Aside from starting your day's ride 5km straight down hill through stunning scenery as we did yesterday, then the next best way to start is along the coast on a very flat and tree lined dedicated cycle path way. We had 10 km to cycle to get back onto the official route and it was 10 km that passed all too quickly.
Gotta love a 10 km start to the day along a dedicated cycle path that is very flat.
The route today hugged the coastline in parts and then weaved its way inland and through small forests and park land before going back out to the coast. Given we 'only' had to cycle 100 km today and given the finish line was within touch we were in psychological much better place than previous days as made our way northwards. Some of the hills north of Follonica were testing and I had the unique opportunity of watching a fellow cyclist in front of me fall off his bike as he rounded a left handed corner going up a very small incline whilst cycling on bitumen. It was a unique experience to witness. Who falls off a bike at less than 20 kph, going up a small climb on bitumen? I can only guess his rear wheel slid out underneath of him as it caught some loose gravel on the tarmac surface. He seemed to be OK. It does however go to my point much earlier in this ride that there were a lot of riders this year who perhaps didn't have the technical ability to ride the route or perhaps the correct tyre set up. All very strange.
Stuff you see in local Italian villages. ''Trophy of Excellence''. Not sure who they're applauding here. The wild boar or the dog.
A period of track that rode above the cliffs overlooking the coastline was stunning and there were plenty of Sunday walkers who were probably cursing their luck that they happened to be trying to enjoy a family outing and having to share the track with 4,000 cyclists.
The scenery was stunning. That boat looked a better place to be than cycling the path.
North of Follonica the route deviated off the main road we had been enjoying onto what was essentially a mountain bike track. Very very technical riding on a very very narrow muddy path that weaved itself between trees and over rocks and roots for about 10-15 km. This type of riding is not just physically demanding but also very mentally tiring. Hard on the hands and arse too. The first 5km were 'fun' the next 10km not so much. Plenty of times we were forced to dismount as riders in front of us either fell off their bikes or gave up the idea of cycling and pushed their bikes up the short sharp hills. This type of riding is also very energy draining and it wasn't long before we both started to get 'hangry' . Probably moreso me.
All of this mountain bike type riding was a bit curious given that a mere 20-30 meters to our right there was a perfectly good bitumen road that followed the exact same route. We later learned that plenty of riders had looked at the route and decided the main road was the better option. What took us trail followers about an hour to negotiate they would have covered in about 25 mins. Each to their own I guess. Not like its a timed race and a route to be strictly followed.
I got the impression the organisers simply wanted to make it technical to satiate a desire to be able to call the ride ''off road'' . It clearly was. It also seemed to me that whoever devised the route did so riding a mountain bike and not a bike packing road bike like ours. If he/she had been riding ours I am 100% sure he/she would have routed us along the road.
More on that subject later.
The track was clearly a favourite with local mountain bikers. Plenty who were quick to hurl some abuse that their morning ride was being disrupted by a large group of non-local amateurs.
At that section end we were spat out into a small village. One cafe. Absolutely mobbed. People seeking respite from the arduous 15 km of technical riding that had preceded their arrival to this hamlet. The queue for food and drink snaked out the door and around the building.
We pushed on down a very pleasant piece of downhill main road.
As we passed over half way we decided it was lunch. Just as the route turned a hard right we noticed the telling sign of white umbrellas about 500 meters up the road and off the official route. Cycling up to them we were pleased to see that our assumption was correct. White outdoor umbrella's = trattoria. Again, as with the tennis club the previous day there were no other Tuscan Trail riders there, I guess given it was '' off course'' . Again no entrepreneurial spirit. Surely as the owner you'd walk 500 meters down the road and plant a big sign with a big arrow pointing up the road to your establishment.
Probably best they didn't because the service was slower than our speed up some of the hills this morning. However, slow service is sometimes a good thing when you're on hard ride. It forces you to slow down, and take breath. We wrapped our dusty mitts around very large bottles (600ml) of very cold beer and sat back to await the arrival of our pasta dishes. A double espresso and a large bottle of cold water and back out onto the road we headed.
The last fording of a creek/river was done shortly after lunch. Always entertaining to watch when a beer has been consumed minutes earlier.
At lunch we struck up conversation with two German couples who were holidaying in the local village and doing daily rides outwards into the countryside. One of them told us that the impending steep climb up to Sasetta was '' ..not hard as it appears as it is on tarmac and the gradient is nice and steady and it allows you to maintain a steady constant pace. '' . I didn't share his optimism. I have seen this film before. I know what happens at the end. No ride organiser ever gives you the easy option.
My scepticism was justified.
40 minutes later and having rolled past several farms on undulating terrain we were thrown off the compact gravel tracks onto a very very steep rock strewn 4WD track. In some parts the gradient was over 20%. All of this lasted 4.8 km. Straight up a hill that was not tarmac, was not a steady ''easy'' gradient, and the only thing constant about my pace was that it was very very very slow. Plenty of fellow riders gave up the ghost at this point and were pushing their bikes. Knowing it was the very last climb of the entire ride probably the only comforting factor. Nick W-W pointed out to me that alcohol is the first thing your body sweats out. I was glad to hear that.
Climbing a 20% gradient after a bowl of pasta and large beer is an interesting way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
There was a large group of riders at the top all clapping and cheering their fellow riders as they crested. That was the climbing done.
From the summit of the hill we were back onto smooth tarmac road and about 1 km later passed through Sasetta itself. There followed 10 km of very very quick down hill cycling. Actually to call it cycling does it no justice. It was basically a free wheel at 45-55 kph and getting frustrated to brake when cars in front of us were doing it more circumspectly than us.
Saying goodbye to Sasetta and at a pretty quick pace too given we had just conquered the last climb of the entire ride.
At 50kph down a smooth bitumen road you tick off the kilometres pretty quickly. Going wide (he should be on the right) to ensure speed was maintained.
Two thirds of the way down we were routed through Castagneto Carducci where we stopped momentarily to take a few photos of the coastline in front of us which also denoted the finish.
The last 10km was down onto the flat terrain of the coast and after weaving through a few vineyards for no particular reason we hit the coast and turned north for 2-3 km to the finish.
Last year I met a lovely Swiss couple on the train trip from the finish back to the start line (the route last year ended 100 km south of the start) Doris and Peter A. We had remained in contact and once we had confirmed we had all entered again this year we set about to ensure we would meet up for a more leisurely chat over a bottle of wine . Doris spent much of the ride updating me of their progress as they had started at 7 am on Thursday. Some 8 hours ahead of us. As hard as we tried we never actually caught them. In a typical display of Swiss efficiency they didn't even stop for lunch on the last day. Relying instead on dates and nuts to keep them going. No bowls of pasta or 600 ml bottle of beer for them ! They were riding mountain bikes and seemingly enjoyed the route a lot more than me.
Post ride, and earlier this evening Nick W-W and I enjoyed a lovely meal with them and two other Swiss residents who also did the ride. It was the prefect way to finish the day and ride. The post dinner Limoncello didn't even touch the sides.
As I have often said about all my rides. Yes, the scenery can be stunning, the testing of the mental and physical resolve a lovely challenge. However without doubt, it's the people you meet that complete the picture and make these journeys so enjoyable.
Thoughts and statistics tomorrow.