After leaving the advancing winter of the Netherlands, my secret plan of chasing the sunshine failed badly. I arrived in Italy to a full blown storm, rain, wind and cold weather, but hey, I was here to train, and train I would. I had heard that the Italians did not train in the rain, hell if they came and lived in Auckland they wouldn’t even ride for 85% of the year. The teams apartment is in a small town called Pontedera, right in the middle of the Tuscany region, close to some pretty good mountain ranges, close to the beach and not too much traffic around. Most of the team use it to build up for particular races throughout the year so upon arrival, all the maps of the area were drawn with rides of varying difficulty or length. Now I was starting to get excited, no work, two weeks with nothing better to do but to ride my bike, a great way to sightsee as well.
The weather for the next few days was looking like shit, so I had already made the decision that rain would not be stopping any training, I was behind enough already. Hey if living in NZ teaches you one thing, it’s how to ride in the rain, commuting hardens you up very quickly, especially in those winter months when you are putting on wet clothes from the mornings ride to ride the rain home. I had my trusty GPS on the bike so I was not going to get lost in a hurry, where I was going was not a concern. With in an hour, I had figured out why the locals don’t ride in the rain, not only was it very wet, but there seemed to be some sort of black oil like substance oozing from the road surface. This I figured was some sort of Diesel residue, as that’s what most of the cars run on. This black stuff got everywhere, on your clothes, face, eyes, sunnies, brakes, braking surfaces, tyres, things were starting to get interesting. What little braking I already had on the Ritchey, with one of my great modifications that looked good but didn’t work (You never hear of the worlds greatest inventors failures, only their successes) turned into no brakes very quickly. This I didn’t figure out until I was descending a rather steep mountain I had just grovelled up, things got very interesting to say the least on the way down. It must have looked funny from the tour bus coming around the corner as I was directly in their path, wrong side of the road, foot down on the inside trying to pull up just before a very large cliff was heading right for me, thank god the barriers are a little bit higher here, otherwise things might not have been so funny. I wasn’t too worried about stopping, it was mostly under control, what I was worried about was my new riding kit which was completely shredded from the barrier, doh, I don’t think I would have got it very clean afterwards anyway.
I took it easy for the rest of the ride, I even stopped to see if I could get the brakes any better, I was like someone had greased my rims there was so much oil on them. In the shower afterwards, what looked like a great tan, took about ten minutes each leg to get clean, so much black stuff everywhere I could now understand the locals. That night I spent ages cleaning the crap off my bike and managed to get a little more brakes out of my trusty steed, she was ready for another onslaught tomorrow. The forecast looked like rain from what I could tell off the weather report, crazy country, news at any time during the day you could think of, I could work it out no matter how hard I tried. Not a single English program anywhere to be found, lots of old seventies shows dubbed in Italian, you could still work out whet they were saying or make it up as it went. It was great to see old shows like Charlies Angels, with the original line-up, Colombo, Starsky and Hutch, it was killing me, man they watch some shit here. Good to see some of the old movies I saw when I was a kid every night as well, Airport 75, Airport 76, and so on, think last night was Airport 80, they are getting very bad so it must be the eighties.
Two more days of rain, but I had managed to get my brakes working enough to stay on the flat safely, but the mountains would have to wait. The hard thing about new countries working out from where the bad weather is coming, for three days I headed into what seemed to be areas where it looked like it was clearing, but upon arrival it was worse than where I had come from. Making judgements in the morning as to the best direction or time to go was futile, as I have no idea what’s going to happen anyway. By the time the sun arrived, I was ready for her, I had all my mountains picked out and ready to knock off. We had raced with the girls through a mountain town called Volterra (search it on Google, it’s way cool), during the Toscana Tour, from the few minutes I saw it I had to go back. It was only a climb of 550m so didn’t seem that bad for starters, and being only 50km away seem like a good warm up. Well, on the way out to Volterra, I thought that I had adjusted my brakes way to tight, I felt flat, tired and was thinking of turning around every few minutes, something was up. Getting closer and closer to Volterra, I thought there was no way I would be climbing it today, but I was keen to give it a shot. Before I had left NZ, I was in deliberation with myself (we get on well together) as to the size of the cassette on the back was going to be, I can’t remember what I choose in the end but I thought it was a 25t as the easiest. 25t is about as big as I have ever gone, so it seemed good enough for today, hell if the Girls can climb it in 25, I sure can. Well, half way up I had to stop, I was nailed, completely empty, something had to be up. I did the all time classic male things and blamed the bike, it had to be the problem, I checked the brakes, nah they were sweet, the wheels were moving fine, run the cranks, they were sweet. I had a look at the cassette and that looked pretty small, hey that was no 25 on there, I counted, even with blurred vision and a pounding heart I only counted 21, I forgot to change it, that made me feel so much better. I had been grovelling the last few days up some pretty steep climbs with a 21, I got back on the bike and climbed that mountain like my ass was on fire, I was so happy, I had a reason for feeling so bad, climbing never felt so good.
So nice to finish a good climb off with a very old mountain top city, sure beats nothing on top. This city has been there so many centuries, I felt in awe as I was finishing my climb on roman cobbles and buildings that have stood here for hundreds of years unchanged, even photos can’t capture the age and beauty of this place. If the streets could talk, oh the stories they would tell, it was great to be sweating all over them, like Roman soldiers years earlier did after marching to the top in full armour. I felt as though I had done just as much work as them. I brought some lunch from a shop that had been their since 1099, so the old lady was telling me, yeah, some of the fruit she was selling looked like it had been there that long as well.