ON HIS MOTO GUZZI TT 1.2 RALLY, MARCO TOOK PART IN THE 10TH EDITION OF THE SANREMO-SESTRIERE HAT, EUROPE’S MOST IMPORTANT ADVENTOURING MOTORCYCLE EVENT. A RECORD NUMBER OF ENTRANTS: 480 BIKERS FROM 16 COUNTRIES, INCLUDING DAKAR STARS LIKE BRUNO BIRBES ON A MOTO GUZZI V7 MKIII.
Sanremo-Sestriere (Italy), 7-9 September 2018 – A super tenth edition for the Hardalpitour, the legendary motorcycle adventure in the FMI/FIM Adventouring Tourism calendar. The event offers three routes: Extreme (900 km), Classic (580 km) and Discovery (420 km), designed for different riding requirements. The HAT EXTREME ride began at 11 p.m. on the Friday with heroes from the Dakar like Bruno Birbes, captain of the Eaglecross team, which included Guzzi biker Marco Cappelli; the finish was on Sunday afternoon in Sestriere, after more than 900 km, including 70% off-road. This year’s rally – the tenth – attracted a record number of entrants: 480 motorcyclists from 16 countries, confirming the HAT as Europe’s most important Adventouring event (non-competitive adventure tourism on a motorbike).
ARTICLE BY MARCO CAPPELLI. “I’ve been hearing for years about the Hardalpitour, which is not so much a competition as an endurance test: from 400 to 900 km in 24 or 36 hours (depending on which route you choose), mostly off-road, for bikes topping 170 kilos. An interesting challenge that tests the rider and the bike; this is why every year professional riders take part, to keep themselves up to the mark, and why many producers enter bikes that have just been launched on the market or that still need to be tested to assess their endurance. Not everyone can take a large-displacement two-wheeler on an off-road route by night, along old military tracks often in a poor state of repair, following a GPS signal for twenty-four hours straight.
Marco Cappelli with his Moto Guzzi TT 1.2 Rally on a Stelvio base by EagleCross; below, on Bruno Birbes’ Moto Guzzi V7 MKIII.
I’ve read articles by people who’ve undertaken this expedition, and I’ve always wondered: How do they manage to ride all night and stay awake? Are the more or less standard lights on the bike sufficient? How do you take everything you need for temperatures of 30° at the start, which may go down to less than 10° in the mountains, and also cater for possible rain, and avoid overloading the bike? And what if you have a puncture in the middle of the night? Who can fix the inner tube?
Bruno Birbes in a garage with his Moto Guzzi V7 MKIII (www.eaglecross.club).
All these questions had been niggling at me for years; then, talking to Cristian Bettini, the previous owner and promoter of the idea behind my bike, I was invited to take part as a member of the Eaglecross team led by former Dakar rider Bruno Birbes, the father of my Moto Guzzi TT 1.2 Rally on a Stelvio base. An opportunity like that certainly doesn’t come along every day, so I decided to accept, even though the bar had already been raised: the team was taking part in the Extreme ride, 920 km in 36 hours including two overnight stretches!
The HAT Village in Sanremo.
The start was planned for Friday 7 September at 23:00 hours, but you needed to be in Sanremo by 4 in the afternoon for the check-in, which had to be done with the two other members of your team: the regulations require you to take part in a group of three people and to be self-sufficient in the event of mechanical problems.
I got to Sanremo at about 1 p.m. and met my two teammates, Giovanni Galvagni, a very young lad, and Antonino Mazzeo. The two other Eaglecross Adventure teams from the Leonessa d’Italia 1903 Motorcycle Club were led by Bruno Birbes on his Moto Guzzi V7 MKIII with the former Dakar riders Aldo Winkler and Brenno Bignardi on the Aprilia Pegaso 650, followed by Cristian Bettini, Livio Metelli, Davide Cominardi, Marco Varini, Luciano Rizza and Riccardo Scaglioni with Paolo Ceci’s Aprilia RXV 450 Dakar.
Aprilia RXV 450 Dakar and Aprilia Pegaso 650.
After a substantial supper, we relaxed on the benches on the seafront until it was time to leave; relaxing in these cases is obviously a euphemism, as it is practically impossible in such a short time to switch off and stop the adrenalin racing. It was soon time to leave, we got on our bikes, pushed along to the starting gate, and we were off!
From now on, for the next 36 hours, we have to follow that small line on our GPS, which will take us to Sestriere. Straightaway I’m ahead of my group, riding through Sanremo and then up to start out on the first unpaved road, a narrow and very stony track. As I expected, the excited mood of the participants, with around one hundred riders taking part in the Extreme (and a total of almost 500), creates a few hitches; a Swiss lad ahead of me loses control of the front wheel, perhaps because of the low speed, and crashes into the corner of a wall, damaging his bike.
I stop to help him get up, he is shaken, and in the dark can’t see the damage to his bike, but he’s not injured, meanwhile other riders are overtaking us. I start off again, weaving my way around bags, sleeping bags, rain-proofs lost by previous riders, every so often I meet small groups of bikers strapping things back on, but in the dark I can’t see my team, so I ride on, hoping they are further ahead. I let several riders overtake me, with all their stickers and accessories they have so much horsepower, there’s no point trying to compete, and also I want to find my group, if I have a puncture they have the tools, and, in the meantime, I don’t want to take a wrong turning; focus, one eye on the road, one eye on the GPS.
There are fewer bikes now, the groups are more spread out, but I still haven’t found my team; a crossroads, I take the wrong road, do I have to go down there? Along that lane? The GPS is clear, I turn the bike around and start the descent, there’s a lot of vegetation but I have to watch the ground, because the water has created a lot of ruts; with heavy bikes, if your wheel gets into one of them, it isn’t easy to keep it upright, and I’m alone. Suddenly, I feel something catch on my helmet and pull my head back, a branch has hooked my visor and the helmet cam; I hardly have time to realise what’s happened when my front wheel hits a stone and stops, and I’m on the ground.
