Nearly 700km of riding awaits competitors of all abilities at Veneto Gravel in Italy.
Spring is in the air, meaning it’s time to crank up your outdoor bike miles, boost fitness and shift the ‘fun’ dial to 11. Or, when it comes to Europe’s longest official gravel ride, 13. The 2021 Veneto Gravel starts on Saturday 5th June 2021 and is the perfect backdrop to pushing Campagnolo’s gravel-specific 13-speed groupset to the limits.
TEST OF ATTRITION
The fifth edition of Veneto Gravel is a 698km unsupported bikepacking adventure through some of the most glorious countryside, hills and enigmatic Venetian cities that Italy has to offer. In its short but glittering history, it’s carved a reputation as a race of contrasting emotions: the liberating joy of the surroundings versus the depths you must dig to reach the finish line.
Take 2019 where out of the 328 starters, only 157 reached the finish line. It’s a unique challenge in a unique setting.
The ultramarathon event starts in Villa Contarini in Piazzola sul Brenta. This is often dictated by whether competitors are facing the behemoth 698km version or the still-demanding 400km version.
The splendours of Piazzola sul Brenta, including historic examples of neoclassic architecture, is a suitably inspirational setting for riders to begin their adventure.
The route soon weaves its way toward the Berici hills aside kilometre of kilometre of riverbank. This is the sort of topography that gravel bikes and cutting-edge gear like Campagnolo’s 13-speed Ekar was built for. The Ekar’s tough, light and rapid – everything you’re after on a gravel adventure.
It’s also incredibly usable, the 1 x 13 set-up ensuring small but precise movements from one gear to the next for the smoothness of cadence required when battling gravel. And boy, is there some gravel to contend with.
If you felt Strade Bianche’s famed white gravel roads were ominous – there are 11 sectors to contend with, this year’s titles going to Mathieu van der Poel and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, respectively – that’s nothing compared to Veneto Gravel’s 27% of gravel. That’s nearly 189km of the white stuff.
Around 3% of the parcours – 20-plus kilometres – is single-track. ‘Testing’ is an understatement.
There are checkpoints every 100km for riders and the race organisers to ensure they’re on track. These are often bike shops en route, run by local and passionate riders.
You’ll receive guidance, encouragement and, if you’re lucky, a slice of cake!
BEAUTY AT EVERY TURN
From there, the entrants pass vineyards, orchards, pine forests, azure-blue lakes and challenging hills. Fonzaso, Feltre, Trichiana, Lake Santa Croce, Vittorio Veneto… places visited and ridden are like works of art – albeit ones that’ll stretch every sinew and channel the sweat. That’s not simply down to the 698km duration, but also the climbing metres that reach an overall 4,200m.
Again, this is where Campagnolo’s ground-breaking 13-speed Ekar comes into its own. The 1x set-up offers maximum efficiency – as does the 2D parallelogram trajectory that ensures perfect shifts between the sprockets. That’s not easy between 13 sprockets and is why Campagnolo’s the only major groupset manufacturer to offer this gravel epoch-maker.
Rest assured, the Ekar will be in its element with the final dirt descent to the village of Longare, its smooth running reducing drag and maximising speed. The descent will be appreciated respite for the remaining riders, as well. But how many will remain? The finish touches Piazzola sul Brenta around 5km from where the adventure began.
Here, the finishers will find hot showers and hot food. That is for both the 698km competitors and the 400km competitors.
Registration for Veneto Gravel’s closed for 2021 but keep an eye on the website venetogravel.it to create your own gravel memories in 2022.