Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Siena to Gaiole

Spent the AM sifting around Siena, gawping, and stealing wifi.

On Monday, the Gazzetto dello Sport was castigating the Azzuri for their failure to bring home any medals, while pointing out that things could be worse- Cadel's a good guy, clean, lives in a part of Switzerland that could almost be Italy, and best of all, his missus is Italian. I missed Tuesday's edition, but today they had a one page interview with Signora Evans, and no other cycling coverage that I could see.

I tried to find the Stazione, to ease my escape on Monday but after some chasing about I'm none the wiser. Eventually I spotted a sign for Gaiole, so I decided to go there before I became totally lost in Sienese suburbia.

The road to Gaiole is two or three big rollers, followed by about 15km of uphill drag. I have softpedalled it twice before in 2006, but today my legs were actually working, and I rolled up in my manly 47t big ring, and a variety of rear cogs.

Arrived in Gaiole before 2pm, when my room is supposed to be ready, and hoovered a plate of cheesy-spinachy tagliatelle in truffle sauce.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Arezzo to Siena

Zigzagged to Siena today, via the hardest section of the Eroica course, from Asciano to Torre a Castello.

The section is a mere 11km, never much higher than 300m, but the climbs are on loose gravel and feel like 20%.

In 2006 I overheated badly on this section, so I'm glad for a chance to pre-ride it this year.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Arezzo... like two different towns- the new, which is crass and post WW2, and the old, where one could spend a lot of time and money.

I'm going to restrict my spending to tonight's dinner, and head for Siena in the morning.

I have worked out that I can take a detour through the worst of the gravel climbs on the Eroica course and then creep into Siena for a late lunch.

Today's ride was 95km. 1200m climbed, 900 in the first 30km, the remainder almost incidental. The climb was steep enough to be in the 28 a lot, but the road was good, both up and down, and I hardly saw a car.
Can't say the same for the last 40km, which was like the road to Hamilton used to be, except that the truck drivers dont hate you.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Futa Pass

Today I made one mistake, which was to ride my bike at all.
I woke up feeling like I needed a rest day, but Lizzano didnt look as if it could maintain my interest for a whole day, so abandoning commonsense and the cheapest hotel room in Europe I set out to conquer another pass.

The first 20kms were downhill, so I felt pretty sharp, but my route to the Passo Futa was via a minor road with plenty of climbing, and it was soon obvious that I left my climbing legs on the Passo delle Radici yesterday.

Half an hour misspent looking for a non-existent turnoff brought me face to face with this puppeteer painted on the front of a church. I disregarded his advice and went in the other direction, eventually finding my route a few kms down the road.

The climb to the pass from Castiglione de Pepoli was pretty unexciting- a fairly new road, steepish, with none of the charm of the other passes I rode this week.
In contrast, the descent, heading south to Mugello, is hard to fault- smooth, well engineered, and incredibly fast.
The other big descents I have ridden this week have been sublime, ridiculous and terrifying, sometimes simultaneously. It is not uncommon for a road to change from smooth and predictable to a narrow, badly sealed goat track with bad camber and unpredictable corner radiuses.

So, after descending the pass, I found myself an expensive room in Borgo San Lorenzo to replace the cheap one in Lizzano. It's Saturday night, and the whole town is out, gossiping and gawping at about a dozen vintage Alfa Romeos that are on display.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A day in the Appennines

Rode out of Castelnuovo de Garfagnana headed for the Passo di Radice, and found a shortcut!
Anything that cuts 27km down to 15 has to be good, right?
And it was, a nice steady bottom gear gradient all the way to 1200m where the climb turned into a series of steps and switchbacks at what felt like 20% or steeper.
This section I rode step at a time, gasping and dribbling.
And did I mention the wind? Yep, it was blowing hard, not that you would know it here in thriving Pievepelago where I stopped for lunch.
The afternoon turned into a bit of a slog, finishing up at Lizzano in Belvedere, where I found a 15 euro hotel room.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Overlooking the Mediteranean, briefly

Today's plan was to ride over the Passa de somethingorother (Vestita?) to Massa, and then back to Castelnuvo de Garfagnana.
Thats about 80km, probably 2000m climbing.

Rolled myself comfortably to the top of the pass, looked at the faraway Mediteranean and decided that nearly 2 hours of climbing was enough for today.
Nattered incomprendingly with 3 septugenarians in full pro kit, then turned for home stopping only to get a coffee from a Sofia Loren lookalike at Arni.
This turned out to be a good decision- by the time I got to the hotel, did essential abblutions & laundry, and took myself to the Casa di Sandwich & Beer, I had the shakes.
A sandwich 20cm in diameter did not touch the sides, and the pizza slice that followed didnt seem so big either. Methinks I will finish lunch with gelato, then take a nap, before resuming consumption mid-afternoon.

