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The Bull (or to lesser mortals, the prancing pony)

A mountainous climb up past Castel Gandolfo, and back. The Strava profile wasn’t that appetising, to be honest. A warmup loop in Southern Rome before climbing steadily to over a 1000m (which is physically impossible in England), with the last 5km ramping up towards 10%. However, we both knew that it was a popular area for cyclists, and having seen ‘The two Popes’, I knew that Castel Gandolfo was perched over a beautiful old volcano crater lake. The Geography alone made it an easy ride to say yes too. Carl had also performed a work of Art on Strava, creating a bull shape on the map, complete with the horns for the last climb up to the top of Monte Cavo, which was to be the peak of the route. We met in Testaccio at 7am sharp and had left town before most had even woken. The start of the ride takes in the iconic ‘Palazzo della Civilita Italiana’, an ostentatious Mussolini building that I believe is now home to an ostentatious Italian fashion house. We skirted around EUR (an area that interests me, but not to the extent of actually wanting to visit), and then quite quickly disappeared into rural settings for the ‘back legs’ of the bull race map. Back up to the ring road to complete the ‘belly’, and back out for a loop of the sticks to get the front legs done. So far, so good. As we left the SP3 and rode into vineyards and silence, the hills began to loom in front of us, and the gradient gently increased. By the time we had reached the switchbacks by Marino, I guess we were half way up. A few breathy switchbacks later, and you are up on the crater rim of Lago Albano, and feeling pretty good about yourself. A beautiful lake flashes suggestively to your left down through the trees and buildings, and a fine panorama meets your gaze to the right, spreading down towards the sea, and Rome to the mountains behind. The significance this area holds for Italians is obvious: giant bridges, aqueducts and bold engineering feats link the towns up here, when each settlement taken in isolation seems to be awkwardly perched on steep slopes and outcrops. I can’t imagine the Pope inspired all of this labour on his account, but grand designs have often been completed in the name of religion. We passed Castel Gandolfo, I couldn’t see much apart from some nice gates and a large observatory for a bit of papal star gazing..

Once you get round the back of the lake, then things start going upward, for about 10km. It isn’t anything brutal, but everywhere you go, it goes up. It's time to stop talking, start breathing, and just get on with it. Carl was silent for about 20 minutes, during which we did a lot of climbing, mostly on a very average path/road which snakes its way up Monte Cavo. As we reached the summit, Carl spoke again. Well, yelled. “Fucking hell!”. Nuff said.

Needless to say, coming down again from a 1000m high mountain is always fun. We stopped in Rocca di Papa for a coffee, and it really is a gorgeous little town. There was a sad sight of a closed hotel that in its former glory must have been something special. If I win the lottery, you know where to find me.

And so we descended, back from the lap of God’s mouthpiece, back down into the eternal city. Nothing much to report in the last 25 km except a wrong turn which turned our impressive ‘bull’ on the Strava into a much more lightweight looking equine. A shame, as we had done very bullish things today, and climbed a massive mountain. There’s always the next time.

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