Giro della Toscana
30th May - Wednesday 6th June 2017
Host and Chief Navigator
Four Men in a Van
K1, John, Dave, Malcolm
Fake News and
Dodgy Info from the ‘Man in the Bus’
Your reporter cannot
guarantee the verity of any of the following, especially any events that
occurred anywhere near the front of the peloton.
The personal Garmin data
are unreliable, particularly the hours in the saddle, as your reporter
failed to switch off/on consistently – however, in this era of The
Donald, who really cares about truth?
Martedi - (Home
– Splugen (Switzerland)
A long and uneventful
trip from home to Splugen, Switzerland.
The one-vehicle trip sadly removed
some of the fun to be derived from poor inter-vehicle communication.
Tomtom provided mild amusement in the form of Bazza, the Aussie,
who got miffed when the German Autobahn route was chosen instead of
Bazza’s preferred French Autoroute; ‘Turn around mate’- funny for
the first few times, but wearing on the twentieth repetition – a
switch to the quietly spoken (sometimes a touch too quiet – see later)
Irishman, Sean, saw out the rest of the trip.
Everything about Splugen was very Swiss, very dear and very
(Splugen – Limano)
The choice of Splugen
was based on its location at the foot of the San Bernardino Pass, ‘one
of the best and smoothest rides in Europe’.
JR, Dave and, following a wise late decision, Malcolm
tackled a short climb to the peak (2065 m) and then a brilliant hairpin
descent of about 15 km. The
support van driver, a hairpin specialist, confirms that this was one of
the best roads ever seen; absolutely no traffic, a beautifully smooth
road surface (Switzerland!) and wonderful views – on reflection, I am
jealous. The rest of the
journey was unmemorable (I can just about remember catching a late
lunch). Following a couple
of pedestrian circumnavigations of Lucca, a rendezvous with the aviators
and a decent alfresco pizza, we retired to K2’s casa signorile for
beers and serious planning for the cycling event.
(Limano – Montelupo Fiorentino)
So, Rob’s brand new
bike made its debut on the descent from Limano and the day processed as
all following days; warm sun, some decent climbs, plenty of refuelling
and excellent scenery. It
was soon apparent that there were two distinct groups; the GC contenders
comprising four well-honed athletes (John, K2, Rob, Glenn) and an
‘autobus/grupetto’ comprising three slightly less well-honed
athletes (Dave, Malcolm, K1) – optimistically I am assuming that the
grupetto athletes have maintained their normal high levels of fitness
and it is the GC contenders who have upped their game.
Notably we passed through Vinci (of Leonardo fame) but
unfortunately had to compete with the evening rush hour for the final 15
km of flatlands. On
arrival, Glenn made some minor adjustments to his gears.
5h 28’, 92 km, 2300 kCal, 1210 m
(flowery wolf mountain?) on the banks of the Arno sounds great but
rather disappointed (a sheep in wolf’s clothing!?).
Maybe it was just exhaustion but there was a strange late-night
incident when a number of punters passed by the welcoming local bar as
‘it looked a bit rough’ – eh? – the chaps were set straight and
the late beers were much enjoyed.
Venerdi - (Montelupo
Fiorentino – Casafrassi (Castellina in Chianti))
We awoke to the Friday
morning rush hour – about 3000 cyclists and no cars – Republic Day
and a holiday. Later the
cyclists were joined by 2000 motorcyclists (often on the wrong side of
the road) and a mass ride of Vespas/Lambrettas.
The start of the ride was rather disappointing on main roads but
once you hit the hills everything is good.
The normal day then followed with coffees, beers and wine, a
hearty lunchtime meal, gelati and finally more beers in the large local
bar in Castellina. Finally
a great descent and steep climb to the excellent Casafrassi.
On arrival, Glenn made some minor adjustments to his gears.
7h 23’, 85 km, 2100 kCal, 1120 m
Great to get off the
bike and enjoy a swim (only Dave and K1 made the four mandatory swims,
so everybody else was disqualified from the duathlon). An
excellent meal followed with the fairly standard confusion in food
ordering, generally as a result of everyone talking at the same time;
again, due to exhaustion and too much wine/beer hydration, a serious
mistake was made when the team signed up for the following evening’s
wine tasting and vineyard tour – a mistake rectified in the calm
sobriety of the following morning.
Sabato - (‘Day Off’ – Loop from Casafrassi)
An exciting start to the
day off when the team gallantly stepped in to prevent a major forest
fire by forming a chain to pass buckets of water and nip the blaze in
the bud.........well, it was good news on our return to discover that
the fire had not spread far. The
day off should be the easiest but often isn’t; certainly your reporter
struggled badly from the off and managed to suffer dehydration (not
enough beer at lunchtime). The Romans were renowned for straight roads and aquifers
following the contours. The
later Italians liked to build their hill-top towns on the top of hills
and connect them with roads that avoided contouring and searched out the
maximum up-and-down. However,
the medieval towns are spectacular, none more so than San Gimignano, a
UNESCO world heritage site. An
early lunch gave us the opportunity to enjoy the amazing architecture
including a dozen towers....and nobody bought anything!
