Sid Valley Cycling Club tackles Giro di Toscana
Sid Valley cyclists take on the 929km Tour of Tuscany in searing heat
SOME 31 men and eight women, most from Sid Valley Cycling Club, 10 medics, two Axe Valley Peddlers, two CS Dynamo members and a few others, took part in this autumn’s Giro di Toscana – Tour of Italy’s Tuscany – a 929 km ride with altitudes rising to 14,124m.
After the Pyrenean Raid in 2006 and Corsica Tour in 2009, Neil Tubbs decided to organise this third trip, giving the group a chance to explore Florence en-route.
All 39 bikes were dismantled, boxed up and collected by Neil in a hired Transit van which he and wife Sue drove the 980km from Beer to Pisa.
Most of the group flew out the day before the ride, but 15, including Sidmouth greengrocer Nigel, set off at 4.30am and arrived in Pisa at 11am on September 10 to begin Day One of cycling.
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Day 1 Pisa to Piombino 147km; Altitude Gain 1,303m
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Once the bikes had been assembled and checked, and a small briefing given, all opted for the longer, 148km route.
Former renal specialist Anthony Nicholls and I decided to accompany Neil Tubbs back to the hotel to leave the van, which resulted in a 45-minute delay in starting.
The three of us worked together in the intense heat eager to catch up the rest. We enjoyed a peach stop just outside Fauglia in the shade. This was most welcome as we were all overheating and feeling tired. This situation worsened on the relatively steep climb through San Cipriano and Montebradoni on the way to Volterra.
I was on the verge of passing out. I was out of water and had barely eaten since 3.45am. The 500m climb was all the more difficult for being south-facing, providing no shade at the hottest part of the day (38 �C).
At last on the outskirts of Volterra, we caught up with Adrian Snelgrove, Clive Heard and Bob Thomas. We found a suitable cafe and 15 minutes later were enjoying cappuccino, assorted panini with an ice cream chaser.
We then enjoyed the 10km descent to Saline di Volterra, while taking in the views. After turning left at Ponteginori we proceeded in a large group to the coast just past Bibbona where we enjoyed a kilo of dessert plums.
For the last 40km, I joined Richard Brain, Clive Heard and Adrian Snelgrove in a chain for a blitz against the reducing light. Despite all our efforts the last hour of cycling was in the dark. On the plus side, the moon was out; we shared five assorted lights and made the most of the cycle lane on this boring highway.
Richard Hignett and Chris Eccles avoided this drag by going off piste towards Suvereto, though this did add 400m of climbing.
Adrian’s Garmin took us straight to the Hotel Esperia in Piombino, the most important shipment port to the Isle of Elba. Team Master of Ceremonies, John Keast, summarised the first day and Tuscany Ted (made by his wife, Cathy) was presented to master baker Neil Tubbs for his hard work in getting such a big party together.
This teddy would be handed out each evening to someone who provided a good (or bad) turn to the group that day.
Day 2 Circumnavigation of Elba Island 108km; Altitude Gain 1,930m
A prompt 7am start to the second day’s cycling and 3km later all 39 of us were in the queue for the ferry at the port of Piombino. We soon embarked for the hour-long trip to Elba... an island characterised by never-ending hills and mountains, the highest of which is Monte Capanne (1,019m).
We got under way, eager to take on the first climb of the day, and bypassed the scenic Biodola. An hour or so later we were 360m above sea level at the picturesque Marciana. A magnificent sweeping descent followed, providing stunning views of wooded forest and a backdrop of the deep blue Mediterranean which was turquoise-blue near the shore.
After passing through Cavoli, our group decided to have lunch in the beach resort of Marina di Campo. After a long lunch break, Richard Hignett, Chris Eccles, Jon Webber, Anthony and I were at the back of the pack. Richard, a former GB duathlete, launched an early attack on the nearby 2.5km climb heading east towards San Mamiliano.
In Rio nell Elba we turned left towards Portoferraio for the main climb of the day. Just before this we bumped into the Dad’s Army battalion of Richard Brain, John Hill and Clive Heard. Once again our posse adopted a brisk pace up part one of the two climbs: Mt Grosso.