Instinctively, I switch off the engine and I can’t see a thing; if anyone comes along they’ll ride over me; I pull down the stand, grit my teeth and pull the bike up, my left wrist is sore, some bikes arrive, I wave so they see me, it’s my group.
I start off again with the others; I’m more relaxed, now I can think about riding. We reach the Melosa refuge, where the first checkpoint is located, they stamp our cards, we get off the bikes and have something to eat. My wrist is hurting, I take a painkiller… We start off along the military road that crosses the Balconi di Marta fortifications, recognising them at night isn’t easy, and ride straight on towards the Colle Ardente pass, a road that is pretty alarming by day with its sheer drop into nothing, at night you don’t think about it, or at least you try not to.
Someone has fallen, the Civil Defence corps are there, he doesn’t seem to be injured, but where’s his bike? We go through the Garezzo tunnel and find a German rider who’s had a puncture and fallen behind his group; he’s already taken off the tyre but he can’t keep the bike upright to put it back on, we help him, then set off again.
It’s 4 a.m., I thought I would have been more tired and colder by now, but I’m actually sweating as if I were on the beach in August, and I’m in perfect psycho-physical shape… apart from my wrist which still hurts, I hope it’s only a sprain, it will go away I tell myself. As dawn breaks, after a short muddy section, we reach another checkpoint and find Bruno busy replacing the inner tube of an Aprilia Pegaso, which has also covered the last few km without lights because its regulator has blown.
We have breakfast, a large German asks me how the Moto Guzzi bikes are going, you wouldn’t see many of them at these events if it wasn’t for Bruno. We get back on our bikes, I’ve taken another painkiller and strapped up my wrist as best I can with a neck warmer; but with each gear change, I feel a stab of pain, I try to use the clutch as little as possible, but I’m slowing the group down, I let them go ahead with the idea of meeting up with them in Garessio, even though I know in my heart that I shan’t be riding with them anymore.
Garessio has the largest service point, until last year it was the start of the HAT. I find a pharmacist who listens to the story of my fall and fixes me up with ointments, gauze and painkillers. I have lunch at the only bar that’s open and my Moto Guzzi Eaglecross attracts a crowd; I start chatting, they’re all enduro bikers, they bind up my wrist and one of them even goes for some tools to repair my handguard which had come loose because of the vibrations.
I go back to the marquee, Bruno and Cristian, the fastest riders of our group, arrive with Livio, who’s also had some problems with his bike, the fuel pump has packed up. I’ve almost decided to give up and go home, after two hours my wrist is just as painful, I can’t possibly ride another 24 hours, but I’m here and I don’t know when I’ll be able to do something like this again, I haven’t slept since yesterday, perhaps it’s tiredness talking. I get on my bike, by myself, I don’t want to slow anyone down, I ride on tarmac to Upega, and start out on the Via del Sale, it’s a beautiful day, I go slowly and enjoy the view, every single stone, I stop frequently to rest my wrist and take some photos.
I reach Limone and leave the route here, I don’t want to take any more risks and I don’t know the way from here; I take the road and in 140 km I’m in Sestriere, it’s 7 p.m., I have something to eat and go to sleep. The next day, I greet my travel companions who reach the finish around midday, tired but happy. On Monday morning I’m up early, I have a 500 km ride back to Florence… after my fall I rode more than 1,000 km of road and track. I hope to have another chance to take part, even if things didn’t go as expected, it was a great challenge and a real “extreme” adventure.
(Article, photos and videos by Marco Cappelli).
MARCO CAPPELLI, A TRUE GUZZI BIKER WHO “DREAMS” OF A MOTO GUZZI V85 TT “TO MUCK AROUND WITH”. “I’m 38, I began riding two-wheelers with a Vespa, on which I took a number of short trips; then my father bought our family’s first motorbike, a Moto Guzzi Nevada 750, and since then Guzzi bikes have been members of the family. When I was 20 I bought a V65 SP, later I started travelling on a V11 Sport fitted out with aluminium trax bags to take me, my girlfriend (now my wife) and all our camping gear. Then we bought a Stelvio NTX which took me on the two best trips of my life, to Scotland and the North Cape, the latter with my father when he retired, he was on a Breva 1100 which he still rides at the age of 71.
Then we opened a holiday farmhouse in the Chianti area (in Tuscany), our son was born, we used the Stelvio less for travel and more for off-road. I used it for two Agnellotreffen (the first at 17 below zero, riding to Pontechianale with snow chains). When Bettini put his TT 1.2 Rally up for sale (I’d been dreaming about it for two years ever since I read about it in a magazine), I didn’t think twice. Since I’ve had this bike, I’ve only ridden off-road, if only on short trips due to lack of time. Last year, I went on a great journey to Bosnia with a V65 NTX, which I still have…
Who knows what the future holds, my dream is to be the first person to take a Guzzi to the Gibraltar Race, but I don’t think I could manage simply with my own resources… I’m not a professional, but I’ve always ridden Moto Guzzi and had some hairy experiences, and it has always brought me back home. Over the years, many people I know have become fans of the Eagle, for which I’ve been an ardent campaigner, convincing a close friend to buy a Stelvio, which he uses off-road. With him and other friends, we organise events in Tuscany, many starting from my farm, with the Il 6% group, which rides all year round of which I’m the director (starting from 27 October). For December, we’re organising a Festa del 6% party at a camp with fires and tents, which is reached via a 10 km dirt track, we’re expecting 150/200 people. I’d love to have a V85 TT to muck around with, and lots of people in my group can’t wait to try it out...”