Tuscany Diary


Friday 13 May 2011:

Arriving at the hotel all our hire bikes were ready and waiting for us… in fact they’d delivered an extra two so we could take our pick.  We all decided on carbon fibre or alloy n carbon Colnago’s.  Tim was to arrive on the Sunday.


Saturday:

A blue cloudless sky greeted us the first morning, and after a big breakfast Belgian ex Gregario Trevor, Michael and myself were rolling off for the first ride with Mr Banister’s mantra “easy ride on the first day boys” ringing in our ears.  A steady 60 miler was lined up, and we had all day. The ride started with a flat 8 miles along vineyards and olive groves, with the sea on our right, and the hills on our left. A short detour to the bike shop added a few extra miles, then we started climbing away from the coast, giving us a stunning panorama as we climbed away from the sea up to Castagneto. A short flat section with a number or “racing line” twists through the trees, and then a 3km shallow climb and the first coffee stop at Sassetta, where we got chatting to a bunch of Swiss riders and a rather tasty Swiss Miss. A quick walk round the back alley’s of the intriguing Sassetta, and then a fantastic “big fun” shallow descent of 12 km consisting almost entirely or race-line chicanes one after another. We emerged at the bottom village with big grins on our faces.

A quick snack attack Tuscan style and then we were on the flatlands through lush agricultural countryside before the day’s big climb up to Campiglia Marittima.  We took this at a steady pace as the sun was now around 24 degrees. A fast descent took us down to the coast, and back homewards with the end of ride coffee stop at the enchanting Bolgheri at the top of the famous tree lined Cypress Avenue where we watched the last 30km of the Giro. 5 km back to base… a perfecto first day.

Distance 68 miles

Climbing 3,000 feet


Sunday:

The forecast was rain, but we didn’t believe it, so just as we were all kitted up and ready to go it started absolutely pissing down.  Ride cancelled. A relaxing morning followed and we reassembled at the nearby Pizzaria for lunch and an afternoon of watching the Giro with the local tifosi. On Sunday night we got the news that we would be one rider down in the team, as Tim was going to be a no-show due to a mishap with his passport.

Distance 0

Climbing 0


Monday:

We climbed up to Moneverdi Marittimo with lush forested vistas on either side of the road. A bask in the sun while enjoying a nice coffee set us up for the rest of the day.  While there, about four teams of riders came through the village.  We then crossed the road for a quick viewing of a huge stuffed Chinghale (Wild Boar to you!) in the back room of the local deli. The guys in the shop were clearly tickled to have three “pro riders” turn up in their shop, and offered us taster samples of their cured Chinghale and local cheeses… bit of a criac in there! Back on the road we skirted round another intriguing little hamlet and then hit a big sweeping descent, one bend leading into the next on an excellent road surface. Racing line through the corners leaning the bike one way and then other in quick succession. Down in the valley we rode for a couple of miles and then turned left for the 6km killer climb up to the spectacular hilltop village of La Sassa with awesome views from the top. Trevor gave the thumbs down to the coffee at the hilltop bar, so we headed back down taking it a bit steady as the surface wasn’t all that.  Back in the valley after a few miles of fast tempo we were climbing once again up to Casale Marittimo where we indulged in a plate of the local Tuscan Soup, which we all agreed was “out-of-category” even if it was a bit pricey. They also turned out quite a unique tasting coffee to follow. Top marks.

A fast descent followed and we were back on the coast in two blinks of an eye and watching the Giro in an ice cream parlour.

Memo: A note must be said about the high standard of hotel buffet provided for the Gregarios’ discerning riders - all very healthy, high quality, appetizing, and plenty of it!

Distance 62 miles

Climbing 3,986 feet


Tuesday:

The big one! The Massa Marittimo circuit with the 9km climb of Monterotondo.

A quick and essential coffee at Sassetta, they know us there now… in fact the proprietor’s son gave us on request a few riffs of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” on his guitar, and he wasn’t bad! Down the chicanes to Suvareto and onto some open roads where Michael hitched a lift on a fast moving train of riders. Pity he didn’t know the way. Trev and I stopped to insult the map, and were joined by a Canadian called Pete who asked if he could join us, and then proceeded to put the half wheel on. Wha?


We eventually hooked up with Michael who by this time had turned round and was riding back to find us, naturally we made him work to get back on. Again beautiful wooded scenery viewed from open rolling road, which was a lot of fun to ride. From there we turned off onto an incredible little side road which took us on a 9km corkscrew route up and down, through vineyards and fantastic Tuscan scenery eventually dropping us out at the foot of the climb to Massa Marittimo. 


A coffee and panini in the square at Massa, which was full of cyclists, then onwards out of town with
the help of Trev’s Garmin.  A left turn took us onto the feared climb of Monterotondo, which seemed to go on but was interspersed with a fantastic little descent before climbing up again. Fortunately it was well engineered.  Michael announced that he was taking the climb supra piano, while Trev and myself plugged away trying to keep the heart rate below 160. Pete by this time had exploded backwards, which was surprising considering how he’s been half wheeling us. Live by the  sword... We all regrouped at the top, had a quick espresso to steel ourselves for the big descent, which was a lot of fun, and then we were climbing again on a
small road, this time quite steep in places.  It eventually dropped us out just before Sassetta, one lap completed.  We said “so long” to Pete and then dropped down through the forest on the wide curvy road, carving through the bends down into Castagneto and eventually on to the après-ride coffee stop in Bolgheri. Resisting an accompanying ice cream we rode down the gentle incline of the straight-as-an-arrow Cypress Avenue and in no time at all we were back at the hotel. This was a classic ride, taken at a steady pace, with everyone feeling good at the end. Happy bunnies!

