51 Rides Before You Die – #1 Cippo Carpegna (Made Famous by Marco Pantani)

It was a mild, sunny morning when I set out on a ride that would most certainly be a check off the bucket list.  I departed Hotel Bagli early and set out towards San Leo, a magnificent mountain top fortress from the medieval period that was heavily fought over in the late 1400’s and early 1500’s. The fortress now houses an art museum and a museum of arms from the medieval era to World War II.  The climb up to the village consists of an 8 kilometre climb with several hairpins near the top. A fantastic ride for cyclists of all abilities.

Once I reached the foothills of San Leo, I headed down the Strada Provinciale 2 along the river towards Carpegna. The undulating topography and stunning river-view made for a beautiful ride. The pedals seemed to flow effortlessly as my gaze was fixed upon the looming mountain. I approached Carpegna from the west and by the time I came near to the village I realised that the treacherous grey cliff face that held my gaze for the best of 20 kilometres was almost certainly my destination. Almost fearful of what was to come, I examined my Garmin. I had already climbed 1500 metres after 60 kilometres. “Surely not”, I muttered. Back at camp in the hotel the night before, I studied my maps and I knew Cippo was 1405 metres high. I still had a long way to go.

I reached Carpegna after sixty kilometres, rode into the town and I found a lovely little coffee shop on the square. I made it a quick stop and had a coffee. I refilled my bottles and rolled back out of the square to find a sign: ‘Cippo – Giro D’Italia (1405m)’. I took the turn and immediately I was rolling up a 10% gradient hill. It was a sign of things to come.

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After several minutes, I arrived at the bottom of Cippo. The air was cold, the sun was shining and I could only hear the sounds of the birds in the trees all around. I felt a strong sense of peace and tranquility away from the worries of daily life back in Dublin. Quickly realising this was the calm before the storm, I looked across at a brown sign bearing the words; Hairpin Bend 1/22. I soon snapped out of my false sense of security, put my feet back into the pedals and began the ascent. I began the climb with a smile, reading the writing on the road ‘il Carpegna, mi basta’, the views and the sense of achievement as I made my way up. My smile was soon to disappear.

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I reached a camp site where Marco Pantani’s statue stood proud. I stopped for a moment to take a photograph and pushed on. At this stage the road up was covered overhead by trees and the pine needles and cones had fallen off the trees to cover the road with a slippery and uneven surface. Hitting 16% gradient, I couldn’t help but jump out of the saddle and push the pedals with all my strength. I soon regretted the decision as my back wheel slipped and I slammed my buttocks back down on the saddle to regain control of the bike underneath me. The roads gradient seemed to increase after every turn, the air was getting colder and the atmosphere changed. The sweat was pouring from my brow and I was breathing heavily. I was already higher than the highest peak in Ireland so my lungs found the lack of oxygen exhausting. Filled with a sense of pride I knew I could not give up and I had the Garmin as a witness. Every turn, every pedal stroke hurt more than the last. Forget the training, forget the good breakfast you had that morning, the climb takes no prisoners. Every rider on the mountain struggled that day.

Heinz Stucke, a German long-distance touring cyclist once said, “It is the unknown around the corner that turns my wheels.” Cippo is an example of that in its purest form. The gifts of the mountain were new to me and the other riders who had taken Cippo head-on. Each turn presented me with a newspaper exert about the Giro or a sign that informed me that I was crazy and as a result I was filled with a sense of curiosity that kept me going.

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The road stops at the top of the climb and you have no choice but to turn around and head back down the way you came. You must negotiate with the elements and hope for a safe return as you navigate your way through snow, wet leaves, pine needles and pine cones, at speed. It’s certainly not something an inexperienced rider would have great fortune with. Near the bottom several riders had stopped. They had, in fact, stopped to let their brakes cool down. The afternoon heat and the relentless braking caused a blow-out for one of the riders and we all heeded the advice and stayed put until our rims had cooled down. I then rode on in the evening sun back to Rimini with a smile on my face and a broken body.

Pantani famously said, ‘il Carpegna, mi basta!’. This translates to ‘Carpegna, it’s enough for me!’. I could not have said it better myself. To those who really want a real challenge, forget the hills you call mountains, put your bike in a box, pack your bag, head for Rimini and ride out to Cippo.

By Paddy Biggar

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