The Jeroboam Franciacorta 300km
Gravel Adventures, by Scott Cornish
Gravel Adventures, by Scott Cornish
More reminiscing about events past. Events that will hopefully happen again in 2021! The Jeroboam Gravel is a series of events to challenge and inspire riders of all abilities across routes of varying distances in spectacular surroundings, to experience the full versatility of gravel bikes.
The Jeroboam Franciacorta 300km is Beauty and the Beast, gravel riding redefined between the shores of lake Iseo and Lake Garda. Spectacular riding and views awaited us, but not without earning them via some hefty climbing. The journey took us from the rolling hills of Franciacorta to the mountainous terrain of the Sabbia Valley. It started off gently enough, meandering across gravel tracks, past lowland fields towards Iseo lake just as the sun rays started to peer over the surrounding hilltops and would finish some 20 hours later in the pre dawn hours of Saturday morning.
The Jeroboam weekends are about a festival of gravel riding. This event had its HQ set right outside the Mayor’s building in the centre of the small town of Erbusco. With a band on the Friday and Saturday night, a pasta party, beer on tap and small expos from the event’s brand sponsors, 3T, Miss Grape, Fizik, Pirelli, Fulcrum and Pedaled, it’s a social occasion as well as one for exploring the trails. If you’re gravel curious and want to give it a go, but are without a gravel specific bike (any bike can be used of course), 3T had numerous demo Exploro models ready to roll, all set up with 650b wheels. You can put in a request via the website before you attend. For all but the 300km riders (who would be out for the majority of the weekend), it’s a great weekend spent amongst like minded people with all the ride distances based on wine bottles sizes; the Jeroboam being the longest at 300km, Magnum at 150km, Standard 75km and the Demi the shortest at 37.5km for those who maybe new to gravel riding. These options carry across most of their events. Distances for all abilities to come along and ride.
I was supplied with a 3T Exploro paired with Pirelli’s 650b gravel tyres (which were newly released at the time); the mixed terrain Cinturato upfront and their hard terrain model bringing up the rear. From initial appearances, the tread pattern left me wondering about potential grip on more loose and chunky terrain. I was, however, due to be proven quite wrong in my assumptions, proving to be incredibly versatile across tarmac, gravel and the higher mountain trails.
To reduce the environmental impact, none of the routes are marked and you have to follow them via a personal GPS device. Each number board has a tracker in it, so the organisers know where everyone is on the 300km track. An emergency number is printed across the back, should it ever be needed.
The 300km had the earliest start, 7h30 on the Saturday morning, rolling out under looming blue skies, the temperature being kind too. The 7123m of climbing didn’t seem too daunting for its 300km, but 95% of that would be done by the 3rd and final checkpoint 161km in. Rolling, dew covered trails for the initial 15km woke up the legs, but the grace period soon came to an abrupt halt as we encountered the first climb, rising from lakeside to almost 1000m.
The ascent wasn’t done yet, meandering ever upwards along wooded trails to the first checkpoint just beyond the Rifugio Santa Maria Del Giogo 26km in. More of a point to collect the Brevet card stamp than a need to refuel this soon in. Still, it was worth grabbing some calories as the next feed stop was 67km away, separated by the route’s longest climb and highest point. Forest singletrack led us down and away from the checkpoint, dropping into urbanisation to ride riverside for 10km, following the town’s many cycle paths. Turning off through an industrial estate along an unassuming secondary road led us back in the wilds, quickly gaining height for views of the town below. If you’re a thirsty rider or only carrying a minor water capacity, there are numerous places en route to pick up water, from fountains to cafés and bars. The mountainous road climb led onto farm and gravel tracks, before rejoining the road and descending into the small town of Mondaro, where if you arrive in time, the supermarket will be open!
If you’re beginning to become short on calorie supplies, it may be worth grabbing some fuel here as you’ll need it. It’s 20km to the high point deep into the Baddia Valley along some challenging mountain tracks and singletrack culminating in a 500m hike a bike section to its peak. At times, the way up was super steep, challenging the tyres ability to stay planted. Seated climbing, turning over the 1:1 gear, they held fast, maintaining forward momentum. It was a place to stop occasionally though, as the effort is accompanied by spectacular views the higher you climbed, especially once beyond the tree line. With the route becoming rockier and the trail narrowing to rutted singletrack hiking path, hike-a-bike became the only option. Short lived at least, I caught up with some Brescia locals also riding the event, sarcastically expressing my surprise at just how chunky the gravel was. It’s normal they replied, this is typical ‘Brescia gravel’. Fair enough! The way down was at least rideable, picking up reasonable speed along bumpy singletrack and rocky double track, the 3T holding its own, going where it was pointed, assisted by the unassailable grip of the Pirelli tyres.
The next few kms of trail hugged the mountain side, its entrance through a narrow slither of singletrack, not overly technical, but which had a reasonable drop down the mountain to our right side! It was a different experience riding this terrain on the drops over an mtb, but in a good, new experience kind of way. The rest of the way was fast, rolling double track, at daring speed, challenging the front tyre’s grip through each bend, the bike clattering over the loose surface, leaving you with a dust facemask.
