It was with some trepidation that I pedalled to the start line at 4:30am on a cool Sunday morning. I’d been round the market stalls in the tent village that had taken over the small town of Gaiole in Chianti the day before, I’d met up with the other chaps from La Squadra who were there for the ride and emptied a few glasses and cleared a few plates with them.
All of which just added to the whole atmosphere of a fantastic cycling event, which I’d been looking forward to all year. Yet I didn’t want to let the side down, 200km was a long way and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go from reading a simple Ryanair in flight magazine article to then ride a rather long way on what I found to be an interesting road surface.
Gaiole at 5am on a Sunday morning in early October, and it’s really, really busy with bikes and people. I had to queue to just get to the start line, passing a small table and signing the table cloth on it, along with all the other riders and pausing for the obligatory photo. Up to the start line, past the serious looking gentleman checking everybody’s bikes are as they should be, no fancy indexing gears, and then that’s it, I’m off.
It’s still dark, lights are a must and in front of me are hundreds of blinking red lights and head is saying “steady, still 200km to go”, legs are saying, “go get ‘em”. Legs won. Before I knew it I was turning right into a drive which led up into a wine estate, the first piece of gravel road. Still dark and on each side of the road there are red candles burning, all the way up the drive, an unforgettable sight. Even in the gloomy light you can see all the different groups riding together, one team even had its own original Fiat 500 as a support car, in matching colours to the jerseys the riders were wearing. I got a cheer from them as I went passed.
Not long after daylight is kicking in and road signs are saying Siena, all of a sudden there is a main road or 2, quick zip round a roundabout and its back onto quiet roads. 1st food stop and the tables are heaving with a massive selection of breads, cakes, fruit, nuts, meat, cheese and wine. I made full use of the facilities, got card stamped to prove I was there and back on the bike. That set the tone for the day, fantastic scenery, beautiful weather, wonderful cycling and loads and loads of like minded people all doing the same. Everyone smiled, even when punctures and mechanicals happened because if you had an issue there were up to 3500 other people who would be happy to help. The day just got hotter, the red wine got better and the kilometres left to go got lower.
The gravel roads were a challenge, there was a lot more of them than I thought they would be, yet as a whole event it all made sense. In the end the head was sort of right, steady 200km to go did make sense, chasing and pushing was good fun though. The last section was tough, I knew I had a climb to get back onto the ridge above Gaiole, and I came up to a sign for a 15% downhill, on gravel, handlebars have started to fold / bend and my forearms were a bit tired from soaking up the rough roads. That was when I came round a corner and there was a father and daughter at the side of the road giving out bottles of water. Nothing to do with the organisation, they just knew the ride was on and they wanted to help / be a part of it. The water I got there was some of the best I’d had all day, as good as the chap hanging out of his front door with a hosepipe running, and numerous local fountains in the small villages I passed through. Hit the finish, lots of clapping and cheering from the people at the finish, spotted 2 friends who’d ridden a shorter route, posed for obligatory photo, collected bottle of wine and went to find the pasta tent.
And yes, I have already signed up for next year.