The Hub is happy to kick-off the interview series with Velo Veneto, a local Italian based cycling tour company focused on training camps, gran fondos and amateur racing in the Veneto and Dolomites regions of Italy.
Ciao Jason, nice to meet you and thanks for the chat.
Nice to meet you too. I’m glad there’s finally someone reviewing this portion of the travel market and I’m really excited about your concept!
Can you give us a bit of personal background? How long have you been at Velo Veneto, and what was your previous work experience?
My personal background ties directly into my association with Velo Veneto. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I worked in sales for a group travel company, giving me a great background in how to make these kind of trips actually work. Over time, I morphed into marketing and web development work, so when my friend Pat Carroll asked me to help out with marketing and website upgrades, I forced him to pay me with a free trip to Velo Veneto where I absolutely fell in love with riding in Italy. We became business partners in 2009 and I haven’t looked back.
Velo Veneto was founded locally in Italy in 1986, correct? How does this help differentiate you from other tour companies born in the US?
Velo Veneto’s birth was a bit of a hybrid – Renato (Ron) Palazzo, an Italian who had moved to America in his 20s, founded the camp. For the more than one thousand riders who raced with Velo Veneto in the early years, Ron is a legend, and they can attest to his in-born enthusiasm for all things Italian. I think that Ron’s approach to running the camp gave all of us this native adoration of Italy (both the romantic and frustrating parts), mixed with a native understanding of the North American view to Italy, riding, racing, and traveling. When we’re there, we really are family. Some of our long-time guests remember when our hotel owner Luca was still the son working in the kitchen, and now we are watching as his kids – the next generation of Hotel Montegrappa staff – grow up around us!
The other aspect of being founded semi-locally is that, with the focus on racing, we were founded as a “camp” rather than a tour company. This means, aside from obvious date requirements around the Giro d’Italia, our riders can come and go at any time during the summer, and we mostly stay put in our one location. This makes it easier for riders to bring non-riding family, meaning you can do a hard ride while your kids head off to the pool or into Venice for the day. With at least 30 different routes, and tons of historical sights nearby, nobody gets bored.
About the cycling camps of Velo Veneto:
Velo Veneto primarily offers cycling tours focused on climbing, training, and racing. How did you realize and develop this niche?
At the start, Velo Veneto focused almost 100% on racing. Anyone old enough to have had a Velonews subscription probably remembers the ads in the back offering a chance to “Race in Italy!” Back in the 80s and 90s, when US racing was less developed, we offered the only opportunity for amateurs to get a real taste of European racing. With Ron’s Italian citizenship, he was able to found Velo Veneto as an Italian club, giving all members the ability to race in Italian amateur races. We still have this designation, and many riders join us every summer to test themselves in these very challenging races. Over the years, we’ve adapted to our riders’ interests, and we’ve expanded our focus to help people ride a real Italian Gran Fondo or tackle the Dolomite passes made famous in the Giro d’Italia.
Are all your tour guests serious cyclists interested in Italian-style racing, or do you also receive a wider variety of skill level?
Our focus is definitely on the serious cyclist. Our rule of thumb is that you should be comfortable riding in a group at speed, and have some experience with climbs and technical descents. However, with so much to do in the area, non-riding travel partners of a cycling guest will feel right at home. Most of our rides are about 3-4 hours long, so as we head out on the bike, spouses, family, etc. can head out shopping or visiting the remnants of the Venetian empire scattered around the countryside. If there’s a large enough number of non-cyclists (or some riders just need a day off), we’ll go out with a local guide to explore more in-depth.
Give us an idea of your typical training or racing camp itinerary. Do you create personalized training plans? How big is the average group of guests?
If your interest is in racing, this really is the dream vacation. We definitely recommend that our riders arrive a few days before their key event to adapt to the time change and lifestyle, but it’s a pretty easy adaptation: wake, eat, ride, eat, nap, eat, gelato, sleep – repeat again the next day! If you’re racing, most events are after lunch, so even race days are pretty relaxed. We’ve done almost every race already, so we know where the key points are, when the attacks will happen, and can really help you perform at your best.
We don’t provide any training plans ourselves, but we are partnered with Whole Athlete. Whole Athlete’s founder, Dario Fredrick, knows the area very well, as his mother was born here! He’s spent plenty of time riding these roads, so he knows how to prepare you for whatever you’re coming across to do.
From all the cycling tours that you offer, which is your personal favorite and why?
Since we’re a camp, I think the best answer is what RIDE is my favorite, and this is a hard decision. I’m going to fudge it and give a couple. Right out our door, we can ride through the Prosecco wine region, and this is just a stunning ride. There’s no big climbs, but plenty of rolling, vineyard-covered hills to keep you entertained. If you are into big climbs, there’s nothing quite like the Sella Ronda, which is just a short drive from camp. That is definitely a “bucket list” ride.
Let’s hop off the bike for a minute. Share a few of your local Italian secrets – what are some unique and special details you provide for your tour guests when they’re not riding?
Well, the first is no secret. Our hotel has one of the best chefs around. You can watch Luca hand-roll tagliatelle every afternoon, and then eat it just a couple of hours later for dinner. He also has probably the best pizza oven around. We also have a couple of restaurants that we visit for variety, small, out-of-the-way places that only the locals know about. Actually, a lot of our “secrets” revolve around food!
We can also take you to visit two of the only builders who still make custom carbon frames in Italy. If you’ve ever wanted to shake the hand of the man who’s building your frame, we can make that happen!
Our favorite prosecco vintner can show you the town his family has lived in for over 500 years, while we walk through their exclusive Cartizze vines.
And back to food, our local gelato shop is probably the best around.
What is your favorite flavor of gelato?
“G.S.” – it’s got a peanut butter-like flavor with chunks of dark chocolate mixed in. Of course, the best approach is to try them all!
Are you working on any new and fabulous tour offerings for 2013?
We’re most excited about a move into doing our first “tour.” In 2010, Jamie and Joy Gilpin rode with us at Velo Veneto, and later that year, they took over Outfitter Tours which focuses on France. We’ve been looking for a way to work together, and in 2013, we’re offering a Dolomites and French Alps Tour, which will give people a chance to ride the most famous climbs from both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France on the same trip!
Jason, you and your crew sound fabulous, you’ve got me hooked! Great to get to know Velo Veneto, and good luck with your season.
Have you been to a Velo Veneto training camp? Let our readers know your experiences in the comments.
Featured image credit Velo Veneto