The last time the Giro d’Italia visited Sicily was back in 2011 when Alberto Contador attacked on Mount Etna to take the stage and go on to claim overall victory (later rescinded for due to a dodgy steak). When the full route was announced for this year’s edition I was excited to see the race return to Sicily for two stages; a summit finish on Mount Etna and sprint stage to Messina.
When stages were confirmed I booked my flights and decided to see if any cycling pals would be up for joining. Joe, Neil and Tom from my club were all free and we decided to turn it into a mini-training camp with five days of riding.
Whilst stayed at the in-laws the other guys were down the road at local agriturismo Tenuta San Michele, well situated between Santa Venerina and Zafferana for riding Etna. It’s also situated on the site of the Murgo vineyard, ideal for a post-ride tipple.
Day 1: Etna Nord & Castelmola
The first day we rode up Etna Nord to Rifugio Piano Provenzana and then along the Alcantara Valley to Castelmola, one of my favourite rides in Sicily. On the way up Etna Neil broke a gear cable and had to climb in a big gear, not ideal for the 20% gradient at the end. Fortunately, we were able to head to a bike shop at Linguaglossa and have a new one fitted on the spot for a bargain price of €5.
From Linguaglossa we headed to Castiglione di Sicilia, an amazing hilltop town perched on a hill and down through the Alcantara valley towards Taormina. The climb up to Castelmola is beautiful with winding hairpins and splendid hotels perched on the cliffs. It’s also busy with tourists too, unfortunately I got stuck behind a car and Joe made it to the top first!
The ride on Strava (136km, 3004 metres) – https://www.strava.com/activities/977020159
Day 2: Giro dell’Etna & Giro Stage 4
Day two brought the highlight event, the summit stage on Etna. We had a fair bit of time before the summit finish at 5pm so in the morning we departed early for a full loop of the volcano. Riding up Etna Nord again, we went around Randazzo and stopped for lunch in Bronte of arancini and cokes before arriving at Etna Sud and doing the Giro climb up Salto del Cane. After a tough first ascent and hard ride around Etna, the second was pretty killer on the legs. Spurred on by the tifosi lining the climb we were within 1km of the finish when the carabinieri pulled us off the course, peccato!
After meeting with my family and having a picnic we gathered on the climb to see the riders come through. First up was X from Team UAE, who had broken away solo and went onto take the stage win. The main contenders were all together (Thomas, Nibali, Dumoulin, Quintana) after earlier attacks into the wind had come to nothing. It was an awesome afternoon, finished off with a descent down Etna to Zafferana.
The ride on Strava (157km, 3731 metres) – https://www.strava.com/activities/978359484
Day 3: Etna Sud & Giro Stage 5
The following day was stage 5, a rolling sprint stage from Pedara to Messina through the Parco dei Nebrodi, a beautiful conservation area just north of Etna. We rode up Etna Sud from Zafferana, a tough climb with some rough roads at the top, before descending down to Nicolosi and making our way to Pedara to watch the stage start.
At Pedara the piazza was full of spectators watching the rider presentations and making a lot of noise for local boy Vincenzo Nibali. As the race departed we jumped onto the road and drafted the broom wagon out of town before cutting left and heading a more direct route to Zafferana where we intended to watch the race on the climb to Fornazzo. We had to get a lick on to make it there in time and it was mega fun when we rejoined the route and could bomb it along closed roads. The route was already packed with spectators and we were getting a lot of cheers, who maybe thought we were part of the race. When we reached the foot of the climb we were once again thwarted by Carabiniere and had to make do watching on the cobbled stones that run through town. When the riders came through they were absolutely skimming over the basula.
After the race went through we carried on up the climb with Tom and Joe deciding to attack and racing each other all the way to the KOM point 5km up the road. We carried on alongside the volcano for 10km before looping back down to the coast and back to Murgo for some wine.
The ride on Strava (106km, 2670 metres) – https://www.strava.com/activities/979734095
Day 4: Linguaglossa
After three heavy days Tom and Neil departed, leaving Joe and I to head out for something a bit easier. We headed along the coast before doing the 10km climb up to Linguaglossa. On the way up you pass through the village of Piedimonte Etneo, twinned with Innisfail Tully in Australia – presumably a of Italian immigrants ended up ther working on cane farms.
As were on the final set of hairpins to start the way back disaster struck and one of Joe’s crank arms fell off. We attempted to ride together for a bit with Joe pedalling with one foot and me pushing. It looked pretty ridiculous and when a passing car stopped I accidently told them that Joe had “broken his arm” in Italian. I managed to explain the situation better before they called an ambulance. Eventually Maria Grazia arrived with the car and picked up Joe with me cycling back behind.
The ride on Strava (57km, 1034 metres) – https://www.strava.com/activities/981150293
Day 5: Parco dei Nebrodi
Final day with Joe and we headed up to Fornazzo intending to do a complete loop of Etna. There were low clouds and at some point it started sheeting it down so we took cover and decided to amend the route to head towards the Nebrodi mountain range where we could see clearer skies.
It turned out to be an epic route and one of my best rides in Sicily. We headed down to the Alcantara valley and then into the Nebrodi range, passing over a ridge covered in wind farms then back down to the coast via some amazing hill top towns. It turned into a hot day and after one tough ascent we were both desperate for water. On asking a girl in a village if there was a fountain she went into her house and brought us a litre of cold water, heaven!
The ride on Strava (154km, 2786 metres) – https://www.strava.com/activities/982768377
In total we covered 611km and 13,225 metres of climbing in five days. The Giro is set to return to Sicily in 2018, with a stage around Agrigento confirmed. The full route line-up to be revealed in October.