Riding with pros and ex-pros in Varese, Italy

It seems to be very rare in this life to have the opportunity to combine your career and your passion. But since I started working as editor of CyclingTips back in February I’ve been one of the fortunate few who’s had that opportunity. If I didn’t realise that before last week, I certainly do now.

After a whirlwind tour of Hong Kong and China, CyclingTips publisher Wade Wallace and I jetted over to Varese in northern Italy to spend some time with the folks at Australia’s first and only WorldTour team, Orica-GreenEDGE. We put together two articles for CyclingTips about our stay: one about the Orica-GreenEDGE service course (team warehouse and HQ) and one about the home away from home Aussie cyclists have in Varese.

I won’t repeat what I wrote there but I do want to write about the rides we managed to fit into our busy schedule.

Getting picked up from the airport in an Orica-GreenEDGE car was pretty awesome.
Getting picked up from the airport in an Orica-GreenEDGE car was pretty awesome.

Ride with Dave McKenzie

On our first day in Varese we were met at our hotel by Dave McKenzie a former pro whom you might recognise from SBS TV’s cycling coverage. Dave lives just down the road and his wife Susan works at Orica-GreenEDGE as the logistics manager.

Dave took us past the centre of Varese and out into the hills north of town, to do a loop that took in a couple of enjoyable little climbs. After being spat out the back on the climbs during our ride in Hong Kong I was a little apprehensive about what would happen when we got to the hills, particularly given that Dave looked very fit and lean.

Luckily he hadn’t been riding much in the weeks and months before our ride and I found myself able to stay with him and Wade on the climbs. If they’d gone any harder I would have been in trouble!


After completing two 5km climbs we bombed down the long technical descent to the small town of Porto Ceresio roughly 1.6km from the Swiss border. We stopped in Porto Ceresio for a drink and to appreciate the stunning views over Lake Lugano, one of many beautiful blue lakes in the area.

After our brief stop we got back on our bikes and rode the final 18km back through the centre of Varese to our accomodation just south of town. It was a great introduction to cycling in the region and a pleasure to ride with Dave who really is a top bloke.

The day was capped off with a lovely dinner with Dave and Susan and their kids. It’s a tough life! Thanks to Dave for showing us some cracking roads and to he and Susan for their warm hospitality!


Click here to see my Strava file from the ride with Wade and Dave.

Ride with Jessie MacLean and Gracie Elvin

A few months ago I started watching the YouTube videos created by reigning Australian road race champion Gracie Elvin (who goes by The Rookie Roadie on YouTube). From one of Gracie’s videos I knew that she lived near Varese and so when I knew Wade and I would have some time to spend there, I got in touch with Gracie to see if she’d be interested in going for a ride.

She was, and on our second day in Varese we caught up with her and her Orica-AIS teammate Jessie MacLean for a great ride north of Varese. (We also briefly met their teammates Sungeun Gu and Shara Gillow, and Orica-AIS directeur sportif Dave McPartland).

We headed out of Varese and north on some of the same roads that Dave had taken us on the day before. But then we got to the shores of the stunning Lago Maggiore which we followed north east for roughly 16km. At Luino we hit the first proper climb of the ride — the Scuole di Luino which has an average gradient of 8.1% for a little over a kilometre.

Jess (left) and Gracie (right) on the Scuole di Luino climb.
Jess (left) and Gracie (right) leading the way up the Scuole di Luino climb.

We crossed the border into Switzerland on the descent and remained there for 7km before turning south and hitting the longest rise of the day: the 3.9km, 5.1% average Marchirolo to da Ponta Tresa climb. Gracie and Jessie went easy on us on the climb and after descending and beginning our run south towards Varese, they leapt off the front and did a handful of 1-minute max efforts for training.

They waited just up the road for us and together the four of us rode into Varese to grab a bite to eat and something to drink before we all went our separate ways.

The combination of stunning scenery, great conversation and the opportunity to ride with two of Australia’s best cyclists made for one of the most memorable days I’ve had on the bike in a long time. Thanks very much to Gracie and Jess for making the time to ride with us and all the very best to them both at the Giro Rosa next week!

Jess (left) and Gracie (right) with Lake Maggiore in the background.
Jess (left) and Gracie (right) with Lake Maggiore in the background.

Click here to see my Strava file from the ride with Jess and Gracie.

I’m writing this post from the city of Nice on the stunning Cote d’Azur where Wade and I have been based for the past few days. We’ve got in a handful of stunning rides which I’m looking forward to writing about in the coming days. Until then, check out the video I put together from our ride with Gracie and Jess and the gallery of photos I took while in Varese.

You can also follow my adventures (and updates from the site) on Twitter and Facebook, and follow my trip on Instagram.

Until next time, thanks for reading!


2 Replies to “Riding with pros and ex-pros in Varese, Italy”

  1. Will be racing in Varese at the World GF final in September so was interested to get an idea of the surrounding countryside. It certainly looks scenic. Am looking forward to the trip and articles like the one above give me an insight into what to expect.

  2. It seems a wonderful trip! I also suggest a visit to Lake Orta, that is just a few kilometers away from Lake Maggiore. It is considered one of the most fascinating places of Northern Italy and one of the most attracting views. It offers wonderful cycling paths and the opportunity to play many different outdoor activities.

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