Commentary
Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com

Our favorite rides of 2018

We remember favorite rides from 2018, with everything from wine tasting in Italy to riding 100 miles on a 35-year-old MTB.

Every year, we are fortunate to travel to far-flung locations to ride our bikes on gorgeous roads and trails. So we thought we’d share the joy of our favorite rides with you our readers as the year comes to a close. What was your favorite ride in 2018? Let us know on Twitter or in the Facebook comments.

Dan Cavallari, tech editor: Passo di Gavia

Gavia

“I’m the luckiest boy in the world.”
— My Brain

“Quit it, jerk!”
— My Body

2018 was not a great year for my body. A back injury kept me off the bike for long stretches, so fitness mostly stayed at arm’s length. It was a perfect time to tackle one of Italy’s most difficult climbs … said no one.

Approximately 19 kilometers from Ponte di Legno — at an average grade of 8 percent, with not-insignificant stretches reaching 16 percent — sits the legendary Passo di Gavia. There is no pause in the suffering along the way. You have plenty of time to stare it in the face. The scenery on every side of you does much to distract you from it, but I had an extra suffer companion: a bulging disc in my spine.

Despite that unwelcome guest, that day on the Gavia gave me my finest day of riding all year. It hurt — in both the good way and bad — but it was impossible not to get caught up chasing the ghosts of the 1988 Giro d’Italia, the incredible Dolomiti on every side of me, the hairpin turns and the attempts to bridge the gap between me and the rider ahead. (I never did manage it, but it kept my pedals turning.) While my body and brain duked it out, my soul floated high over Italy. I’m a lucky boy indeed.

Fred Dreier, editor in chief: Haute Route Rockies, stage 6

I wanted to step off of my bicycle about a dozen times during my Best Ride of 2018. And finally, with about 30 miles to go, I climbed off, sat down in the shade, and stared off into space for about half an hour while I chowed down three bags of Doritos.

My ride was stage 6 of the Haute Route Rockies event which started and finished in the ski town Breckenridge. The ride took us over Swan Mountain, Loveland Pass, Guanella Pass, Kenosha Pass, and finally Hoosier Pass back to Breckenridge. The ride’s stats were not particularly eye-popping: 115 miles, 12,000 feet of total climbing, three mountain passes above 11,000 feet above sea level. But there were three key ingredients that made it an especially painful day for yours truly.

First: The Haute Route is a competitive event comprised of timed segments. People race and go hard. My appetite for racing far exceeded the actual power in my legs on this day. I spent the first two mountain passes chasing after stronger, fitter riders, and totally wiped myself out. Full disclosure: I was actually sandbagging this race. I had completed just two previous stages, while everyone else had five stages in their legs. Still, when I realized I had emptied my tank too early, my bike computer only read 50 miles completed. I still had 65 miles to go.

Second: Stage 6 sent us on a loop that I had always wanted to complete but never actually did due to excessive car traffic on U.S. Highway 285 between Grant and Fairplay, Colorado. Haute Route’s rolling enclosure kept the cars away — a huge bonus. Still, I learned an important lesson why people don’t normally ride on this stretch of road. It is swept by insanely powerful crosswinds. As hard as I tried to tuck myself into the peloton of strong riders, I was eventually caught by the wind and shot out the back. I spent the next two hours pedaling into a gusting headwind with only my bad thoughts for company.

Third: After stopping in Fairplay to eat Doritos, I had to get back on my bike. That was extremely hard.

Still, I would recommend this route to anyone who enjoys grinding climbs, amazing views, and pain. And with every day that passes, my ride becomes more of an epic adventure and less of a painful slog. Breckenridge-Breckenridge was a brute.

Felix Magowan, chairman: Touring Italy’s Langhe wine region

In June, thanks to Tourissimo Travel and a well-equipped Bianchi loaner we took a short — but delicious — loop through four or five of the most famous wine towns in the Langhe wine region, just outside Turin, Italy. The ride was perfectly hilly (I never used my lowest gear!), the weather gorgeous, the stops for coffee and selfies frequent, the company of ex-pros and folks on electric bikes all got along, and the picturesque Piedmont hill-top wine towns almost too precious to be believed. But the best part of the ride — and why it was my most memorable ride of 2018 — was that we finished our jaunt with a sumptuous, multi-course lunch at Agricola Gian Piero Marrone, a top Barolo wine producer, who didn’t seem bothered at all that we were in still in our bike kits.

Spencer Powlison, news director: Leadville Trail 100 MTB

Usually, when I plan for a bike race, I attend to all of the details necessary to ride as fast as possible. This trait is baked into my personality, and I’ve been tying or pinning on numbers since I was 12 years old. Let’s just say I’m very type-A. Leadville Trail 100 was going to be the opposite of all of that. Why? Because I was taking on the 100-mile race the day after completing the six-day Breck Epic stage race (also a contender for my best ride of 2018).

So instead of chasing the fastest possible finish time, I came up with a fun concept that would deemphasize the “racing” but still be a stout challenged. I wheeled my treasured 1983 Specialized Stumpjumper out of the garage and tuned it up to ride Leadville. Along the way, I experienced the heart and soul of Leadville — riders who were excited to take on a massive challenge and striving to simply finish one of the biggest rides of their lives. I had to stop and adjust my threaded headset about three times. At one point it was so bumpy that I momentarily went cross-eyed. And toward the end, I lost a bottle, ran out of water, and in a moment of desperation, scavenged a bottle off the trail and drank whatever was left in it.

I finished. I had fun. I got a belt buckle (not the big one). But most importantly, I recalibrated my assumptions about what it means to “race.” Check out my full post-race recap and video >>

Chris Case, managing director: Yolomites 5000

If you haven’t heard of #YOLOmites5000, you’re not alone. That’s because the lightly organized adventure ride in the heart of the Dolomites is not widely promoted, not for the faint of heart, and far away from the U.S. It’s also ludicrous, ridiculous, and hard AF.

Problem is, it also has to be one of the greatest bike rides on earth. Don’t believe me? I’ll share the list of ingredients: 1.) The majestic, ridiculously picturesque Dolomites surround you all day long; 2.) Semi-secret roads are laced together (by a local madman named Igor Tavella, #igorisinsane) to take you through, over, around, and into the most majestic valleys, villages, and vistas, all choreographed to the rising and setting sun. The beauty can’t be overstated. (See cycling photographer Jered Gruber’s Instagram account for examples); 3.) The mention of both the rising and setting sun hints at how long the day is — since we’re describing the most memorable day of riding, let’s make sure it’s a full day of riding. As the name implies, that’s 5,000 meters of climbing over 80 miles — a solid 12-hour jaunt; 4.) Finally, there’s the absurdity: This ride is best suited for those who love a challenge, can laugh when the route heads into a bog, won’t be too perturbed by the 30 percent gradients, and can suffer without ever thinking twice about forging ahead.

I could continue to describe the beauty — it’s otherworldly. I could reiterate the absurdity — Igor takes you right to the very edge. But all you really need to do is check out these photos and this profile and prepare to be in awe.