The 2018 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships take place on the shores of Lake Varese in the Italian Lakes. This is both a beautiful spot and an easy one to get to for UK riders before the next two World Champs in Poland and Canada. We went to ride both the Time Trial and Road Race in October 2017 to get a feel for the routes. Here is what we learned:
UCI World Championships - Time Trial
After a straight forward trip to the small race village, situated in the middle of town, we picked up our registrations and headed to the time trial start a few kilometres away. The route is open for 2 hours for riders to recon, though it is not a hard route there are definitely a couple of parts to check out. The start is by the horse racing track on the edge of town. There are about 10 turbo trainers set up for riders and a few people brought their own. After a quick warm up, we joined the start line and waited nervously until it was our time to go. We left in 30 second intervals so when the person in front of me left, I was in position and in not time they were counting me down.
Out of the gate the route followed the outside of the horse track and with a slight downhill and then out onto a main road. We took a right hander and then a turnaround at a roundabout wide enough to hold some speed. The main part of the route is a long climb which is almost a false flat, very draggy with few steep sections as we head out of town and into the countryside. The climb levels off to the half way point where we turn around. There is a roundabout where I assumed we were turning but the road is coned off and the turn happens in the road before the roundabout. It caught me off guard so check this out on your recon.
After the turn, it was back for a short ride on the flat section and then a long and quick descent on the gentle drag we came up. The route is pretty straight with just a couple of turns as you come back into Varese which I did at close to full pace (though not being a natural time trialler, that is not an accurate replication of your full pace). The main part that caught people out including a rider in front of me is the last major right turn back by the horse racing track. There are marshalls on this corner but a lot of people carried too much weight and had to go very wide. Straight out of this is a slight incline so getting the corner right is crucial. I got it right, carried some speed into the slight climb and by the time I had stomped on my pedals i was over the top. The finish has a left turn into a fast right just before the line.
Overall, a pretty flat, quick route with few sections where I needed to brake hard. The only two bits that I would have liked to practice are the turnaround at the halfway point and the last major right hander as we come back by the horse racing track. It will definitely suit the power riders.
UCI Gran Fondo World Championships Road Race
We had registered the day before so the morning was relaxed having an early breakfast & rolling back into central Varese for a start just after 8.30am. The groups go out in age order, men first and then women. I was in the third group leaving at 8.44am. I was riding the Granfondo Tre Valli Varesine, the same route as the World Champs but a different peloton with mostly local riders but a good selection of cyclists from around the world checking conditions for next year. As expected, the pace from the start was quick as it always is in a local Italian Granfondo as we headed north out of town into the countryside. We were quickly into a 10km false flat which led us to the Passo del Tedesco. This is not unlike a climb you might find back home - 4.5km averaging 7% with some tight hairpins. The gradient was pretty consistent at 7 to 8% and probably the steepest section of the race, being close to Varese it will be easy for you to recon this section before the race.
The pace increased on this climb and I lost touch with the leading pack at this point. From the top of the climb (km17) we then had a quick descent for 20km down to Lake Lugano. This is a relatively straight forward descent and a lot of riders used this to settle into a rhythm after the fast & tense first section. As soon as we turned out of Lake Lugano we were onto the second climb which had the next climb up to Ardena. The first part of the climb was a lot steeper than the second half and nobody attacked from our group here.
We then stayed on the top of a saddle between the two lakes for about 10km with a few lumps before a descent down to Lake Maggiore. All three sections alongside the lakes are flat so I got into a tight group and we flew along until turning back into the hills (km65). The first climb out of the lake was short and smooth, being early October there was some muck on the road from indifferent weather earlier in the week. That shouldnt be a problem at the World Champs and the road surfaces in general were excellent. The roads were closed all day, there were a couple of incidents in the middle where cars had got onto the course but were quickly flagged off. At the 82km mark we hit the last named climb of the day up to Brinzio. This is basically a 3.5km climb and then a little kick after a 4km flat. This was probably my most comfortable climb and I felt good going over the top, now in a much smaller group.
Descending down into the plains between lakes, we now had a fast, flat 30km as we reached Lake Varese. On race day, we didnt have any significant wind but parts of this section was quite exposed so riders will want to be in the right groups for this section. I was in a small group of 4 with a strong Italian driving us at a good speed which at times I was struggling to hold on. With Lake Varese on our right, we hit a roundabout and took a fast left onto the most decisive part of the race, a short 3.5km climb with gradients between 6-8%. We all stayed together on this climb but if someone had the legs to attack I would have struggled. Again, being close to Varese, this is a section to recon. Our strong Italian was gassed at the top of the climb and we hit the finish straight without him. The finish is pretty quick on a wide, flat section and one of our group put in a kick to beat me to the line.
A very enjoyable weekend riding in the Italian Lakes. Both routes are very fair giving most types of riders a chance. Conditions should be similar to the UK so our riders should have a great chance to medal. Worth a recon for both routes to get the key sections right, for me these were the turnaround & last right turn in the Time Trial and the first and last climbs in the Road Race. Good luck to everyone in Team GB!!!