Vege soup, fried polenta with cheese

Yesterday I learned that it is de rigeur to put olive oil in your vege soup, so I knew what to do with first course of the menu turistico in the local spaghettaria.
I have had polenta before, as a frighteningly yellow slop, but fried, it comes in domino shaped slabs, served with a couple of different cheeses.
Interesting, but probably not to be repeated.

At the table nearby, three Germans have a largish dog,which has not tried to get on the table once during their meal. I suspect it has been sedated.

I was dumb today- drank only half a bottle of water, and felt crap most of the afternoon. I need to recognise that climbing in the mountains I am sweating lots, even though I dont feel hot.

Fabian Cancellara cost me another slab of Tuis today. I have resolved to have no more such bets with Tim Woolford until Fabu goes for the Hour Record when we will wager more slabs of bad beer on the total distance.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Demon trouble

So, 2am today, I was awakened by my demons.
Usually they like to nag about my manifold employment-related failings, but today they had some concerns about this trip, such as;
1/ 'am I actually doing the rides I want to do, or am I just goofing around?';
2/ 'am I in a holding pattern pending the increasingly unlikely arrival of CTB?';
3/ 'will I go home in 2 weeks and be pissed off because I didnt go further, faster, higher, harder?'.
Eventually I packed the little bastards back to the black hole of my subconscious, and enjoyed a few hours sleep.

I was out of Toano before 9, plummeting to Villa Minozzo before clambering up to Ligonchio.
At Ligonchio the demons pointed out that by turning next left, instead of the intended right, I could ride over the 1500m Passa de Pradarena into Tuscany.
Obviously, this would mess with my carefully composed itinerary, but, what the hell, I'm on holiday.

The first couple of kms were steep enough to have me out of the saddle in the 34 x 28 and ready to take the demons to the nearest priest, but I persevered and eventually the gradient flattened out to permit comfortable seated climbing, still in the 28.
I was hoping for a sign marking the top, preferably with a Japanese tourist to operate my camera, but instead I found a restaurant staffed by two luminous beauties, where I had a bowl of soul fortified with some sort of grain, and a desert.

Despite putting on all my warm kit, the descent was cold until about 1200m where I rode into the warm mediteranean air.
The bottom of the descent is 15km from Castelnouvo di Garfagna (hereafter CdG), and since it was only 2pm I considered riding on to Massa, which was scheduled for tomorrow, though in the other direction.
So, cutting to the chase, on this side of the hill it was 28degrees at 3pm (and still at 5pm) so I found an hotel in CdG, did the usual showering and laundering, and am now rehydrating in a bar.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Toano day 2

I'm sitting outside the house in the shade, eating the remainder of the day's provisions ie a banana and half a pack of campagnole biscuits, while willing crucial wardrobe items to dry in the afternoon sun.

Today the sun was out, and after a slothful start I was on the road by about 9:30.
I rolled down the hill that I climbed yesterday a far as Quara, and turned there for Gova, Novellano, Civago, Madonna di Pietrivolta, Frassinoro, Rubiano, Cerredolo, then back up the easier eastern side to Toano.
With eating, picture taking, map reading, roadsign interpretation and lollygagging this approx 70km sub-epic took me about 5 hours.
Like yesterday, about 1700m climbing.
The weather was perfect- fine & sunny, but cool enough that I kept my kneewarmers on until Cerredolo.
Tonight I'm going to venture back over the hill for pizza. Last night's dinner of ham & cheese sandwiches was fun in a desert island sort of way, but to do it twice would be a lowering of standards, wvwn for me.

Tomorrows itinerary is an early start, heading from Toana through Sologno & Ligonchio to No.63, which goes to La Spezia. If I hear that CTB is on his way I will go there and get the train to Milan; otherwise Ill veer southwards towards Massa for more fun in the Appenines.


Monday, September 21, 2009

A tale in three parts:

1/ train from Novi to Reggio Emilia.
Its raining.
Spend an hour at Reggio Station eating, getting changed and checking emails where there is free wifi

2/ get on the road, see a road sign for where you want to go, end up lost anyway.
Go back to Reggio and eventually go somewhere that is not even Plan B, but at least you know where you are.
It is flat, kinda windy and still raining.

