Riding in Italy is a gift that you deserve.

Grand Tours Project Team

Mar / 3 / 2021

And here to convince you that the Dolomites and Italy are the places to ride, Kerry Hellmuth our Italian and Dolomites specialist guide

Kerry is from Madison, Wisconsin (USA) originally, but has lived in Italy on and off, for much of the past twenty years. She lives, works, and raises two sons in Trento, where she also manages to spend plenty of time riding in the surrounding majestic Dolomite mountains.

Why Italy?

I originally came here to race my bike with a professional team and lived in our team housing near the shores of Lago d'Iseo, one of the beautiful northern mountain lakes. I ended up coming back with my Italian husband to raise our kids first in Bormio at the base of the epic Stelvio and Gavia passes and now in Trento, a university town with a great quality of life. I really love the accessibility of the Dolomite mountains that I live in. They offer amazing riding in every direction--breathtaking views and sparkling mountain lakes abound--and always the possibility of finding an amazing slice of torta and cappuccino in the smaller towns sprinkled throughout the countryside.

What is your favourite region for cycling?

Italy is amazingly diverse and offers something for everyone. Of course I am biased. Since the mountains call me, I love Bormio as you have the majesty of the Stelvio and Gavia passes which are both just so special. The Dolomites offer even more options, so if you plant yourself in Alleghe or in Alto Adige or Cadore for a week or two, you can climb something new every day. The Alps and Dolomite climbs go through achingly beautiful terrain--each of them opens up and unfolds slowly kilometre after kilometre as you rise through alpine meadows to spectacular rocky peaks. Tuscany has amazing riding as well--a little gentler on the knees and even better espresso and torta at the cafes.

Your favourite Italian food?

Of course, pizza comes to mind--for me, it's best simple with mozzarella di latte di bufala. A well-made tiramisu can satisfy like nothing else in the world.

Do you practice any Italian traditions?

One thing that is different from the US is that lunch is considered the main meal of the day here, so families are generally together at home for a big warm meal at lunchtime. All the shops close so there is nothing open from 1 pm until 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon. This allows everyone to go home, cook, relax with family, and have a little snooze if they wish. So we do that. Then we also take advantage of all the holidays we can--celebrating all the US holidays like Halloween plus most of the Italian ones. Carnival is celebrated everywhere here, not just in the famous Venice tradition. We just had it this year--all the kids get a few days off of school, and they dress up in fantastic costumes and parade around.

Tell us something you'd like to share with riders thinking of visiting Italy

Come! Riding in Italy is a gift that you deserve. The scenery in this country is beyond astounding, the roads themselves are endless and offer whatever you like riding (flat, rolling, mountains, etc.), and you are likely to return from riding here with plans to come back. That's because the charm of the little towns you will ride through will leave you in awe, the tastes you experience will inspire your foodie sensibilities, and the warmth of the Italian people will touch you. And then there is the insanely beautiful scenery with tiny curvy roads to make it all accessible on two wheels. Seriously. I live here and sometimes I come home from my rides with a sense of satisfaction and serenity that lasts for days. So yes, come! Your heart will be filled by the rich experience of a culture that is somehow familiar and yet so different from your own, your belly by the amazing dishes created from simple whole foods, and your mind by Italy's example of simple living at its best. And oh, did I mention the glorious seemingly-endless descents from those epic climbs. They leave you euphoric and smiling.

Your experiences with Grand Tours Project

A few memories stand out for me. One was the day that the Giro d'Italia took on Monte Zoncolan in 2018. We had been following some amazing stages and watching as Simon Yates and Tom Doumolin battled it out for the Maglia Rosa. Our group had the opportunity to take on the Zoncolan before the GC leaders. The only Italian in the top 5 was Domenico Pozzovivo but that didn't stop Italians and of course also fans from all over the world lining the sides of the narrow climb. Our group decided to do the only thing you really can do on the incredible climb also called the Climb of Horrors: everyone would take it at their own pace and we'd regroup to watch the finish up top.

It was a splendid day, unseasonably warm for April and I rode up with a couple who were in need of some rest stops along the way. It turned out to be perfect, the pace allowed us to take in all the shenanigans of the fans lining the course--some painting slogans of support for their favorite rider, some picnicking in style, and others already in full party mode--offering us a grappa as we rode by. We couldn't help but understand, riding the climb an hour or so before the Giro athletes, that many of the great moments in the big tours are made of those precious seconds and minutes climbing to the top of steep roads with thousands of fans cheering you on from inches away. We reached the top, where Keith had made it easy to drop our bikes, grab a change of clothes, and find the best vantage spot to wait for the riders to start showing up.

If you didn't happen to be at the top watching the Giro jumbotron showing the race action, you could hear the announcer booming out information about the current leaders--followed by cheers and sneers as the crowd responded. The hillside was packed with every enviable viewing spot available teaming with fans in anticipation of seeing the big men battle it out. Most everyone had ridden or hiked up early to spend the day on the mountain peak. Music was playing, a loose snake of the race vehicles and carabinieri started appearing, and people were chanting the names of their cycling champions. I was taking it all in with two clients from Australia, and one of them turned to me, "This is the greatest sporting event of all time! I have never seen anything like this euphoria and emotion in any sport!". It only became more exciting as we started to hear the race report of Chris Froome taking off on the climb and awaited the moment we started to see him emerge from the tunnel down below.

In 2019, I had a similarly spectacular day riding watching the women's Giro Rosa arrive at the mountaintop finish at Lake Cancano. We had a tour that followed the women's race, and one of the clients had formerly ridden (like me, but in her case much more recently) as a professional on the women's circuit. We rode the entire stage ahead of the riders, savoring the beautiful twisting climb up to the series of little tunnels carved out of the rock that finished at the Torri di Fraele, part of an ancient fortification to monitor traffic and tax goods going from Valtellina to the Fraele valley and beyond into Engadina. We took our spots up top near the Torri di Fraele, and waited with the crowd for the riders to arrive. With a helicopter circling overhead, we knew that the riders couldn't be far behind. It was the same sense of excitement as I'd experienced on Zoncolan. Having Jo who'd just been in the peloton herself a few years earlier added a personal connection to the race for our group. She was able to give us a backstory about various riders who we met when she greeted them after the races. When the helicopter got closer, we were able to watch, from the spectacular view of the Torri, the amazing climbing ability of Annemiek Van Vlueten as she blasted to a three-minute lead over the others. That day, one of the strongest Italian cyclists was quoted as saying that “The alien took off, leaving the rest of us humans race it out.” One of the amazing things about watching the tours is to witness such a degree of athleticism. Yes, I agree that there is no other sport that offers this excitement!

Thank you so much Kerry for painting such vivid scenes of cycling in the Dolomites and Italy but especially of your first-hand thrilling descriptions during the Giro and Giro Rosa. Can’t wait to get back there.