Posted by Miles Arbour
Words and photos by Andrea Securo
The Veneto Trail is a bikepacking event in northeast Italy that takes place every year around the summer solstice. The ride goes through the Venetian Prealps and the Dolomites on singletrack, World War I gravel roads, forest tracks, and secondary paved roads. The event starts and finishes in Cittadella, a medieval walled town 30 kilometers north of Padua. The fifth annual 2019 edition began on June 22nd on a route that was 440 kilometers long with 9,500 meters of elevation. Five years ago, the Veneto Trail was inspired by the Tuscany Trail, what would become the most attended bikepacking event in the world. Our idea was to create a more challenging ride within the Dolomites and the Prealps. The aspect that distinguishes this event from many others is then fact that the route changes every year in order to let riders discover different trails and non-touristic areas in the region.
This year, trail preparation was influenced by a strong wind storm that took place last October in northeast Italy. Specifically, a windstorm named “Vaia” shook the area, felling 8.6 million cubic meters of timber. A lot of trail we had already tracked for this edition became impossible to pass through, even for hikers, so we had to re-route many sections while still trying to avoid paved roads where possible.
After the record setting temperatures we saw in June, we didn’t expect a cold and rainy start. However, that’s what happened. A few of the more adventurous riders enjoyed pedalling the slippery paths near the Brenta river and the muddy foothills, but for the rest of the 138 starters, the rain and mud wasn’t a nice surprise at all. This was confirmed by the highest number of DNFs in Veneto Trail History—all told, 61 riders scratched. This high number was mostly due to the rain, but there were also many riders who underestimated the tracks and came with tyres that were too narrow, the wrong gearing, or not enough equipment for the cold nights in the mountains. It was awesome to see that all eight of the women who started the trail completed it. The bad weather only lasted a day, so many riders regretted quitting because of the much warmer temperatures during the remainder of the race.
After circling the Asiago Plateau through its unique landscapes, war monuments, shepherds’ huts (“Malghe” in Italian), and interesting rock formations, the riders beelined to the Trentino region of the Dolomites. There they climbed the steep and difficult Cereda Pass and were rewarded by majestic views of the Lagorai mountains and the world famous Pala Group (“Gruppo delle Pale di San Martino” in Italian). After descending the Mis Valley, the last imposing obstacle was the great Monte Grappa, where Austrians and Italians fought the front during the First World War. After summiting the climb, a long downhill led the participants back to Cittadella passing through Bassano del Grappa, the birthplace of Grappa (grape-based pomace brandy), as you may have guessed.
Even though the Veneto Trail isn’t technically a race, the fastest riders set an impressive time of 36 hours without stopping for sleep. They always cycled with a smile, without denying a greeting or a photo to anyone, and most importantly, they had fun. Although tired after 104 hours of pedaling, the final finishers arrived wearing the same smile. We greeted all 77 finishers the with a beer and a nice sandwich, the minimum reward after this challenging ride.