Reay’s Giro d’Italia
29th May ’05
A tour of the Alpe Apuane (in
2005 Team Leader - JR
The Team - JR, K1, K2,
Dave, Frank, Mike, Rob
(3 day specialist)
‘Boxing Clever’ – Villains and Heroes
Airport has an excellent marketing ploy – it advertises free beer,
dancing girls and left-luggage; the trouble is that when you arrive the
beer’s run out, the dancing girls ain’t dancing and the left luggage
isn’t accepting (big) luggage,– too late, you’re stuck in Pisa!
Villains! No problem
– a short train trip to Pisa and a left luggage that does take
Great Locations for Starting a Tour
The Portsmouth Road in
Surbiton? Cobham car park?
Clapham Common? Or maybe
the Champs Elysses? Well,
the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa has got to be up there.
And if you look from the right perspective the Torre Pendente
(bull on a chain?) isn’t leaning; a remarkable piece of corrective
geotechnical engineering. A
traditional team photo in front of the non-leaning tower and we’re
Pisa to Lido di Camaiore
Distance: 54 miles
An early beer in Lucca is the real start of the
holiday, followed by a well-trafficked climb to Montemagno and a descent
to the coast following the Camaiore late-afternoon beer stop.
There is one important rule to holidaying in Italy - avoid the
coastal plain! Few of the
locals live in the hills; they all live, work and drive their motors on
the narrow coastal plain. On
the map it looks like a pleasant cycle up the coast with the Med to port
and hills to starboard. In
reality the road is long, straight and dusty with much traffic; the sea
is intermittently visible. Some
entertainment was provided by the local peloton who demonstrated how to
skip the hundreds of red traffic lights.
In the excitement, one guy even managed to remove his pedal in
his clip-ons. Marina di
Massa was gladly reached as a team time trial.
A Night to Remember – You’ll Never Walk Alone
in the Pizzeria
The Hotel Patricio looked rather isolated, with
the unhappy prospect of long walk in search of food and drink.
However, you only need one place, and the local had everything
one desires; pizza, beer and football.
The Italians were considerably more interested in the 2005
Champions League final than their French Mazamet counterparts were of
Monaco’s exploits in the 2004 version; at one stage there were at
least five locals watching the game!
A rather strange evening with the scousers 3-0 down at half-time
and hence no need to interrupt the pizza eating; then as the recovery
ensued our Team gradually migrated to the TV room.
A late night penalty shoot-out provided a fitting end to a long,
Marina di Massa to Villafranca
Distance: 54 miles
Now, you probably know that Carrara is considered
the world marble capital and you may have romantic visions of
Michelangelo searching for the lump of marble incubating David; before
the invention of the internal combustion engine there may have been some
truth in this romantic view. However,
for cyclists Carrara’s streets make Kingston’s one-way system a
pastoral scene. Marble
lorries, cars, buses, cratered roads and even modern-day Michelangelos
firing marble dust with an angle-grinder.
Some worries (completely unfounded) about the traffic conditions
out of town – certainly the best part of Carrara is the road out.
No. 1. The Dit
At this stage, on the first
serious climb to 560 m, your author is introducing a new unit of
measurement; please welcome to the family of newton, pascal, joule and
watt the SI unit of cyclists’ climbing pain – the ditchling (Dit).
Without being too pedantic, the climb of Ditchling Beacon is
about 150 vertical metres (500 feet) and about 1 mile long with an
average gradient of 1 in 10; it takes about 15 minutes and the number of
walkers demonstrates that it is reasonably tough, especially if you feel
the urge to race. The climb
of Ditchling Beacon is the standard for 1 Dit; presumably all the other
climbs of the North and South Downs are roughly 1 Dit.
And, now finally back to the
main narrative; a 560 m climb (that’s metres not feet, folks) is
roughly 4 Dit and hence it is not recommended that one attacks at the
bottom or goes mad to stay with the fastest man – it will take over an
hour and you’ll be knackered at the top.
A group discussion on atmospheric physics or even post-modernism
ensures that the pace is sufficiently steady.
