Well that was the day that was.
Started with a drive to Pisa airport. Drop off wifey, KSR and on the incoming plane pick up riding buddy Nick W-W . From there it was an hours drive south down the west coast of Italy. Past Livorno (which the locals optimistically call ''Venice of the West'' - it has 2 canals) and to the start line of this years 'TuscanyTrail' at Dornatico.
Unlike previous events, this years Tuscany Trail (TT) is a ring. Starting and finishing at the same point. Seems they listened to the feedback from last years participants who bemoaned having to catch a train 100 km north from the finishing line back to their cars at the start line. This years route pretty much in line with the distance covered last year, 500 km, but not heading as far south as we did last year.
What the organisers also did this year was, in my humble opinion, get greedy. The participant field was opened to all and sundry and as a result over 4,800 cyclists entered this years ride. A 'small' (insert immense sarcasm here) increase on the 3,000 of last year. At an average entry fee cost of 100 EUR , that makes for a small fortune. I am guessing thats the driver.
More on the impact of that later.
In order to attempt to disperse the starting masses, entrants were allowed to start in a window period between 8 am Thursday morning and 8 am Saturday morning.
We arrived shortly after 1 pm today (Thursday) and the the 500 car park was full. So were most grass verges and anywhere you could park a car. Which, trust me when I say this, Italians will park a car absolutely ANYWHERE they don't have to pay for it. Having checked the local supermarket CONAD car park, which was free, I discovered that not only was car parking free but that the security gates would be locked 8 pm to 8 am . Perfect.
Nick W-W flapped about unpacking his bike and putting it together and about an hour later we took the regulatory photo at the start and set off. In the distance dark clouds loomed and thunder rolled across the sky.
As with last years ride today's first 55 km were essentially flat. Heading north from Dornatico and after passing through Bolgheri (home to the ''Super Tuscan'' Vineyards and 3,000 EUR a night accommodation) we were essentially beachside. The route as stunning as last year. Not surprising given it was the same. Large wide open compact gravel pathways under the shade of enormous pine trees.
Riding the ''Avenue of Trees'' in Bolgheri (Pretty similar to the photo on last years blog. Though the weather was mildly more wet this year)
Beachside avenues of trees
At some points, ''beachside'' actually became the beach. Nothing like pushing your gear laden bike through 100 meters of soft sand. Then having to endure the feeling of sand in your socks and shoes for the next 45 km.
Leaving the coast after about 55 km at the town of Vado, we headed inland and started to climb. And climb, And climb. Our destination today was a small hamlet outside of Laijatico which was 105 km away from the start. Having commenced riding at 3.04 pm and with sunset at 9.14 pm that left us just over 6 hours to get to our hotel in daylight. Not a hard task when you're on a lightweight road bike carrying nothing but yourself and a couple of water bottles. Easily done inside of 4 hours. However add three frame bags and a slower type of gravel wheel , then that becomes a little harder.
The climb up through Santa Luce was as steep as it was last year, but I would say marginally more manageable today given it was about 10C cooler. It was descending this section last year when I had my only fall and in the process dislodged my rather expensive cycling jacket which I had attached to my saddle bag. No such amateur hour this year. The track through the national park above Santa Luce hadn't changed in a year. Still a 11km climb/slog over a rock strewn path and then a death defying descent down the other side.
Even when it was open terrain and it wasn't rocks and gravel the bitumen was hardly smooth.
Leaving the national park at about 80 km it was then a mix of both old bitumen laid roads, dirt tracks, river crossings. country roads, and too rarely, smooth traffic free country roads.
At about 95 km we passed through Laijatico. Birth place of Andrea Boccelli where there is a lovely open air amphitheatre where they hold the world famous operatic festival at which he appears each year. At this point, it was 8 pm, and with another 10 km to go to our hotel, and cognisant that the kitchen in the hotel closed at 9 pm we pressed on with a vigour not seen at this point last year when we were struggling with the effects of 40C heat.
My cockpit for this years ride. Titanium framed bike with carbon forks. 650B wheels with Pirelli Centurao Gravel tyres. A couple of water bottles. A top tube pouch with an external battery pack in there and my Iphone. Above it my navigational tool (Hammerhead KAROO2) .Below it is the top tube long bag holding spare parts, tools, and energy food. Under the saddle bag with all my clothes and necessary jackets. Including my personal heftiness, and a tool kit bottle you are talking about 115 kg of weight. Great for going down hills, (something about mass and velocity). Not so great going up a hill.
We arrived tonight to be welcomed by the warmest of hospitality, and though the in house restaurant was full (it being a week long German holiday there were no lack of them ) we were assured that the first free table would be ours. And it was. A few plates of pasta washed down with a magnificent bottle of red wine (which cost all of 18 EUR) and the first 102 km of the ride dusted we both agreed it was a good start to the ride.
Let's see what tomorrow holds.
Last year, and for the first time, they opened the field to E-bikes. ''Assisted cycling'' they call it. The perils of that is that you have to be rather judicious when you use the ''assistance''. The whole unit, bike and battery, weigh a ton and you don't want to be caught trying to pedal your way up a hill with no ''assistance'' because your battery has run low. Of` course you also need to stay somewhere overnight where you can charge the thing. No camping for these guys.