Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Tuscany Trial 2017 Summary in English
I “stumbled” upon a website called “Bikepacking” a while back. While looking through this I saw a reference to a “race” called Tuscany Trial. This immediately attracted my interest and I followed through to their website. Here I discovered that it was an unsupported “ride/race” through Tuscany, which starts at the beginning of June. Everybody starts together. No support is provided or allowed and you can ride as long as you want to and sleep where you want to. I mentioned this to Hennie de Clercq, a cycling friend of mine. We started talking and also got our wives interested and towards the end on 2016 we decided that we would make a tour of it. The idea was to combine the Tuscany Trail with a holiday in Italy.
Entries opened on 10 January 2017 at 00:00 hour and I managed to be the first one to enter. Hennie was 187 and entries closed at 593 towards the end of February.
The idea was that we will fly over to Italy a week or two before the race to “explore” the country, give ourselves 5-6 days to do the race and then spend three to four days to get back to the airport to fly out.
We left South Africa on 21 May, met up with Hennie and his wife on 28 May and drove down to Massa, where the race was due to start, to arrive on 1 June for registration. After registration and collection of our race packs and cycling jersey, which we bought to memorise the occasion, we went back to the hotel to relax. We also bumped into a South African husband and wife, who current are living in Perth, Australia.
The next morning we arrived at the start at 07:45 and found parking, which tends to be a big problem in Italy, around the corner. The woman we due to drive our van down to Sam Gimignano where we were due to meet up with them on day 3. We had to be at the start at Plaza Amanci, Massa at 08:00 for the race to start at 08:30. Start was a very low-key affair with no escort and everybody filling through the narrow streets.
The first 22.9 km was fairly flat and easy riding and took us 1:08 to complete. Then the climbing started. First at a reasonable incline, but after a while we went onto a cement path with gradients of 31%! Everybody was pushing their bikes. The incline was just too much and too long to ride. It took us 1:40 to cover the next 7.4 km. The scenery was breathtaking event though we were out of breath pushing our bikes up the hill.
The next 12.6 km was rolling hills consisting of beautiful single tracks to gravel and tar roads, but everything was ride able and it was mostly in the woods. This was followed b 16 km down hills with lots of twisty turns on good tar roads, with the last 12 km flat.
We got going at 06:23 the next morning. The initial riding was flat, but at 6 km the road started heading up and the beginning of our troubles! I am a fair bit stronger that Hennie on the hills, but that is to be expected as he is 71 years old, so I normally ride my tempo and wait for him that the top of the hill. At 5 km up the hill, there was a gravel road towards the left. I cycled past this and only realized after a further kilometer that I was on the wrong road and turned around. When I got to the gravel turnoff, I cycled down the tar road to look for Hennie. I waited a while on a corner, but he did not turn up. I went further down the road to look for him, but could not find him. He had quite a nasty fall the previous day when he stepped aside to let somebody though, lost his balance, and fell 3 meters down the hill. No serious damage, but he did hurt his side. I was getting worried that his side was bothering him so much that he decided to turn back. I had no cell phone data or connection, so there was no way for him to contact me. I went further down the hill to look for him, but could not find him. I went back up, but found no Hennie. I rode on to the saddle of the last hill, where there was cafe. I stopped there a sandwich and coffee and to see if Hennie turns up. After two hours, the SA Australians, who had a later start, also turned up. I enquired from them weather they saw Hennie, but the answer was no! They also had a bite and when they left, I decided to join them.
We had one last small climb, which ended at 26 km and then some very nice down hills, some of which was very rough and technical. I really enjoyed myself on these sections. The wife of the ex SA couple was on her first MTB race, so I spent quite a bit of time waiting for them to catch up with me. At 40 km we were on the flat and aiming for a town by the name of Signa, where we hoped to find accommodation for the night. We were now cycling on purpose built gravel cycling paths along the backs of the river Arno, which flows through Florence. One even had the name of Via Fausto Coppi! The surface was of bright white gravel. It was so white that we tended to have problems with the glare of the son reflecting back to us. We started looking for accommodation at about 16:30. The first hotel was full. So was the second, but the manager started phoning around to see if he could find place for us. After a while he found place at Euro 130.00 for the night. That is about R1,950 for two people. We decided that beggars couldn’t be choosers, so we accepted it. We also realized that Italian MotoGP was scheduled for Mugello, about 60 km from Florence, the next day and that is why all the hotels were full. We booked in at 17:45. I immediately tried to phone Hennie on WhatsApp, but no reply. As I got out of the shower, my phone started ringing. It was Hennie. He was about 20 km past Florence! We later worked out that he passed me when I went off course at 12 km into the days riding, but we must have missed one another with seconds!
The SA couple decided to get going early. I felt that at R1,950 for the room, breakfast included, I needed to get value for my money and would only leave after breakfast, which was served form 07:30. I got going at 07:52 and started one of the best days of riding on this Tuscany Trail. The first 25 km to Florence is flat and continues next to the river. I took me 1:15 to cover this. In Florence we were taken through the center of town past the main tourist attractions, which did slow progress down.
Our timing was good and we hit the road at 06:00. The first 5 km was all down hill and the only problem we had was to take it easy on the gravel corners! The view once again was something to behold! Once we finished the decent, the rolling hills started. During the next 80 km we would climb 1,500 meter, but also descent 1,500 meters, with the result that our progress was not too good.
Hennie and myself got going at 06:24. The total distance for the day was scheduled for 89 km, but we would climb 1,660 meter, including the climb to Radicofani, which is at 785 meter above sea level and about 360 meter higher than San Quirico, but before we got there was a number hills and valleys to negotiate! We stopped for some light refreshments. While sitting there, a group of mountain bikers turned up. In this group were two South Africans, Gary Green and his wife, from Winterton. They were on tour from Siena to Rome, a distance of 300 km over six days. It is a small world. Gary has also done the Freedom Challenge from Pietermaritsburg to Wellington. We spent about an hour eating and chatting with various people.
The last days include a loop around a peninsula, which include a 500-meter climb. Hennie decided that he has had enough and the he was going to cut this loop out. The next morning we got going at 07:07. From Pitigliano, which is on a hill, it is downhill again before we have to climb out the other side. Once on the small plato were led down some gravel roads through some woods, making for some spectacular riding. Pitigliano is about 350 above sea level. We first went down to 200 meter before climbing to 380 and from there it was steady descent to Albina, which is at sea level and after 59 km. Hennie was going to take a direct rout from here to Ansedonia, cutting about 40 km and 800 meter of climbing. We stopped at a café, were there were some Belgium cyclist from Gent. Hennie plotted his route on his Garmin and after we had some refreshments, we went our different ways.
My route took me down a natural causeway linking Albinia with Porto San Stefano, where the hilly part of the peninsula begins.
Thus ended a wonderful and amasing experience. This “race” is something that someone from outside Italy should not “race” but ride at a reasonable pace to absorb the beautiful scenery, experience the wonderful camaraderie and friendship. Our aim was ride for 5-6 days and I did it in 5 days 7 hours and 46 minutes. An experience well worth the effort and investment!
Total riding time 49:02:17; total distance 564.94; total meters climbed 9,742.