Time for a round of large Birre Morrettis methinks in the bar 20
metres from the wall on which we sat for half an hour bemoaning the lack
of village bar. Lunch was
in Fivizanno, accompanied by an unsolicited translator, despite our
evident fluency in the lingo. If
you know the local mafia and ask very, very nicely they fry up some
No.2. A dozen ways to be painfully unsaddled from a bicycle
off road due to excessive speed at hairpin bend.
into roadside ditch
to spot ‘danger – gravel on road’ sign
sideways topple due to unclipping failure
to appreciate the low friction coefficient of wet leaves on the road
of balance due to excessive liquid refuelling
of balance due to inadequate solid refuelling – a bonk
pothole in the road
equipment failure due to poor maintenance
unpredictable bobbing and weaving in the peloton
with a marble lorry (nasty!)
out on hairpin by kamikaze Italian mountain bike descender
Relevance of this tosh?
Back to the main narrative again.
Your author was within inches of a No.12, but a rapid application
of brakes turned the scenario into a far less harmful No. 4, leaving our
maniac descender to his fate in the form of a vertical limestone cliff.
However, miraculously, defying known laws of mechanics, he
managed to execute a right-angled turn and continue nonchalantly on his
way, ears assaulted by Anglo-Saxon invective.
Of course, none of us have ever been out of control on a descent!
An afternoon beer in Bagnone and a descent to Villafranca, where
Dave’s poor navigation skills (see later for more) gifted the stage
win to your author, a rather reluctant contender.
– that was far too long. It’ll
Thursday Nightlife in Villafranca
An enjoyable Al Fresco dinner in
the Hotel Manginelli, with German motorbikers demonstrating the less
than amusing consequences of a two-wheeled unsaddling.
Then into town for the much-anticipated Thursday nightlife.
Just managed to keep the only bar open, but this soon closed as
the patron appeared to have a moonlighting job sweeping the main road
and buffing up the white lines. It has to be said that the Manginelli was the best (and only!)
hotel in town; old photos indicated very little change in the last
century although the US airforce tried in 1944.
Villafranca to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
Distance: 54 miles
Some serious climbing this day,
including a hopeful detour to Olivola for beer/coffee/ice cream - of
course it didn’t have any, but the view was nice.
The long climb to Foce Carpinelli at 700 m was another example of
the failure to spot a 5 Dit climb resulting in the Team split between
the upper restaurant and a lower intermediate bonk stop.
Frank and JR had a sort of race to this summit (good luck to
them!). The restaurant
stop, when we all assembled, was excellent.
On the general descent to Castelnuovo we had a choice of swim in
one of two lakes; fortunately the waiter informed us that one promising
lake lacked water – hence it’s Lagodi Vagli for the traditional
swim. Bidding arrivederci
(train to catch) the reduced Team took a short detour to the lake;
this involved a multi-Dit climb, horribly steep in sections, to
700 m again and then the lake turns out to be an inaccessible reservoir
precluding bathing. Never
mind, it was good training and the concrete arch dam was impressive.
To finish, a long descent to Castelnuovo, with some much-needed
beer and bike servicing en route.
Non Parlo Italiano in Castelnuovo
It’s important to learn enough
of the lingo to avoid a port aperitif when you really desire a glass of
acqua naturale. Fortunately
the Hotel di Carlino restaurant has a special of trota and a very
helpful painting to confirm that trota is indeed trout – so why, when
you attempt to order the special trota, does it generate much waitress
mirth and gesticulation? That’s not a major problem; we’ll go for some other tasty
fish species. Peach and
chips will do nicely! We
discovered the following evening that perversely the advertised special
trout was in fact ‘off’.
nightlife in Castelnuovo is really rocking; after some fruitless
searching we found the action just down the road from the hotel.
Chess and draughts are no substitute for pool and arrows, but
Jenga-Jenga provided much amusement.
The mystery is that despite a day of arduous cycling, some strong
beer, a noisy bustling bar and a less-than-firm foundation, some
reasonably successful towers were constructed – no disastrous
premature collapses. Conditions
were even worse on Saturday, but still the good form continued.
Climb’ on the day off; Castelnuovo to Castelnuovo
Distance: 34 miles
The traditional ‘day off’
for swimming; this year we cycled up a mountain to Foce di Radici and
finally Alpe San Pellegrino (1700m, 5600 feet).
This 8 Dit climb was tackled by the longer, less steep route, a
very wise decision as the steep route involved long stretches of 20%;
could have been some walking! JR
beat Frank to the points, but were they actually still in the race?
