Who wouldn’t want to ride in springtime in Italy?
Who wouldn’t want to ride in Tuscany in springtime in Italy?
Who wouldn’t want to ride around Montepulciano, in Tuscany in springtime in Italy?
Ok, who wouldn’t want to ride on some Strade Bianche gravel roads, around Montepulciano, in Tuscany in springtime in Italy?
How about a ride in the Gran Fondo New York-Italia, on some Strade Bianche gravel roads, around Montepulciano, in Tuscany in springtime in Italy?
Tough assignment, but I’ll do it…
As with most travelling cyclists, I booked the smallest cheapest rental car available, hence the main challenge before the actual challenge was fitting the bike bag into the rear of a tiny Fiat.
Once on the road from Pisa to Montepulciano, the landscapes slowly transformed from pretty and interesting to jaw-dropping and mesmerizing. The last 10 minutes of the drive was on the route of the Fondo and the romanticism was beaten out of my mind by the brutal final few miles of successive steep ramps to the town, and that was without seeing the 18% final grunt to the finish.
I wondered if the safety testing of my Wave bars had covered riders chewing on them, or whether they would prove resistant to corrosive weeping.
Having picked up my race pack from an impressive organization, I did the right thing and went to bed for a siesta — or whatever the Italian version is. By the time I left for my vital pre-race meal all the restaurants were full and supermarkets shut. So, takeaway pizza and beer it was.
I’d been warned about Fondos. In the UK and Ireland, these events aren’t races, there are no prizes and it’s a nice friendly roll around the countryside with other cyclists. Within a minute of 1,200 riders rolling over the start line, I knew this was different. I caught the leading group after an exhilarating 5km chase and knew this was a race. It felt like a race, looked like a race and was as fast as a race.
I wasn’t race fit. Gulp.
For the next 10km, I played the usual backwards roll through the group on the climbs, catch up after. Sit in for a while, and repeat.
Then I came to my senses and realized I wasn’t in the necessary condition to ride the whole event like I was race ready. I let the group go and breathed.
Then the first sector of famous white roads had me giddy. If I was 30 years younger and 15 kg lighter, and in any way talented, I’d love to race Strade Bianche. Perched on the tops of the Wave bars I was Whoop Van Aert. I actually felt like I could handle a bike and was passing a load of guys who had been dropping me on the climbs. This was the pattern for the full glorious day of magnificent cycling in Tuscany until the final 6km to the finish and the cruelly steep ramp to the finish line. Only for the spectators, I’d have walked. Or maybe even sat down.
I crossed the line. A wonderful event. A wonderful location. A wonderful organization. And proof that the Wave bars can resist being chewed on and wept over.
The following day I headed north and took in some more sectors of Strade Bianche around Siena under heavenly blue skies and weighed down by pasta and wine. No one to race, no one to catch, no one to drop me on climbs.
Just the sacred white Tuscan dust.
By Dave Smith
Contributor on cycling, training, and travel