This blog is a work in progress.
I'll add some more detail, and hopefully some photos, when I get home to Enzed.
Not one of my more organised days, what with getting to the van at 6:00 am and realising that I did not have my helmet. One of the guys from Blufreccia found it in the keeping of the hotel (I guess I had left it outside the previous day), and we headed down to Gaiole for the start.
The 135 & 200km rides start 'alla Francaise' as they say here, meaning that you start whenever you like between 5:30 and 7am. Lights are required to start before 6:30, so Courtney and I decide to start around 7am.
Before the start, bikes are checked, not for roadworthyness, but to sort out the ordinary, ie modern, from the 'heroic'. To be technically heroic requires toeclip pedals, exposed brake cables and frizione downtube or bar end shifters.
Each rider gets a carnet de passage, a route sheet which must be stamped at each checkpoint.
The first few kilometers are in the half dark, downhill on smooth tarmac, but the first turn brings a climb, followed by the first strada biancha. None of this is too taxing, and I feel we're making good progress. Matt & Aaron, brothers from San Francisco in the Blufreccia group, catch us, and we ride together until Courtney drops his bottle.
The first feed zone is at about 60kms. An official stands in the road exhorting riders to get their carnet de passage stamped, while a group of women in traditional Tuscan dress serve food, and brew coffee and cook bean soup over open fires.
In the next 30kms, the climbs seem to get longer and steeper, and the gravel gets deeper- I have a couple of heart-in-mouth moments on the descents, and have to give myself a talking to. Both Courtney and I puncture on one gravel section.
The second feedzone at Asciano comes after 91kms, and to this point we are averaging 20kph. We snarf down some traditional Tuscan bean soup and crostata di frutta, but eschew the red wine.
Straight out of the feed zone, the road climbs steeply, soon turning to gravel.
This section is the hardest, and the hottest, of the day, and I stop in the shade to take off my undershirt. Cecil's 32 x 26 low gear is a boon here, allowing me to clean all the climbs, while Courtney has to walk one steep pitch.
At the end of this section of strada biancha, I am well and truly cooked, and not looking forward to the last 40kms, but a third, unanticipated feed zone appears at 105kms, and I take the time to sit down in the shade and cool myself down. When we finally leave, the temperature seems to have dropped a bit, and we roll through the last 32kms, including two more sections of strada biancha relatively easily.
The last few kms are an easy climb back to Gaiole on smooth sealed road.
The scene at the finish is a jarring contrast to the bucolic calm of the ride- the finishing chute is crammed with wives and girlfriends, and a the a brass band plays in the town square. I get my carnet de passage stamped for the last time, and head for the showers.