Richard Hignett and I soon moved ahead and relaxed. This error meant Anthony, Chris and Jon caught up. However, Richard and I still had overdrive!
Having enjoyed our little triumph, I was soon silenced by Rich’s effort up part two: Mt Sirega, where the strategic procurement manager pulled away without even getting out the saddle. I was runner-up and Anthony two minutes behind.
From Sirega’s summit the views towards the port were quite spectacular. The steep descent through the pines followed on the immaculate tarmac and 10 minutes later we found ourselves in the port of Portoferraio - where Napoleon was exiled in 1814.
Day 3 Portoferraio to Siena 115km or 144km; Altitude gain 1,408m or 1,741m
The cycle started at 7.15am and we immediately descended to Portoferraio to embark on the ferry bound for Piombino. An hour later we disembarked, clipped-in and headed south-east along mainly ‘A’ roads towards Follinica.
This was level cycling and John Keast particularly enjoyed this part with the resultant reduced strain on his fractured collar bone. The unfortunate former marathon runner sadly fell off his bike eight days before the tour.
After climbing 450m to nearby Niccioleta there was a long/short split. Jon Webber convinced me to do the shorter option. I agreed with this wrong decision and so did Adrian Clutton, Graham Beech, Dru Norris and Adrian Snelgrove.
We soon churned out 250m of the climb with Adrian Clutton and me sprinting to the top. Downhill specialist Dru then took over on the descent with Adrian Clutton close behind.
The retired Londoner and Adrian, let loose down the 15 percent hill with little braking, due to the absence of chevrons on the bends. Montieri was bypassed and we regrouped at Ciciano.
We arrived in the magnificent city of Siena just before 5pm. It would be unheard of to talk about Siena without mentioning the Palio, which takes place twice a year...around the perimeter of the square and every year thousands of spectators come to watch.
To show his respect for this race (and without a horse) Dave Ramperasad sought permission from a local bobby and promptly cycled one lap around the perimeter of the square. The Domo (cathedral) was next on the tourist hit list some 100m away.
For forgetting his passport on a second occasion Bob Thomas was awarded Tuscany Ted to ride with him the following day.
Day 4 Siena to Florence 73km; Altitude gain 1,041m
Day Four was designed to be a relatively short ride (73km) so we could enjoy the delights of Florence.
We headed north through Vignano, Le Tolfe and Pianella in this classic wine-making region of Chianti.
Towards the first main climb of the day, Richard Hignett and I took a few close-ups of the grape vines near Lecchi. This left us some way behind our group so we decided to step on the gas. We managed to reel in everyone before the 530m summit bar former GB triathlete, Chris Eccles.
We then proceeded to Radda in Chianti for the mid-morning stop. After the break, we enjoyed the voluptuous vineyard views of the descent towards Greve in Chianti. Here I caught up with Bob Thomas, Adrian Snelgove and Graham Beech who were sampling these views with their cameras.
[Nigel then waited for Bob who retraced his ride to collect a forgotten gift for his wife, but when Bob failed to catch up, and without GPS or a map, he headed towards Impruenta].
My own safety became my priority and I upped the pace and went into time-trial mode to catch up the bunch. Once in this most picturesque village, we found the hotel, stowed the bikes, showered and caught the bus to Florence.
We first had a look at the Ponte Vecchio - the most ancient bridge in the city. We then proceeded to the cathedral and the nearby Baptistery.
Our last port of call on this cultural jolly was the Piazza Della Signoria…which contains many imposing sculptures. We caught the bus back to Impruenta and met up with the rest.
This was furniture shop owner, Peter Lawson and son, Charlie’s, last day of cycling. Charlie’s feet were suffering in the hot sunshine. The top time-trialist had two black toes from recently-purchased racing shoes and could barely walk, let alone cycle, a further 300 miles.
The following morning they caught a train to Pisa and met up with the group for the last night’s dinner celebrations.
My forfeit for not waiting long enough for Bob and for forgetting to hand in my room card in Siena was to look after Tuscany Ted for the following day’s cycle.
