediately refills my water bottle while I eat a banana, put some cookies in my back pocket and simultaneously leave my trash on the table.

When I leave, I join two people from our old group of the day. They were dropped on the climb. The pace is fast, they still want to close the gap and I have to pull out all the stops to catch up. After about ten minutes of suffering on a section of false flat, we suddenly see the group riding a few turns further.

Sprint of the dying swans

The remaining part of the ride is thankfully as I had thought it would be: a few more small hills and the finish line is in sight. As usual, everyone prepares for a final effort, because it can't be called sprinting anymore. I crossed the finish line in one hundredth place, tired but satisfied. After the medal and a delicious pasta with beer offered by the organization I watch the award ceremonies in the center.

The organization hopes for a little more sun next year to give this excellently organized gran fondo and its surroundings even more luster. The full results can be found here.

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