Ride Report - GranGarda Rando

Image courtesy of Matteo Minelli

I'm fairly new to the world of bikepacking and ultra-endurance cycling. I've done my fair share of events in the last year, but I spent about three years before that figuring out how to stay on the bike going up and down the mountain. 

  • ROUTE: 360km +10000m elevation
  • CATEGORIES: 24hr pace / two-day pace / party pace
  • START & FINISH: Peschiera del Garda
  • TERRAIN: mixed 50% off road, including technical singletrack, disused military roads, with a few crazy mad off-road descents (hike-a-bike for most wise riders!) making up the other 50%. 

“Don't be fooled by the numbers”

Based on its relatively short distance of 360km, I believe that in the ultra-bike race world, GranGarda Rando would not stand out as being particularly tough, but let me tell you - don't be fooled by the numbers. The route is packed with challenging climbs of every category known to cyclists. And of course, what goes up must come down, so with every climb there comes a descent - one would think! But when that descent does come, you quickly realise you are about to undertake another physical test. 

Image courtesy of Matteo Minelli

I signed up for GranGarda as another good physical challenge and as a break from the ordinary. Having ridden another of organiser Matteo Minelli's events, the GranGuanche Gravel Audax earlier in the year, I knew I could expect something special. And I was not disappointed! 

Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

Personally, I really loved how technically challenging the off-road sections were. I'm a mountain biker at heart so I'm always fascinated with how far I can push my gravel bike on the technical scale. I rode the route on my 2022 Giant Revolt Advanced 0

The week before the event, the weather conditions didn't look too great and with unknown terrain, I decided to go aggressive and chunky on tyre choice. With a 53mm Vittoria Mezcal up front and 47mm Teravail Rutland on the rear I was confident I could ride pretty much anything. They might have slowed me down a little bit on tarmac, but it paid off well on techy descents. I was riding with a buddy of mine, Christopher, who opted for his titanium hardtail mountain bike fitted with a rigid fork, but my tyre choice definitely helped me keep up with him on technical descents. 

"We found ourselves in the mix with the front group for the first 20km or so, with a bunch of lunatics going for 24hr pace."

Even though GranGarda wasn't officially a race, after a 5am start we found ourselves in the mix with the front group for the first 20km or so, with a bunch of lunatics going for 24hr pace. It was intense! 

Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

Christopher and I had decided on riding at two-day pace. Rain was forecast on the first day and night, so we decided to ditch the sleeping systems and instead reserved a hotel room at around the halfway mark on the route at Lago di Ledro. Our objective was to get there on the first day. 

We settled into our own pace. The first 80km of the route were pretty flat, rolling through some hills covered in vineyards and olive groves with occasional glimpses of Lake Garda on our right shoulder. This was my first time in Italy and I have to say I was captivated by the spectacular landscape. 

Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

Around the 100km mark was when the climbing started and at the 120km mark the rain arrived and stayed with us pretty much for the rest of the day. 

Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

“Hands down this was one of the toughest climbs I have ever done”

We slowly approached our main climb of the day, Passo del Tremalzo. The climb itself was over 15km in length with 1300m of vertical gain. Hands down this was one of the toughest climbs I have ever done and it now sits proudly high up on my top 10 list of favourites. I think that for the first 6km the gradient averaged around 14% with ramps over 25% and after that it never got any easier on an unpaved surface. 

Peaking at 1830m we were well rewarded with stunning views of winding switchbacks below. 

Images courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

After getting through the tunnel on the north side of the mountain I was absolutely blown away by the change of landscape between the two sides of the mountain. Wow! What a contrast and separated by just a 30m long tunnel. 

Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

After quickly adding extra layers and warm gloves we began the 10km descent on an old strategic military road built during WWI. We descended almost all the way down to Lake Garda via some singletrack and traffic-free roads before starting our final ascent of the day to Lago di Ledro. 

Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

"Dinner was pizza and pasta followed by a couple of pints.”

With daylight disappearing we made it to Lake Ledro. Our hotel was on the far side of the lake, meaning we'd start with a climb straight out of bed next morning. Rounding off the day, dinner was pizza and pasta followed by a couple of pints. 


Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

After a proper night of sleep, we set off at 6:30am to complete the rest of the task. The climb started just around the corner from our hotel. The first few kilometres were on a nice rolling paved road. After that it was about 7km of tight gravel switchbacks with 10% average gradient making their way up the forested mountainside to a pass called Bocca di Trat. 

Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

Sunshine and epic views at the top definitely lifted morale before we started our descent. And this one is certainly worthy of mention. In my opinion it was the trickiest descent on the course - a narrow, super-steep and loose track of rock, sand and gravel. Even though I rode down most of it, hike-a-bike is probably a wise option here. It was really sketchy, so kudos to anyone having to ride (or even walk) this in the dark. 

“Even though I rode down most of it, hike-a-bike is probably a wise option here”

Image courtesy of Matteo Minelli

I'm a mountain biker at heart so I'm always fascinated with how far I can push my gravel bike on the technical scale.”

Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

From here we made our way to Lago di Tenno, a beautiful small alpine lake that began a loop around Monte Misone. 


Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

This was officially our turning point and we headed back south towards Peschiera del Garda. Before descending to Torbole (our resupply point) we passed through Canale, a picturesque medieval village that was one of many scenic points of interest on the route. 

Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

The 10km cycle path along the Sarca River between Arco and Torbole had the most traffic we experienced on the route. It was heaving with cyclists on this sunny Sunday afternoon. 

From Torbole we conquered the last major climb, Monte Baldo. Even though the way up was very long - about 35km, it was mostly tarmac and rolled very well. 

Images courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

Our route continued from the top, contouring the east side of the mountain just below the summit via rocky gravel roads and sections of grassy singletrack, before hitting the long-anticipated descent to Garda where we resupplied for one final time. 

Image courtesy of Peter Nedelcev

"I couldn't recommend it highly enough to anyone seeking a personal challenge or just a bikepacking adventure."

From Garda it was about 35km to finishing line, mostly flat with some hills through olive groves and some pretty cool singletrack trails before we arrived back to Peschiera del Garda. We were lucky to be greeted at the finishing line with a cold pint of beer by friends @philippe_bechet (1st finisher of GranGarda) and @lindafarczadi to celebrate our accomplishments. 

On reflection, this incredibly challenging route was well thought-out and well-organised by Matteo Minelli. I couldn't recommend it highly enough to anyone seeking a personal challenge or just a bikepacking adventure. 

Images courtesy of Matteo Minelli

The route is packed with challenging climbs, stunning views and points of interest. There are plenty of accommodation options and places to resupply on the route making it ideal for longer adventures of a few days or even a week and beyond. 

As for bike choice, either a hardtail mountain bike or gravel bike are great options for the route. 

Lake Garda, you left a lasting impression on me. 


If you'd like to find our more about the event, you can check out all the details on the official website

Image courtesy of Christopher Bloomer

Images by Peter NedelcevMatteo Minelli and Christopher Bloomer 

Peter Nedelcev

Back in September, Peter Nedelcev headed to northern Italy to take part in the inaugural running of the GranGarda Rando event. With a 360km parcours and some sections which stretched the limits of what was possible on a gravel bike, it sounded like a fantastic event. 

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