Smashed. If you had to utilise one word to describe the physicality of today then that would be it. Smashed.
It all got hard from the very start. The first 10km was straight up a hill. We climbed over half a km (550 meters) straight up to the town of Volterra. I can see why many hundreds of years ago the local lads and gals decided to build their villages atop steep hills. Makes them pretty easy to defend.
Although the threat of rain from yesterday had dissipated, the air was humid and it wasn't long before I was drenched in sweat. Nothing quite like having recently applied suncream seep into your eyes as you struggle up a long hill The acute pain certainly wakes you up.
Volterra at 9 am was a slightly different view than 3 pm last year in 40C heat. Not a lot of tourists and shops barely open. Actually made for a pleasant time to be there. We pushed onwards cognisant of the fact that today we were going to be cycling close to 150km and time wasn't our ally.
Part of the 10km climb up to Volterra. The scenery a compensation for the relentless climb.
Main gate entering Volterra. Perched as it is atop a steep hill I am guessing pretty easily defended back in the day.
it was a sound approach. Especially given what came next.
Leaving Volterra and heading towards San Gimignano the tarmac road became a gravel one and shortly thereafter it became essentially a muddy, puddle riddled goat track. Also known as the Via Francigena. A pilgrims walking path that for 364 days of the year is used solely by walkers either doing the full Via Francigena ( runs from Canterbury in the UK to Rome) or sectors of it. Too bad if today you were taking the family or friends for a quiet walk. 4,500 cyclists will not be your friends.
San Gimignano. Famous for its 12 towers. Built by competitive brothers.
This is where I think the organisers have got it totally wrong. Take 4,800 recreational cyclists, many of whom have very little technical riding ability, and throw them onto a rock filled single track that is slippery, muddied, and in parts both steep uphill and downhill. It is a recipe for physical injury, and immeasurable environmental damage. Never mind the lack of consideration to other users of the track.
Views from the cafe in San Gimignano weren't too shabby.
At various points today, during this 20km section we were forced to ride at the pace of the person in front of us given there was next to no room to overtake. Even if that was possible you then had an immeasurable number of other cyclists in front of you. It was a mess. Our average speed yesterday was 20 km per hour. In the first 3 hours today it was was half of that. This all became a little concerning around midday when we had only covered 40k of the necessary 150km for the day. it was going to be a long day. A very long day. And so it was.
I wouldn't want to be a cyclist at the rear of the field. This was day 2 and we were probably in the front 25% of riders. Once you've had 4,000 riders hack their way through this mess it will be a quagmire.
Emerging from the mess of the first 40 km we stopped for lunch at an overcrowded taverna below Monteriggioni, waited an eon to be served, gobbled down some pasta and set off again. Today was a public holiday in Italy. Yes, a Friday ! Who has a public holiday on a Friday? I discovered Italy does. Nick W-W broke the news to me that Italy has more public holidays than any other EU country and with annual leave included the Italians enjoy 61 days of vacation a year.
A fellow cyclist with a clear sense of priorities. Have coffee percolator can travel.
Approaching Sienna . The juxtaposition of an ancient walled city whose entrance is marked by modern industrial waste bins.
Passing through Siena was brief, and we pushed on with an increasing urgency, having realised that at the morning's pace we wouldn't be at our hotel in Pienza until near midnight. No good to us given we needed to be seated and eating dinner no later than 9 pm. The rain came and went and the humidity, like yesterday, was ever present. The number of cyclists didn't lessen but at least the afternoon route was wider and more on gravel tracks and white chalk based country roads (Strade Bianche) that this part of Tuscany is famous for.
Bunoconvento came and went in a flurry. Then it was onto the short steep hills surrounding San Quirico D'orcia as we headed towards Pienza.
Tuscan views abounded as we climbed up to San Quricio D'Orica and then onto Pienza.
Every year I see these houses and every year I am astounded at the sheer beauty of the countryside and views.
This time last year, I overstrained a knee muscle climbing up and over a rock strewn steep section of path that left me pedalling with effectively one leg into Pienza. A year on, and today I strained my left glute somehow when I stepped up onto my pedals in order to exert more power through the pedals to overtake someone on a short sharp hill. For the last 40 km of todays ride I was once again riding with a disproportionate power output, mostly relying on my right leg to do all the work. As Nick W-W said later over dinner, it seems we always arrive in Pienza on our knees.
You couldn't fault the scenery today. Truly ''Tuscan''. Rolling hills, wheat bales, villa's sitting atop ridge-lines with long white gravel driveways flanked by cypress trees. Particularly as we climbed towards Pienza.
Views from within Pienza. A truly beautiful town. A MUST DO if you are ever in this part of the world.
Pienza main church as we crawled to dinner.
We arrived at the same hotel as last year. Hotel Rutiliano. Washed the bikes which were caked in a mix of mud and gravel and then crawled to the same restaurant where we had enjoyed a great meal in 2022. Creature of habits. That be us.
Bed could not come quickly enough tonight.