Thursday, June 21, 2018

Giro di Toscana 2017

This year I was fortunate to obtain a whole week's pass to join the Gregarios annual Tuscany trip, and what a beauty it was! We rode on each of the eight days available and totted up 878km riding with 9006m of climbing (YMMV).

The trip began in true Gregarios fashion, scouring Luton airport for scrambled eggs on toast. It turns out that Frankie and Benny's will do this for you, if you're Danny. Flight was uneventful and we had plenty of time and light to assemble the bikes on arrival before stowing them in the spacious locked bike shed while we explored the capacious buffet for the first night.

We started with a warm-up ride on Wednesday with a run to Sassetta  for coffee and walk around to look at the sculptures. There follows a long, steady, bendy descent to Suvareto followed by flat roads with vineyards, a climb to Campiglia Marittima, descent to San Vincenzo for a visit to the Donoratico Ciclosport bike shop and a final coffee of the day at Bolgheri from where it is an easy drop back to the hotel.

On Thursday we went for the Northern Hills. This involves a long climb to Ripabello for coffee with big views of the coast from on high. Then an unexpectedly good lunch stop on verandah after quite a few long climbs and descents, including the steepest climb of the week at 20% which allowed the Eagle of Querceto (Mike) to show his form. Finally a descent to the coast and a schlep back along the coast road with some spectacular bays but also some traffic.

The Friday coffee stop was at Monteverdi Marittimo, where Danny is greeted like a long-lost brother. There's a great shop selling wild boar & cheese, where Massimo bought a 1.5kg sausage that he had to carry for the rest of the ride! Marvellous descent to valley floor leads to the 6km climb to La Sassa which is a beautiful and eerily deserted town with lovely pavements. From La Sassa, back down the same and only road, along the valley and up the climb to Casale Marittimo where we enjoyed Tuscan Soup and met some Brits from Sheffield.

We headed North East to Volterra on Saturday. A much busier town than the others and we stopped only for coffee, with lunch at Montecatini Val di Cecina. It was on the return leg that Ian started to have (more) problems with his rear free-hub, meaning he had to pedal all the time. Not good, so four of us went down to Ciclosport where the friendly Daniela and Gerardo tried but failed to fix the wheel on the spot but were able to lend him a decent BMC road bike for the duration while they worked on it.

Sunday's ride was (just) our longest at 142km. We went out through the now familiar Castagneto Carducci, Sassetta route to Suvareto, and on to Montione where the road cuts through the nature park’s forests and meadows. Then onto the typically Tuscan circuit and up to Massa Marittimo for lunch. Cafe legs were challenged by the 13km climb to Monterotondo for coffee before the big descent to Fracine and the climb back up to Sassetta and back for strawberry tarts and coffee near the hotel.

The weather was forecast to turn bad on Monday but we squeezed in a 60+km ride to Ponteginori for a sandwich then headed back to Bolgheri for coffee and cake. We stayed a little too long. It was spitting as we left but worsened quickly and the last few miles was dodging large puddles on the coast road. Special thanks from Ian to the Range Rover driver who skillfully paced him on the Bolgheri road so he could catch up with the group, having stopped to don his rain jacket.

The weather was still bad with very heavy rain on Tuesday morning, but the sky cleared by noon and so after a late sandwich lunch at Marina di Bibbona we had a 95km ride without any cake stops! We discovered a great loop near St Vincenzo with a fearsome-looking ramp (actually only 16%) that took us up to San Carlo where we discovered a rather impressive concrete Velodrome with floodlights and everything. Clearly a massive un-publicised track racing scene!

This brings us to our final ride on the Wednesday. Our coffee stop revisits Monteverdi Marittimo after which we could enjoy a steadily climbing road to Serrazzano with geo-thermal steam pipes at the side of the road. It's a great ride up to Sasso Pisano where there is a thriving micro-brewery (yes, we did), leading on to a terrific descent and beautiful valley road to Suvareto to climb up the long series of bends (rather than down them) before our final day coffee and cake at Bolgheri and the return of Ian’s hire bike.

My dominant memories are: quiet roads, even quieter but totally spick-and-span hill-top towns, magnificent views, rewarding climbs, and exhilarating descents. The hotel is fine with quiet rooms. The morning and evening buffets will meet all your needs for food, though may be full of randomly wandering Germans with a lust for aubergines. In short, it's a must-do trip.