I hit the hotel’s Wellness Suite after the ride, or a quick jaccuzzi, steam bath, sauna (which was too hot for me), and then settled into a lounger with a herbal tea and promptly dropped off to sleep - having to be woken by an attendant at chucking out time.

Distance 80 miles

Climbing 4,600 feet


Wednesday: The Northern Hills. 

A ride of three parts, a hilly loop ‘oop North, a descent to the coast, and a flat ride down the coast. Yet another blue-sky day greeted us. The first climb was up to Riparbella where Paolo Bettini is rumoured to reside, although when we passed through there was no sign of “Il Grillo” anywhere. The climb to Riparbella was fun, a smooth curving road, fantastic views down to the coast below as we climbed, and a chuff wind blowing us up the climb. This was the flavour of the day with awesome views in all directions, and great cycling roads which were virtually empty. A coffee stop by a fountain in a small village gave us a welcome breather.  We continued on in the same manner generally staying high up on the hillside. A nice pasta stop at Santa Luce refuelled us, and then we were off again with massive views in all directions, and the coast in the distance. Most of the climbs had been well graded up to now, which left us unprepared for the hill that awaited us at Colonole. This “wall” was a true bottom gear grovel, but to be fair I knew it was coming from the last trip!  Eventually we started dropping down to the coast - a big grin of a descent, and quite a long one. Hitting the coast we ran along the rocky seafront and into Castiglioncello. We didn’t want to stop, but ‘cause we were ‘ard we forced ourselves to have a coffee. From there it was a pancake flat ride through various small coastal towns, eventually past The Grillo’s fan club at La California, and back to base.

Distance 66.5 miles

Climbing 3,800 feet


Thursday: Voltera

More blue sky. Will we get fed up of this?  We took the quiet farm road through the fields to the first village, and then enjoyed some open vistas on a rolling road that eventually took us to a bridge over the impressive Cecina River where we stopped at Poneginori for the first coffee of the day. From there it was probably the busiest road of the trip (although it really wasn’t that bad) towards Voltera the famous centre for alabaster. The climb up to Voltera is quite a big climb, probably around 9km. Taking it steady and keeping the heart rates below the red line we chipped away, one hairpin after another, until we were outside to ancient wall of the town. A Tuscan Soup seemed to be the snack of choice for our trio, and then a tour through this old town taking in some of the sights. The ride back was “something else”. A spectacular road along a ridge gave us some of the biggest panoramas of the trip. We were like High Plains Drifters. A plunging descent, and then another scenic 4km climb to Montecatini where again we forced ourselves to stop for a coffee. The drop down from Montecatini was probably one of the best, and then returning via yet another hilltop village and back to base.

Distance 62 miles, 

Climbing 4,800 feet


Friday: Follonica

After bidding Trevor farewell Michael and I decided on an easy couple of days wind down. After seeing a tasty Swiss Miss and her crew in rather fetching Tuscany cycling tops available from a shop near Massa Marittimo we hopped on a train to the seaside resort of Follonica where we would ride to 15km or so to the bike shop. The train driver wrong footed us at the deserted Bibbona station by switching tracks at the last second to try and catch us out. We were too smart for the lad and smartly dived under the subway with our bikes, emerging on the other platform just in time. A relaxing train ride to Follonica, and then we were heading toward the bike shop on a straight main road pointing directly towards the hills. At least the road was quiet. After purchasing two said jerseys we headed up the last proper climb up to Massa.


It was a rather good lunch in the square, where they were setting up for a town centre concert. A few cyclists were hanging out in the cafes, and we admired a Ferrari styled Colnago, finished off with Campagnolo Super Record 11. We returned to Follonica via the vineyard loop around Massa… probably my favorite road of the trip.

A coffee by the sea in Follonica, and then it was back by train to catch the finale of the Giro stage.

Distance: 40 miles


Saturday:

Hit the beach for a relaxing day. Warm sun, comfy loungers with sun shades. What could be better! A beach side café provided the toasted paninis and coffee. Michael announced he was glued to the beach for the rest of the day, while I forced myself out for one last ride in the afternoon. Took a few pics and ended up in Bolgheri for an ice cream and observed what seemed to be a film star wedding taking place there. Job done.

Distance: 12 miles


Overall we all rode well together and had a good criac. By not going crazy on the climbs, we were able to ride successive days with a lot of long climbs without feeling the worse for it the next day. The only real attacks were Michael’s out-of- saddle sprints over the motorway at the end of the ride so that he could get the sprint finish. Bravo!

Nice riding guys.


Total distance: around 390 miles

Total climbing: around 21,500 feet







 

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