Wow . What a start to a day this was. A smorgasbord of breakfasts to end all smorgasbords. Followed by a 5 km descent in the coolness of the early morning along white gravel roads with immeasurably beautiful scenery. Everything was good about the first 63 minutes of the day . It felt good to be alive and after the slaughter fest that was yesterday the body was in a remarkably good place. Amazing what two beers, half a bottle of Tuscan red wine, a plate of pasta, two Neurofen and 7 hours of sleep will do for the body and spirit.
The views looking back up to Pienza this morning were stunning. If I had stopped to take every photo I wanted to today i'd probably still be out there. Simply beautiful. I would definitely like to come back and base myself in Pienza and do day trips from there. It encapsulates everything that is good about Tuscany.
The roads were smooth white compact gravel. The air was cool. The terrain mostly downhill or flat. What was there not to like about today.
Stunning view after stunning view.
Want to imagine owning a house in Tuscany.? This one ticks about all the boxes. On a small ridge, cypress tree lined driveway, swimming pool, and only 5 mins from a major village - Pienza. And, no neighbours !
If the previous house wasn't your style, then how about this one. Simply stunning. Those rain clouds thankfully stayed away.
Ahhhh, as previously noted, the first 63 minutes were bliss filled cycling. At the 64th minute that all changed. The route took us off a pleasant stretch of road and headed up to the small village of Castiglione d'Orcia. When I say ''headed up'' that would be a small understatement. Whoever decided to devise the road up to the village clearly didn't do too well in civi engineering at University. Either that or they possessed a sadistic streak. Or clearly never thought anyone would be stupid enough to try and cycle up the ramp they devised. At more than 20% gradient it was a climb that took its toll on many of our fellow riders, who simply gave up and pushed their bikes up the hill.
The climb to Castiglione d'Orcia. You get a true sense of the gradient from the chap on the right whose body is almost leaning horizontal as he pushed his bike up the slope. Around me, fellow cyclists were zig-zagging across the road in order to maintain enough momentum to get them to the top. It would be fair to say that every sinew of muscle in my body (3rd from right) was stretched to its maximum length.
Following a climb there is always the joy of the descent. Thankfully this descent was on bitumen so could be enjoyed to its fullest. The route rolled through numerous small towns and given the exertions of the morning we were starting to feel famished despite the largess of our breakfast.
It seems the Italians aren't that entrepreneurial. Well the ones who own small cafes of bars or trattoria's aren't. You have over 4,000 cyclists ploughing your way and you don't think to employ more members of your family to come and help serve in order to increase the number of drinks sold or food dished out. Time and again throughout this ride there has almost been a look of surprise on many proprietors faces at how many people are knocking down their doors for food or drink. In quite a few places there was no food left, nor popular drinks like Coca Cola or even bottled water. Surely, you'd think that for just 3-4 days you'd load up all your resources to maximise profits and then close for a week afterwards. Nope, in many shops there was a single person who took an order, served, then played cashier. The queues at some cafes were around the block.
We stopped at several villages, looked at the locust type swarm of cyclists in the town squares and decided to press on. Eventually we got to Paganico. A quaint little village with what appeared to have only one open cafe. As with the previous villages we were about to press on when the ever resourceful Nick W-W looked on Google maps to see if there were any other eating establishments. The local tennis club !! Yes, the local tennis club, had a restaurant. You cannot believe my relief when I walked into an oasis type of garden and spotted a chalk board with a menu of pasta dishes to die for. Given the tennis club was about 2 blocks back from the main street we were the only Tuscan Trailers in there initially until later joined by 3 Hungarian cyclists.
Again, going to the issue above about maximising profits. Surely if you were the manager of the tennis club you'd have a chalk board out on the main road with big arrow pointing right and the words '' Eat and drink here in a beautiful garden. ALL WELCOME '' . Nope not even an inquisitive question from the lady behind the bar asking where two dusted caked and sweaty cyclists had come from. It was almost as though she wasn't surprised to see us.
A plate of spaghetti vongole, a cold beer, a 1.5 litre bottle of chilled water, a double espresso and suddenly all in the world was right.
Then it was back out onto the road and more white gravel under what was now clear skies with little breeze and the effects of the beer starting to take hold.
Passed an impossibly beautiful convent about an hour after lunch. Apparently still in operation. Could think of worse places to practice your devotion to a religion.
The beer and spaghetti at lunch were just starting to wear off when we struck the second 20% + climb of the day. This was longer than first climb of the day mentioned earlier but thankfully mostly under the canopy of trees which shielded us from the direct heat of the sun. It is rare to have to get out of your pedals in order to drive your motion forward. This was one of those rare moments given the gradient.
We had imagined for some reason that today's ride was going to be about 100 km and that the last 10km or so would be along flat terrain as we got close to the coast. You can picture then, our dismay when at about 100 km we looked towards the coast and realised we still had 20-25 km to go. Additionally it wasn't all flat either. After an hour of zig-zagging across open farmland along windswept bitumen roads we were thrown onto a goat track, single lane in its design that ran around local farmers fields. Throw in rocks, tall grass, short sharp hills and small steep culverts it was exactly what we DIDN'T need after 100 km. As Nick W-W stated, ''It's the hope that kills you''.
On we ploughed with a distinct lack of sense of humour and not a lot of words spoken as we both gritted our way westwards towards the coast. The wind , ever growing in velocity, of course was in our face.
Leaving the goat track of farmers fields nightmare we came across the local wetlands bird sanctuary. Seems no one has told the local bird population that they can hang out here in safety. Didn't spot a single bird.
Suddenly the route turned 90 degrees right and headed north. However our accommodation was 5km off course in the opposite direction. This diversion involved a bit of a bush bash through tall grass. Given how exhausted we were and determined to get to the end of the day and the comfort of the hotel swimming pool I am pretty sure tall grass was a minor impediment to Nick W-W's determination. I doubt a brick wall would've stopped him or me from taking the most direct route possible.
Getting to Marina di Grosetto was probably one of the many highlights of today. So too the size of their pool and the cold beer we enjoyed on the sun deck above a beach club overlooking the sea. The palte of pasta washed down with a chilled Tuscan white wine was pretty good too.
On to tomorrow and the push to the finish.