Day 5 Florence to Bologne 150km or 170km; Altitude Gain 2367m or 2,755m
Nick Read and I got underway at 7.45am in hot pursuit of Anthony Nicholls who had left five minutes earlier. After putting the boot in for half an hour, we by-passed Florence and there was still no sign of the eccentric medic.
We figured he must have been photographing the most amazing view of Florence in the early morning sun somewhere off the main route. Later on we found out he had suffered a puncture within minutes of leaving the hotel.
Nick and I pressed on through Fiesole and a few kilometres from Olmo we took a small break to check the map.
We decided to try and catch up some other riders as we were running out of map to the north and, without a Garmin, would be in a spot of bother. Having studied the route profile with the huge climb towards Firenzuola pending, we decided to take a quick refuel stop outside a supermarket in Scarperia.
After enjoying various treats we got on the road and immediately spotted the Dad’s Army gang plus a few extra troops 200m in front. Naturally we rushed to greet them. We marched on with the soldiers, enjoying the relaxed pace. The climb, at times at a 15 percent gradient, lasted for almost 10km.
The next 35km was a downhiller’s delight, with sweeping switchbacks that were even banked to encourage the brave. The surface was perfect, which further enhanced our enjoyment. The 650m drop in altitude culminated with the most amazing traverse of a deep river gorge.
By now Nick and I were in company with our group’s top dogs: brother-in-laws, Richard Hignett and Chris Eccles, Jon Webber, Anthony Nicholls and Chris Bower.
The next big climb was adjacent to Mt La Fine; a 10km ascent with much of the gradient up to 15 percent. I tested the team for the first 5km with speeds up to 24kmh. This was too much for Jon, Ant and Nick - so then there were three.
Richard then took the lead, upped the pace and I just about stayed on his wheel. Chris Bower dropped off to save himself for a last-ditch sprint to the summit. Richard dropped me a minute or so later but, thankfully, we had put 200m into Chris.
Out of the group, only perhaps James Jackson could have challenged Richard to the top. I soon tired but just kept far enough in front of the dermatologist to grab silver on the climb.
We regrouped...then descended the hill. After crossing the bridge at Bisano we decided to have a break for ice cream, cappuccino, and banter.
The continued descent was taken at high speed and one or two of us did get caught out on a sharp right-hander, though thankfully traffic was almost non-existent on this mountain side. After 122km we stopped at the small hamlet of Zula where we replenished our supplies from the backup vehicle.
Soon after we enjoyed another descent for around 3km before turning left towards Monzuno, then right for Bologne. Unfortunately Adrian Clutton and Richard Brain missed this first left and ended up at the foot of the valley. This cost them two hours to the already long day in the hot afternoon sun.
On the next climb out of Sassomarconi, Chris Bower and Richard were climbing champions and Chris Eccles saved his best for the climb out of Pieve del Pino. Our group then enjoyed 3km along a plateau with massive panoramic views.
At 6pm we reached Bologne in the 32 degree heat. The volume of traffic was uncomfortably high, so it was important to stay together with Garmin man, Richard Hignett. This last 15km seemed to go on forever through endless traffic lights and roundabouts. It was quite a relief to eventually arrive at the Admiral Park Hotel on the outskirts of the city in Ponte Rivabella. We were now in the region of Emilia-Romagna.
Unfortunately not everyone’s day went to plan: Sue Tubbs and daughter Charlotte got lost soon after leaving the hotel and ended up doing an extra 30km loop before arriving back at base around 10am after an early 7am start.
Bravely they ended up doing 208km with over 3,000m of climbing. Quelles grimpeurs! For their efforts on the day, Team Tubbs were awarded Tuscany Ted as a tribute to their hard work.
Bob Thomas’ unlucky streak continued as he had another bad day losing his yak pack from under his saddle early on. This meant no tools, tubes etc. for the rest of the tour, while Clive Heard suffered all day after eating suspect chicken the previous evening.
Day 6 Bologne to Castelnuovo 102km or 123km; Altitude gain 1,921m or 2,620m
I set off with Chris Eccles, Richard Hignett, Charlotte Tubbs, Anthony Nicholls, Mike Baker and Jon Webber. Today was equal to an extended Audax route with a little extra climbing.