Reaching tarmac, it dropped steeply to the momentary civilisation at Chalet Dasdana, teeming with groups of e-mtbers, gleefully making you feel satisfied that you had reached this point under your own leg power. The route out was a track we could see from way up higher, one of those tracks where the adventurer in your mind kept pondering about its destination and you wanted to ride. Our way onwards was right along this track, a little used, singletrack road that literally clung to the side of the mountain. A minor climb that led up and over the face, built it seems to simply link up with the main access road the other side, down which we steeply descended, the start of a winding 18km of mountain descent.
Check point 2 wasn’t far down from the top, a sharp turn down a singletrack path to a perfect location. Based out of the hillside refuge, the clear blue skies offered far reaching views across the rolling mountains. It was a place to linger a moment, to make conversation with other riders and enjoy some good food. Although there would be opportunities to pick up water further on in a couple of towns, it was worth stocking up on foods here too as although only 42km to the 3rd and final CP, it was over some challenging backcountry terrain with a good chunk of elevation gain.
A mix of tarmac and gravel track, it was an exhilarating and finger fatiguing descent, switch backing its way down. Now later in the afternoon, the previous warmth of the sun was giving way to a deep chill in the air, especially in the shadows. Almost 1700m later the route arrived at the shores of Lago d’Idro, a nice cruisy track along its shoreline, happy to be spinning out the legs, exposed to the lingering warmth of the late afternoon sunshine.
Quiet roads made up a majority of the 12km climb up from the lakeside, merging on and off with smooth gravel tracks, making these km tick by with some relative speed. The next feed at the Refugio Alpini was well earnt, thrown back into another long climb, this time travelling deep into the forest along rugged tracks. The density of the trees exacerbated the fading light and I was soon flicking on my helmet mounted Exposure lights Diablo. With the main chunk of the climbing done and now wrapped in darkness, the final 10km pitched up and down through the forest, onwards to the Refuge.
The checkpoint was a welcome sight, warm and a feast for a body in calorie deficit; warm focaccia, pizza and all manner of sweet goodies, along with freshly made espresso should you need the added boost! I just sat down with a pile of food, momentarily silent whilst I devoured the food infront of me . Much of the 7123m+ had been covered, barely 700m of climbing remained for the last 140km.
5 Italian riders already at the Refuge invited me to join them for the last leg back, to which I kindly accepted. Having been in the warmth of the refuge and cooled down, outside now felt super cold! With the Revelate feed bags stuffed with Focaccia and cake and wearing added layers we were ready to roll. The descent down the steep refuge access track was super fun, narrow and switchbacked, the 1100m loss dropping us onto the shores of Lake Garda and onto an out of use cycle track. Out of use as it was littered with the remnants of rock fall!
With barely a significant lump for the final 120km, riding as a group was a pleasant and efficient way to reel in the km back to Erbusco. A mixture of secondary roads and gravel tracks, it wasn’t chaingang speed but these boys weren’t hanging about. It was a social ride with speed!
Riding through the lit streets of the large town of Bresca in the early hours, these Italians needed their coffee. Having a couple of local riders in the group, they clearly knew their night spots! We stopped at a late night cafe around 3am for a speedy expresso to bolster the legs for the last 30km. It was busy, everyone dressed up, taking 2nd glances at us on bikes as we wandered in, no doubt we weren’t smelling the freshest either. Coffee downed and we were underway. The dark seemed to mask just how quickly we were covering the remaining flat ground, again a mix of gravel and tarmac, arriving into Erbusco around 4.15am. Our trackers at least removed the guesswork of our arrival time for the 2 3T guys waiting for our arrival, waking up from their nap on the 3T sofa. Photos taken, food engulfed, sleep was next, but it was fitful and brief, the body still pulsing from 20 rough hours in the saddle. Up a mere 3 hours later to welcome in other 300km roiders as they trickled in over the coming hours.
What a ride. Not a route that you’d necessarily normally plan yourself on a gravel ride as it covered every type of terrain, but it captured the versatility of the 3T Exploro with the 650b Pirelli tyres. The route showcased some of the stunning riding in the area too, making you earn those views across the Baddia Valley. Checkpoints 2 and 3 were beautifully located and a welcomed momentary sanctuary, both socially and culinary wise. The 300km is a journey across diverse landscapes and terrains, a test for both rider and bike, but a rewarding one. Even if you turn up on your own, you’ll soon settle into riding with others of a similar speed, riders who were complete strangers at the start, but who would become friends by the end. This was a real adventure on a bike and thoroughly recommended.
Thanks to 3T for supplying their Exploro bike and to Pirelli for their excellent gravel tyres along with Fulcrum for the 650b wheels. Riding a new bike for a 300km off road route is not usually recommended, but I settled into the characteristics and fit of the 3T Exploro quickly, exploiting its on point handling. Being that its geometry is at the sharper end and being on the cusp of a med and large at 177cm, I went for the large with a slightly shorter stem, more for the stack height. This worked out perfectly for both comfort and handling.
The Pirelli tyres were the big, positive surprise. As alluded to, I had some initial reservations, which swiftly evaporated over the first technical sections, their grip far exceeding expectations both climbing and descending. The tyres had a real flair for inspiring confident cornering and descending at speed, even on the loosest of terrain, their grip egging you on to test just where their limits were. For all the tech specs on the tyres, take a look at their website. With the current Covid climate, it’s anyone’s guess if any of the series will run this year, but do keep an eye out on the website as the events are well worth riding. The full distance routes are a real adventure!