On the day off we were introduced to the ‘hell of the south’
– strada bianchi. Great
to watch on TV but definitely an acquired taste to ride – John and K2
had certainly acquired the taste but other members of the team were paid
up members of the AAS (Asphalt Appreciation Society) – well, we did
survive the experience with no damage to limb nor bike and merely
registered the trip’s lone puncture. John and K2, noting the volume of moaning and whining, kindly
curtailed the strada experience. On
return to Casafrassi, Glenn made some minor adjustments to his gears.
5h 15’, 65 km, 1600 kCal, 1100 m
In the evening we fully
appreciated the avoidance of the vineyard barbecue and enjoyed an
excellent meal followed by the Champions League Final on a very small
TV. For students of
football history we have visited Italy three times for cycling and each
time encountered the Champions League Final; 2005 Tuscany, Liverpool 3
Milan 3 (Liverpool won on pens.); 2007 Dolomites, Liverpool 1 Milan 2;
2017 Tuscany, Real Madrid 4 Juventus 1.
Dunno what that proves but Dave’s Garmin attempted to
self-combust during the match.
(Casafrassi - Pistoia)
Disappointing to leave
Casafrassi, a super location. The
major problem on a cycling Sunday is lunch (lack of). Fortunately, a friendly local pointed us in the direction of
the one open restaurant up a ludicrously steep very straight wide smooth
road – surely an opportunity for a 50+ mph postprandial descent?
Firstly, the open restaurant did exist and secondly, it was
excellent – life always seems better when Sunday lunch has been
secured. The super-fast
descent was sadly declined in favour of a touch more bianchi. When we reached the river, the general consensus was that we
were ‘home and hosed’, just following a largely flat riverine route.
However, the chosen route took us over a bridge where we joined a
small convoy of impatient cars on the trip’s steepest ascent, a
‘monster stand-up-in-bottom-gear at 3 mph’ job that went on much
further than expected – even a GC man, Rob was troubled by this one.
This was a long hot day but even that did not prevent Dave going
for a long sprint into town. I did not witness the event but I believe Dave was pipped by
John, who knew the finishing line location.
A final couple of laps of the town (too many navigators – do
they spoil the broth?) where we lost a couple of team members – while
they were searching for the hotel they very kindly located the local
beer vendor. On arrival,
Glenn made some major adjustments to his gears.
6h 57’, 110 km, 2500 kCal, 1470 m
Maybe something in the
name, but Pistoia did not sound too promising.
How wrong can you be – Pistoia was an excellent town with a
lively atmosphere and a good choice of locations for food and drink –
never judge a town by its name, unless it’s Scunthorpe!
- (Pistoia - Limano)
A short day to return to
Limano starting with a long and challenging climb.
The reward was an excellent good-value lunch at K2’s local
greasy spoon, the Circolo dei Forestieri in Bagni di Lucca.
Postprandial exercise comprised a super cycle alongside the Fiume
Serchio, passing the spectacular 11th century Ponte della
Maddelena. This was a much
harder and longer ride than expected by the grupetto optimists, who
assumed incorrectly that K2’s local greasy spoon would be local.
The final sting in the tail was the 25 minute steep climb from
the main road to Limano. Some
research shows that Bagni is at 150 m and Limano is at 538 m, a climb of
less than 400 m; as some of the team were completely knackered by this
moderate ascent it is probably fortunate that it was the last one.
To celebrate another successful trip a rather good team photo was
taken in front of the 16th century fountain in the Piazza
Gave. The quoted population
of Limano is 84 so our team visit provided a temporary increase of
roughly 10%, a fact well-celebrated on the evening trip to the Bar
Limano. On arrival, Glenn
wisely left his gears well alone and put his bike in the van.
4h 54’, 60 km, 1500 kCal, 1300 m
( Limano – Colmar (France))
The road home comprised
a number of traffic jams and an unnecessary diversion to La Spezia when
Sean was too late and too quiet in his instructions.
We also encountered a toll-booth problem when the barrier refused
to open – after ten minutes of hooting and arm-waving a miserable
Italian woman rectified the situation without a hint of apology. The highlight (2106 m) was Dave and John’s tackling of the
Gotthard Pass. Fortunately
conditions were set fair with warm sun and little wind.
Their ascent (through a tunnel!) delayed Richard Hammond’s
filming (just before his latest crash).
As the support van started the descent there was a hint of rain
but the weather soon improved; assuming the chaps would be thoroughly
enjoying the descent, the support van carried on to Andermatt...and then
it started pouring with rain. Twenty
minutes later, the chaps arrived having coped with cold (2 C), rain,
hail and strong winds, a complete contrast to the San Bernardino Pass.
Dave secured a 4-bed hotel room in Colmar at 11 Euros per person
– we are still trying to work out what was wrong with the place!
Apart from the evening rain Colmar is an excellent town and an
appropriate location for the final supper.
Mercoledi - (Colmar - Home)
Some autoroutes in
France are so empty you are unsure whether you are actually on the
correct road (at one stage Sean was quiet for 170 km).
Anyway, we arrived home early without incident to complete
another successful trip. Members
of the grupetto did claim symptoms of mild tiredness for a few days
whereas the GC boys simply changed sport and went competitive sailing!