A friend approaching a big birthday asked a group of us to join him on a cycle trip from Geneva to Rome, in celebration. Rashly I agreed and after a winter and spring training regime off we went. Surely we were prepared?
No one had really grasped the difference between the Chilterns and the Alps; or between cycling at 18 degrees and 37 degrees. These became quickly apparent.
5-50 AM, leave budget hotel in Geneva: turn right and start 7 mile climb. Climb to 2800 feet, look back at Lake Geneva, and you know it’s not so bad. And so we go, passing Annecy onto a beautiful dedicated cycle path along a broad green valley. Another long climb, café at the col summit, exhilarating descent, followed by long slow climb up the valley into the mountains proper. And 93 miles later: we did it! I’m an alpine cyclist! Best cycling day ever, no doubt.
Up with the mountain larks, continue the slow ascent, but what’s happening? Nothings working! Despite the best efforts of other team members to pull me along I feel dreadful, and have to give up the climb, and get into the support car. So they all ascend the Col de Mont Cennis at 200 metres, and applaud them as they each make the top. Too whoozy to get back on the bike, I act as back up support. 100 miles later, we all arrive at Turin.
Tentatively back on the road, taking it easy, but managing to keep with the team as we surge along the Po valley in a dash to the coast. There is a nasty sting in the tail as we near Genoa and have a 2000 foot climb at the very end, in 34 degrees. Sensibly I hitch a ride for the last 300 feet, and cycle the descent, with self-esteem intact. Genoa is a big noisy bustly port city, with all the grace of downtown Detroit. Sadly, one the team has a big crash, hurts his arms and legs, and writes off his bike as we weave our way through the port area. Everyone very down that night, despite cycling 100 miles
: 84 miles
The Ligurian coast: stunning views; smart resorts; all traffic confined to a narrow coastal strip. So our route tries to find quiet roads: all beautiful, but many hiding 25% gradients. As we gasp for breath at the top of one such we have a delightful chat with a non-English speaking old Italian lady who is perplexed at 7 exhausted middle aged men resting outside her shutters. A 10 mile 2000 feet climb follows: and I arrive for lunch 10 minutes after everyone else: but hey I arrived!
Then off down the valley to the coast again: passing the Carrara marble hills, glowing white in the late afternoon heat. We cycle for 10 miles along the Italian kiss me quick equivalent of Southend, and encounter three lions sleeping in a circus cage near our hotel.
96 miles face us today, and again the sting is in the tail of the ride. We manage to put lots of miles behind us in the first few hours, skirting parallel to the coast, bemoaning the nature of Italian road surfaces. Breakfast outside the leaning tower of Pisa, before the tourists wake up. But it’s real Tuscany at last: Leonardo Da Vinci would have painted these landscapes. Lovely undulating roads make the day a real joy. Our out of town lunch stop turns out to be the local table dancing bar by night, luckily at midday it’s just us.
But then we climb, and climb again, and one by one we all dismount to climb the steep sharp hills in 36 degrees. Our reward is a gorgeous farm house with a pool
Down on to the coastal plain for 30 miles. We’re so early that the fields of sunflowers have yet to wake up. More ‘yes this is what it’s all about’ moments. Just before lunch we do a 2000 feet climb, but its manageable over 10 miles, and we celebrate with a proper lunch stop. But we now face an afternoon of increasingly steep hills and by the time we arrive at Toscania after 90 miles, we’re drained. Toscania turns out to be a gem of a walled town on a hill, and we enjoy our best meal of the trip. The bikes are stored in an antique guitar restorer’s workshop (?!) overnight.
The last day: only 61 miles to Rome! But I’m tired. We ride out of town as the cocks crow, and it’s great until the first hill: I can’t do this! I simply have no energy left, and after 8 miles I’m ready to get into the car. ‘You can’t do that: you’ll regret it all your life’ says the team, so they nurse me up. Firstly tour leader stays with me; then Young Fast One and The Undaunted Guy top and tail me until we reach a charming town for breakfast. We eat (lots) with the Ladies Who Breakfast, and the local Carabinieri of Vejano, and amazingly, I’m fit for the road again. I pass the 500 miles mark, and 24 miles later we are greeted by Team Rome outside the colosseum. Great sense of achievement, but golly I’m exhausted. We adjourn to our air conditioned hotel and start a 2 day taper down process, with Moretti’s best beer.
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