What The Hell Is Giro Della Donna?

Cyclist at Giro della Donna

The night before the Giro della Donna, I had a weird and very vivid dream about sleeping on a 1980s water bed.

When I woke up, I quickly realised it wasn’t a dream and my tent was floating on 3 inches of water. The overnight thunderstorm dumped 30mm of rain on the campsite. Perfect Giro della Donna weather. Let’s ride.

The circular course is 125km long and is based out of Warburton in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, Australia. There’s two major climbs and a 13km gravel section.

Paul, my ride partner for the day, and I have decided to take it easy and not race the event. We depart in the second wave settling into a gentle pace to warm up for the first big climb of the day, The Reefton Spur.

Cyclist climb the Reefton Spur on Giro Della Donna

Brendan Canty (in the green of Cannondale-Drapac) leading the group at the Reefton Spur. Photo credit: Tim Bardsley-Smith via Cycling Tips

At the base of the 20km climb the rain starts and we settle into an easy big ring rhythm on the closed road. Paul keeps banging on about missing the beautiful views due to the rain, but secretly I wanted to break my Giro della Donna virginity in shocking weather.

The steepest bit of the climb is just past Camberville. It requires a flick of the left hand to get the bike in the inner ring. Unfortunately I flip a chain and my rear derailleur bends. For the next 60km it’s click click click click click etc etc etc, and only two gears to choose from: big ring or little ring.

The sun comes out for the decent into Maryesville and the views are spectacular. For the social riders this is the coffee spot and the town is packed with cyclists. The famous Marysville Bakery is a mad house so Paul and I push on to the Acheron Way.

cyclist on the Acheron Way during Giro Della Donna

Acheron Way

This section of the course is closed to traffic and a joy to ride. The single lane tarmac follows the Acheron River through the forest of giant Mountain Ash trees. At the same altitude and with the same ecology, Acheron Way is very similar riding to my favourite ride on Turtons Track in the Otway Ranges.

The big difference is, Turton’s Track doesn’t end in gravel. Paul and I have 13km of the stuff before Acheron Way turns back into tarmac for the Mt Donna Buang mountaintop finish. And it’s started raining again. Heavily.

The gravel section is steadily uphill and riders have created two single tracks of smoothish surface. Overtaking is dangerous as the rest of the road is very soft in the rain.

Paul and I end up catching the Total Rush Cycling Women’s team. They are experienced riders, setting a reasonable pace. More importantly, they are riding some good lines in the gravel and missing the pot holes so we just settle into the pack. After 90km of riding there’s a fair bit of carnage with tired riders crashing out.

The race organises, Cycling Tips, have a large number of medics in the area and the fallen are being taken care of in a very efficient manner. Every two kilometres, Cannondale have set up a repair station with tubes, pumps and tools.

total rush womens team at the Giro Della Donna

Gravel riding with the total Rush Women’s team

The final ten kilometres to the mountain top finish on Mt Donna Buang is back on the tarmac, and to keep the theme of the day going, the rain has kicked back in again. We are also getting hit with a pretty solid headwind.

Paul and I are still in good shape and we are passing plenty of riders who are in the hurt locker, searching the suitcase of courage for anything to get them to the finishing line.

At the top we resist the urge to race each other and cross the finishing line together, finishing equal 295th out of 1500 riders. My surname starts with L while Paul’s starts with W so the race organisers have given me the win on a count back. In your face Paul!!!

Iain Lygo at the finish line of Giro Della Donna

Author Iain Lygo at the finish

Olympic gold medal winner and all-round cycling legend Marianne Vos takes out the women’s race while Darren Lever takes out the men’s race.

The only thing left to do is descend 17km back to Warburton, throw the flooded tent into the van, grab and feed, and head home happy.

Ooh and clean your bike and clothes multiple times to get rid of the gravel.

Author’s Tip

Get to Warburton the day before the race to watch the spectacular cyclocross with a section though a derelict house. There are also pre race night events. This year’s dinner included a Q & A session with Marianne Vos and Pro Tour rider Brendan Canty.

Next year’s date is November 25 and you can register now.

Related Articles:

Biking In The Victorian High Country

Feature image credit: Tim Bardsley-Smith via Cycling Tips

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Iain Lygo

With a double degree in accounting and finance, Iain Lygo has successfully avoided an office job all his life. He has just launched Big Adventure Club. This adventure travel club has 6-8 epic tours a year including motor bike trekking in the Himalayas, surfing in Indonesia, back country skiing in BC, Mountain biking from Colorado to Utah, and road biking in France.

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