After leaving Germany we headed for Italy, bit of a drive so we decided to split it with a stay in Austria for the night. Austria looks pretty much like places in the South Island, large mountains, picturesque lakes and forests, after driving through the monotonous countryside of Germany this rocks. Almost makes me feel at home as I look longingly into the forest dreaming of mountain biking some of the trails, I will come back sometime for this, those mountains look steep with thick forest covering what looks like awesome ski trails, nice to ride in summer, that’s for sure.
Next day we head two hours earlier than the Girls and the rest of the team, our truck is a little slow at 140km/hr so we need a head start as the girls need a ride when we arrive in Tuscany. Only about 800km to travel today, so not so bad. Some nice little climbs out of Austria wake us up, as the air is pretty thin and cold up there. I never took geography when I was a kid, as I thought that physics and chemistry was much cooler, how wrong was I. Who would have thought that Italy would be joined with Austria, not me that’s for sure. The roads are pretty bad once we get into Italy, motorways perched on the sides of incredibly steep mountains. We pass through the Dolomites, this is a place I have wanted to ride for a long time. The mountain scape is wicked, small villages hanging off the side of crumbly looking mountain passes, old houses and churches poking their noses out of the forest. We travel through this massive valley for about 200km, the mountains getting smaller and smaller, still no end to the motorway or the promised view of the beach yet, but 500km to go.
We carried on through more mountains, I stopped counting tunnels at 57 (nah there was 103, but that makes me sound too much like a trivia geek again). The views of some of the small towns from the overbearing motorway start getting me excited, surrounded by orchards and vineyards, some of them look like they have been there for hundreds of years or more. Getting closer to Toscana (that’s what the locals and everyone around me call Tuscany, so it stays), the mountains get a little bit flatter, the orchards a little bit bigger. Stopping for gas means stopping for coffee, always to the side of the gas station there is a caffeine station, and what great companion for a long drive, coffee. After shit coffee all over Europe so far, I couldn’t believe my luck as I walked into this little roadside stall to see a gleaming three group coffee machine, belching out steam and leaking a black oily substance out of it’s belly. I struck gold, black gold, the barrister thought I was crazy as I asked for my third short black, he just smiled when I asked for a takeaway of a Quattro restretto. Ahh Italy, they know how to make a good coffee.
Back on the road with a smile on my face and the shakes in my hands, we were off to the beach. The hotel we were staying at was about 100m from the beach, the tepid Mediterranean Sea, the same sea my ancestors swam and fished (from the other side in Croatia). It might be time for you to buy a map, as we have many countries to go on this trip, and you might get as confused as I am (I don’t need to travel to get confused, it comes naturally). The traffic starts to get pretty crazy as we head more and more down country. Still not as bad as the drivers in Auckland though, even with their bad rap, Italians are pussy cats compared to NZ drivers (are you guys listening). Finally we see the sea, what a sight for driving eyes, now to find the hotel. Great information as usual from the local race organisers as we found the hotel that they had organised for us, but the hotel knew nothing. Lucky there was another team checking in to the same hotel and he had been sent to ours instead, now that’s good timing. Off to the hotel down a street wide enough for a bicycle, but not designed for a truck. Squeezing down the smallest gaps we finally find the hotel and manoeuvrer through a 123-point turn into the car park. With about 25mm clearance each side I thought it was difficult. Upon parking, the American National Team sharing the same hotel and car park, with a smaller truck were telling us they had just smacked their truck three times getting into a bigger park in the same postage stamp car park..
The girls had arrived an hour or so before us and were hanging out for a ride, so a quick coffee later we have seven bikes ready for a ride to enable to girls to unwind after 800km, we had six major repairs and changes to finish. I could smell the sea one block away, it can wait. Racing starts tomorrow with a 1.5km prologue may as well be 150km as there is just as much preparation for us, but that’s racing Italian style.