If you're planning or dreaming about cycling in Italy, my job is to make it happen for you.
Back by popular demand as the second edition of Lucca climbs, we reveal training grounds that transform average cyclists into well-trained, persevering champions. Otherwise, take them for the beautiful suffering they so graciously offer.
10. Passo della Foce
11.3 km, avg. 6.8%
Gates open for the Garfagnana Amusement Park from May till October each year. It’s the green light for the high mountains, and no sane human-being will disregard this rule except New Year’s Day 2019 during my lapse of intelligence. One or two valley roads bring you to the region of Garfagnana that branch off into a network of climbs and hilltop towns. Not all are considered equal, but Foce is spectacular. Have a close look at the photo (left) where there’s a profile of a man’s face.
8. Val di Vaiana
5 km, avg. 9.9%
Speaking of hidden climbs in Garfagnana, this one up to Renaio might be only five kilometres long but steep enough you’ll want to stop and pet the sheep halfway. At 18 hairpins, it’s like an eerie Alpe d’Huez of Tuscany. Ride in via Barga and out Tiglio Basso. Then do the loop in reverse. Of course, not before a visit to the Masterpieces of Sweetness in Barga, “Theobroma Capolavori di Dolcezza.”
7. Passo del Vestito
18.8 km, avg. 5%
On the Versilian coast starting from the town of Massa, Passo del Vestito is an important pass over the Apuane Alps. It makes for an epic ride from Lucca, but nothing can replace the peacefulness of mountains in the heat of summer. Go on a warm, dry day because wet Italian asphalt equals a not-so-fun slip n’ slide for overly optimistic adults. Don’t miss photogenic Isola Santa descending into Garfagnana on your right.
6. Passo Croce
6 km, avg. 8.7%
This one's my absolute fave, and I've only been up a few times. You'll literally and figuratively die on the Cross, but its beauty guarantees your resurrection. Only a 2-hour warm-up spin from Lucca, you'll ride most of Cipollaio, 10 km pedalabile, yes pedalable before taking a right up to Croce. Mount Cipollaio from Saravezza where you'd be wise consuming a gelato or espresso before steamrolling the next 16 km of asphalt tilted upwards. So about 10-12 km on Cipollaio before the final 6 km up to the mountaintop. Not a lazybones pursuit but a view of the Promised Land never is.
16.8 km, avg. 5.4%
Where the Tuscan's ski. But let's not talk about snow. I wouldn't touch Abetone in the winter with even a ski pole is how I feel about rain at sub-zero temperatures. In the summer it's the best 160 km out and back ride you'll do. A gradual uphill along the Sérchio river until you're 15 km from the summit where the road pitches upward. On average, it's not steep, especially knowing once you get to the top, it's practically all downhill back to Lucca.
4. Pietrabuona @ Macchia Antonini
25.1km, avg. 3.3%
One of many beautiful climbs in the Pistoian Mountains that show how diversified the region is. At 3% and 25 km, it makes for an enduring threshold test but with scenic mountain towns and panoramic views to look at. Once you’re though Pescia, it’s all about you, the bike and whatever the adventure brings.
3. Official Monte Serra test (from Buti)
6.0 km, avg. 8%
The official fitness test for pros and amateurs alike, this 6 km segment of the entire 7.2 km climb is a telling benchmark of how dedicated and disciplined you’ve been with your training. Whether you go with a pacer or front this challenge on your own, remember: ride the second half harder than the first.
2. Pizzorne from Matraia
9.4 km avg. 9%
Most people know of Monte Serra, but not Pizzorne. Opposite Monte Serra at the other end of the Lucca plain is Pizzorne. A dramatic trilogy with the ultimate climax leading from the church/bell tower at Matraia. If your Garmin or Wahoo grade caps out at 10%, don't worry, the correct reading is "F me." This section would not be an ideal time to attack. Thank you and good luck.
1. San Pellegrino in Alpe
12km, avg. 9.1%
Easily the most difficult HC climb in the vicinity of Lucca with sections at 17.7%. She has a gentler and kinder sister named Passo delle Radici, but she's not spunky nor feisty like San Pellegrino. The closer you get to the top, the harder she makes you work. And once you're finally there, don’t plan on just coasting home. No no. Then you ride up the backside of Abetone until "La Casina" where they have as many flavours of pies as colours in the rainbow you'll be seeing by now. 160 km with 2400m from Lucca is what San Pellegrino asks of you.
Is cycling in Lucca calling your name?
Get instant access to climb number four: Pietrabuona @ Macchia Antonini, 120 km with 2000m of climbing. But don't go just yet, leave me a comment on which one was the most epic for you.