We were soon on the first climb out of Zappolino eager to get it out the way. This was similar to a Devon climb with horse chestnut trees prevalent in the narrow lanes and some bumpy surfaces. Former cross-country runner, Mike Lee particularly seemed to be going well: no doubt enjoying the fact that he had already lost half a stone.
On the next climb we caught up with Nick Read and Neil Tubbs who were nursing John and Cathy Keast up the hill. After the next sweeping descent in a cloudless sky we met the backup bus and stocked up on salt, sugar and water.
At this point in Marano sul Panarowe we were a little over 100m above sea level. The next climb took us up to almost 1,000m in about 25km. The chocolate box views towards Mt. Cimone some 30 miles away to the south were most rewarding.
After the break we proceeded down the 15km descent eager to cool down and enjoy a rest. We by-passed the back-up van in Ponte Secchia and carried on up the second big climb of the day: a 15km beauty gaining over 570m - a real killer in the early afternoon sunshine.
However, this did not deter Nick Read and Richard Hignett, who waltzed up it at an alarming pace. I preferred to climb it with Jon Webber with Charlotte Tubbs just behind at a far more sociable speed.
The next 20km was mainly downhill, except for one small climb which, for a change, yours truly came out on top. The following descent was more akin to a red run on a snow slope with the route winding through avenues of trees.
At the end of the ride was a most unwelcome 20km climb to Hotel Miramonti in Castelnuovo ne Monti.
Day 7 Castelnuovo ne Monti to Pisa 140km or 160km; Altitude Gain 2219m or 2,600m
The day started with a 10km climb up Mt. Cavalliaano with John Webber eager to take on the lead. After this first climb we passed John and Lorraine Croome [who had recently completed the Paris-Brest-Paris event].
The next test on our endurance was 90 minutes of climbing in the Dell Appennino National Park and eventually Mt. Pietra Bisnantoven could be seen in close proximity to last evening’s hotel stop some 25 miles away. We descended, crossed a river, turned right and were immediately faced with a steep climb.
For me this was the hardest climb of the entire trip as my back had been troubling me since the previous afternoon. Two hours later it was a huge relief to reach the summit where we met up with the backup crew.
I tried some back stretching exercises to ease the pain. In our posse, Richard Hignett and Nick Read were first to the top followed by Chris Eccles and finally John Webber and myself. Colin and Camilla Mathieson arrived soon after with anaesthetist Rob Price. It was no surprise that we had climbed over 1,400 metres in only 37km.
After the break we free-wheeled the next 15km descent with the welcome decrease in temperature. The route followed a river valley and gorge towards Piazza di Serchio in a south easterly direction.
We descended following the river Fiume Serchio in its valley all the way to the ancient city of Lucca. On the way we worked together on the main A12 taking in turns doing two-minute stints at the front. The pace was impressive: 40km in less than an hour. Unfortunately Jon Webber paid for his early-morning pace and kept dropping off the back. In error we came off this main drag one junction early.
In Lucca there was a long/short split - the long being a climb of around 10km and an altitude gain of 820m plus a further 30km to Pisa. By contrast, the short option was a 20km level spin along the fairly busy SS12.
For me with back problems, Chris Eccles with knee problems, Nick Read with leg problems and Jon, there was only one option - the short one. The four of us enjoyed a relaxed 40-minute ride on the sunbaked highway in single file due to the traffic. Just short of San Giulano Terme we bypassed a small peak via a tunnel which stretched to a little over 1,000m. Upon exiting the tunnel we sampled the most amazing view of Pisa some 10km away.
In Pisa, we headed for the Piazza dei Miracoli which gathers all the monuments that make Pisa so famous.
This was a most enjoyable, cultural and demanding trip which, on paper, should have been easier than the previous two excursions. However, with the stifling heat, especially inland away from sea breezes, the cycling became just as hard as Corsica.
Often, we were cycling in temperatures approaching 40� C on south-facing tarmac roads with little or no shade.
This was Euro Active’s first Tour of Tuscany and I believe Antonie and his deputies did a fine job. Maybe we would have been better off with an A4 type map (as in Corsica) or Audax-style instructions, but there were just about enough road maps and Garmins in the group to get by.
Rumour has it the group might be off to tour Sardinia in two years’ time.