3/ somewhere south of Ciano d'Enza it stops raining, and the climbing begins.
First up, a steady hour long climb to Castelnovo ne Monti, then after a 400m descent, a 700m grind to Toano, that makes Mountain Rd look ordinary.

Tonight and maybe tomorrow I'm the only inhabitant of an old farmhouse, converted to holiday home. Its a couple of km out of bustling downtown Toano, and totally silent.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An unscheduled return to Castellania

Finally got to see Casa Coppi today, in one of those rare incidents that restore my faith in humanity.

The abridged version: planned to do a few hours in the hills round Castellania.
Just out of Novi Ligure met a guy who spoke no English, who guidedme back to Castellania, where we hung out, visited the Casa which was actually open, then did a quick loop up a (maybe) 300m climb then back to Novi via the birthplace of Costante Girardengo, the original Italian Campionissimo. Because he lived to a ripe old age, he apparently doesn't get a bloody great monument.

Breakfast tomorrow will be at the stazione, before catching the 6:20 to Reggio Emilia. I have 2 alternate plans:
1/ ride about 50km to Toana, and stay at the ancestral farm-now-holiday house of my friend Ricki's in laws;
2/ head for La Spezia, and hope that I find somewhere to stay before it gets dark.

On arrival at La Spezia, if CTB is not imminent and I am not totally buggered & demoralised, I will go inland from Massa, and probably loop down towards Lucca.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Spaghetti carbonara and carpaccio in Fausto Coppi's home town

So, it stopped raining, and I got on the road.
Noodled out of Novi Ligure through a series of small towns and nebulous localities, say 'em all together and it sounds like an Italian race commentary.
(Yesterday at the Museo di Campionissimi I watched a vid of the 2002 Milan-San Remo. Out of the last corner its 'Cipollini...Cipollini...Cipollini...Cipollini Vince! ...CipolliniCipolliniCipollini', though my favourite is of Michele Dancelli winning in '70.
After 16 years of foreign winners, Dancelli cries unashamedly while the ever-pragmatic Ernesto Colnago jams a fresh Molteni cap on his head.

You know you're getting close to Castellania by the gradient, and I think it proper to attack it, rather than ride like the tourist I am, but today I was interrupted by the need to photograph some road graffiti, and then by a text from CTB, who was out on the town.

Despite arriving on the right day, I had not arrived at the correct hour for the Casa Coppi to be open, but fortunately the town was festooned with banner sized photos of Coppi on almost every vertical surface.
While looking at these I met an old geezer who took me in hand, showed me the secret stash of Coppi memorabilia and gave me a bundle of Fausto Coppi postcards.
With midday approaching I took myself to the top of the hill to kill a bit of time, then back to the local restaurant for a fabulous lunch.
By 2pm, with no sign of the Casa ever opening, I took myself back to Novi Ligure, to venture out in search of gelato and free wifi.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Return to Coppi country

With my work obligations behind me, I caught the train from Milan to Tortona, then rode the the next 20kms down to Novi Ligure.
The plan is to stay for two or three days, fairly close to Milan in case CTB arrives, and get in some miles. I also want to see the Coppi house at Castellania, which was closed whan I visited in 2006.

Friday AM, I headed south through Gavi, turning left at Voltaggio and over a decent 800m climb to descend into Campo Ligure.
Rain clouds were billowing over the hills from the coast, so I thought better of my plan to lunch at the top of the Turchino, and headed back to Novi Ligure through Ovada.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Noodling around the lakes of Lombardy

With three days free betwixt bouts of work, I took myself on a ride around the lakes north of Milan.

Friday, I rode from Saronno to Luino on Lago di Maggiore, with an 800m vertical detour to a scenic dead end at Campo dei Fiori just out of Varese.
View Interactive Map on

Saturday, I crossed the Swiss border at Monteggio, negotiated the streets of Lugano, crossing back into to Italy a few kms later.
Lunched at Menaggio on the western shore of Lake Como, then headed clockwise around the lake to Belluno.

View Interactive Map on

Sunday AM I headed uphill from Belluno to Valsassina.
Had quiet roads for the first 90 minutes, but towards Lecco ran into the oncoming Milanese Sunday drivers
Made the mistake of following a roadsign for 'MILAN & LECCO' which plummeted me down a series of tunnels obviously not intended for bicycle. Inside, the echoes make it impossible to differentiate cars behind from oncoming, and you are buffeted by weird aircurrents.
Once through Lecco I did some kms on something that looked like a motorway, but, reassured by roadiebunches going in the other direction, stuck it out until a promising offramp presented.
Returned to Saronno via Como, where I stopped for a decent lunch of prosciuto e melone.
View Interactive Map on