Return to Paris Part 2

Photo: Santuario della Beata Vergine di San Luca at stupid o’clock in the morning.

Coffee is an integral part of my riding experience. Living in Italy I’ve become quite particular about it. “Shall we have coffee here [the bar where we collected our brevet cards] or in the bar at the start [1km away]” asked Jana. “Let’s get to the start and have a coffee at the bar there” I replied. Big mistake. No barista, no coffee.

No problem, the first control was only 41km away, we’d get coffee there. As the roads were flat the field didn’t get a chance to thin out so there was quite a scrum to get our brevet cards stamped. We gave up on coffee.

No problem, we’ll get a coffee at the next control in Bologna. That turned out to be a local bike shop. Still no coffee.

Our top priority was to find a bar. We found one which looked like it was closing for the night. Could we get a coffee? “Yes” said the guy standing outside. “No” said the barista. Let’s just say a discussion took place and we got our coffee. Espressos all round. We would need it.

This was The 4 Rando 300km. My second of four qualifying rides for Paris-Brest-Paris in August. We started at 20:00 on Saturday 18th February and would finish, hopefully before lunch on Sunday. An all nighter.

The espresso was needed to fuel us for the impending challenge. We being Jana, Lorenzo and me. I had introduced them at the start. I knew they were both stronger riders than me, especially in the climbs.

They proved that as soon as we started pointing upwards. We’d ridden 90km together but now we faced the San Luca climb in Bologna. It’s only 1.8km long but rises 200m. It follows the path of the longest portico in the world. It was too steep to stop for photos so I found this to give you an idea:

You can’t really tell from the photo how steep it was but the graphic below reveals the gradient at its steepest about half way up.

Two riders got off to walk, another stopped for a rest. I was determined to get up in one go and on the bike. Nearing the top I felt like someone had stolen my lungs. It was a real struggle but no way was I going to give up. Near the top I was running on will power alone. My legs telling me this was crazy. I made it. Re-united with Jana she suggested I smile for a photo. I could hardly breathe let alone smile.

The Strava record for the climb is held by Grand Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali (The Shark) at 5m 26s. Jana (13m 52s) and Lorenzo (13m 37s) were much faster than me but I was happy with my 16m 11s even though I was in no fit state to appreciate it.

There’s a reason it’s called a “Ristoro” in Italian. The Control at 167km could not come soon enough for me. I’d really struggled to keep up with a group we joined after San Luca and again during the World Championship climbs outside Imola. Jana and Lorenzo kindly waited for me at the top of each section. Bread and jam with lashings of lemon tea did the trick. I could keep up with the group back to the start at San Zaccaria to complete the first 209km loop.

The second loop saw me climb alone again. I kept telling Jana and Lorenzo not to wait for me but they did. They would have been better off keeping going as it was cold up there.

Only once we’d finished the descent did they take off for home. I was quite pleased as I could ride at my pace to the finish without feeling guilty.

Re-united at the finish I was very happy with my time of 15 hours 22 minutes (the limit was 20 hours) but even happier that I’d completed step 2 of 4 of my PBP qualifying rides.

A big thank you to Jana and Lorenzo for helping me get round and to Graziano and all the volunteers from San Zaccaria Bike who worked through the night to put on the event.

My plan for parts 3 (400km) and 4 (600km) are scheduled for the end of April in Sardinia. I hope it will be warmer


  • Bravo Colin, another average day and night in the saddle for you, or another epic ride for a mere mortal. I expect a few reader riders may have ridden the Bologna climb – Zwift recreated it, their first replica grand tour stage was of the Giro 2019 prologue TT incorporating this climb. Best of luck with your upcoming qualifiers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mike. If I’d have known that I could have climbed it from the comfort of my own garage rather than in the middle of the night after 90km flat out to get there!


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