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Old and new in Italy

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We found some amazing places to ride along the coast in Finale Ligure

We found some amazing places to ride along the coast in Finale Ligure (Image credit: Alex Grant)
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Stoked to find myself on the Short Track podium in Bonelli

Stoked to find myself on the Short Track podium in Bonelli (Image credit: Alex Grant)
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Podium Legs were a welcome recovery tool from the marathon travel to get home

Podium Legs were a welcome recovery tool from the marathon travel to get home (Image credit: Alex Grant)
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Many of these were consumed in Italy

Many of these were consumed in Italy (Image credit: Alex Grant)
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Over mountain or over it?

Over mountain or over it? (Image credit: Alex Grant)
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Mid-action during a photo shoot

Mid-action during a photo shoot (Image credit: Alex Grant)
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We found the local Cannondale dealer and the owner needed a couple pics with Tinker

We found the local Cannondale dealer and the owner needed a couple pics with Tinker (Image credit: Alex Grant)

After recently returning from Cannondale MTB Team Camp in Finale Ligure Italy, I am still stuck with a sense of age. It truly is the old world, and while out in the hills that we rode though, I got a sense that time was standing still and that the land had seen so much and watched so many generations, even civilizations, come and go.

I have been to Europe before, and been to Italy, but for some reason this struck me more this trip. Maybe it was how we saw the area that did it - rather than a tourist destination or city, we were on our bikes riding through tiny villages, through people’s backyards, through olive farms, over stone bridges that were clearly centuries old. Once in a while, we would be riding some singletrack and I'd forget where we were, only to come upon a broken down old stone building, wall, or bridge. We hit some singletracks that lead to what seemed like old cobbled walking paths, super steep and rough, and I tried not to become lost in thoughts of who walked down them before us as we flew down at high speed.

I'm not sure why I was so struck with the history and beauty of the area; perhaps it was the contrast of riding some of the most progressive and innovative bikes from Cannondale on these old paths. We were testing a new Lefty that continues to push the envelope of suspension technology on paths and roads that were walked and ridden on horseback centuries ago.

We had some of the most progressive modern mountain bikers staying in an old-church-turned-hotel. Eighteen-year-old juniors Keegan Swenson and Taylor Smith were riding with Tinker Juarez, one of the pioneers of the sport. OK, ok, I'll get off the contrast theme...

All told Italy was a great trip, and once back in Salt Lake I was quickly changing gears and getting re-adjusted to winter. Sammi and I hit Solitude for a morning to try to pick up the scraps from some storms that came through while I was gone but we were a little too late. We got a few powder turns though so I can't complain.

I might as well have left my Flash 29 in the bag because I didn't hit dirt again until arriving in Southern California for US Pro XCT # 2 at Bonelli Park a week later. The first race is always such an unknown and it seems like I still never know exactly how the legs will be. I think most racers will agree, and it doesn't take long after the gun goes off until you know. As a whole, the weekend went better than expected for me and I managed a top 10 in cross country, super D and short track with 8th, 6th and 5th respectively. That was also my first short track podium, never would have predicted it that weekend.

The young guns were firing in the heated junior race as well with Keegan taking the win and Taylor just outside the top 10.

As I write this, I am on a plane to Chile with Tinker for the Copa Cannondale this weekend. Check back for a report next month, the season is on!

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Alex Grant, 31, is one of America's top endurance mountain bike racers. Sponsored by Cannondale Factory Racing in 2012, Grant juggles racing as a pro with managing an outdoor gear consignment business called Gear Rush, which he co-owns with fellow Utah cyclist and racer Bart Gillepsie. This season, look out for Grant on the podiums at major endurance and stage races. For variety, you may also see him on on the start line of some super Ds, cross countries and short tracks.

In 2011, Grant finished third at the Leadville 100 and eighth at the US cross country national championships while also logging top 10s at the super D and marathon nationals. He finished fifth in the Downieville Classic All Mountain Overall and seventh at La Ruta de los Conquistadores. For the third year in a row, he won the Park City Point 2 Point.

In 2010, Grant made headlines with his second place finish at La Ruta de los Conquistadores, the Breck Epic and the Trans-Sylvania Epic.

When not on his mountain bike, Grant enjoys backcountry skiing, snowboarding and hiking.

Grant is from Richmond, Vermont, and he presently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Follow his 2012 season in this blog on Cyclingnews.