Late for breakfast and failing the drugs test for lack of beer!
Excellent food at the Radici.
The scenic descent to Barga looked promising, but there was some
doubt over road surface quality due to map inconsistency.
Hero status awarded to the walker who stated 10 km of no tarmac
and a 3 km stretch of walking over rocks – now the map makes sense.
The downhill almost too steep to be enjoyable and wheel rims
dangerously overheated. A
beer stop with a bonus of watching some of the alternative Giro
d’Italia. 34 miles in one day sounds pathetic, but the climb did take 2
hours on the bike.
One More Beer’ – Thirsty Men in Castelnuovo
For some reason we were banished
outside for the evening meal – maybe something to do with the pesky
lingo problems. We could
have said ‘gradiremmo i pesci e patatine fritte, non pesca e patatine
fritte’, but frankly it was much easier pointing at the fish.
Some grumbling about traffic noise seemed to lead to an aural
assault by a little light night muzak, which strangely led to an attempt
to identify film theme tunes and a brief discussion of favourite films
(a good rabbit filler when there’s no darts).
It was obviously time to hit the Saturday nightlife – ‘una
benna in pieno di birra forte per favore’.
A guided tour of the beer keller was followed by more Jenga-Jenga
and a gradual migration to stronger beers as the Morretti/Peroni lost
their appeal. After a few
to many it’s a very short walk back to the hotel.
In the words of Jimmy Hendrix
‘If a six turns out to be nine, well I don’t mind’; unlike Jimmy, your author does mind.
The idiots from room 6 had used key 9 to open (successfully) room
6. Meanwhile your author
was bumbling around with a 2 am beery head attempting to open room 9
with key 6 (thanks to Mike for pointing out the obvious), which didn’t
work. No sign of life in
the hotel, but free British passports on offer to any intruder!
It was at this stage that it was noted that four team members had
failed to make the 50 m walk from bar to hotel.
The search party located these chaps in a bar that they had
failed to pass on the way home – for amnesiac Frank’s benefit the
bar resembled a mainly empty neon-lit sweet shop where Frank was looking
liable to initiate some aggro with the locals.
On later return (2.30 am) to the hotel, key 15 successfully
opened room 9 – bleedin’ obvious, eh?
di Garfagnana to Pisa
Distance: 74 miles
Ho mal di testa! That
final beer has its predictable effect.
The 8.30 breakfast lacks two Reays.
JR produces a fine performance of ‘I thought it was 8.20’
whereas Frank simply admits to not bothering.
The Majorca Report (2002) gives clear warning of the effects of
overenthusiastic imbibing on the last night.
KS has a puncture, probably due to smashed beer glass.
Dave sets a tough final route with a 4 Dit climb to Foce di
Trebio (735 m, not feet!)). With
the two specialist climbers incapacitated by that final beer nightcap, a
rare trio contested this mountain stage which included a large number of
optimistically early attacks (4 Dit!), with KA romping home.
The local restaurant, with the Scottish waiter was an excellent
find; pasta with an assortment of local wildlife; those with robust
constitutions were back on the pop!
After a long descent and a tour of some gravel paths the final
climb (maybe 5 Dit) through Buti towards Monte Serra was a less than
pleasant experience. Frank
had recovered sufficiently to take the stage; your author was merely
pleased to finish, having been reduced to a pathetic 4 mph for long
stretches. A scenic descent
to Calci for a beer stop and Dave taking the risk of occupying Luigi’s
and Mike decide to sprint for a random road sign and make a long break
for the Pisa finish; it’s a great success, as the peloton is dropped
out-of-sight – a great pity they were heading rapidly in the wrong
direction, clocking an extra 5 fast miles on a 74 mile day.
How many more times, if you’re a sprinter, you’ve got to
study the finish!
A terrific finish past the
leaning (this time it was) tower for traditional photo call and a rapid
bike boxing session (why is this so knackering?) at the station.
Rapid was the planned mode, but it was still necessary to attempt
to delay the airport train. The
tannoy announcement that the train would be running 5 minutes late
indicates some success in this enterprise, the first time it had run
late since Mussolini got them running on time in the 1930s.
Nothing more to add really –
an excellent trip all round.
dubious, quantity fine