Italy 2007

Back to Italy in June for a double act, biking with Breaking Away in Abruzzo for a week, and then joining my Italian friends for another week, but in Tuscany.  What we hadn't bargained on was the extreme heat, usually 85-95F each day.  Fortunately red wine in the evening helped to salve the pain endured.

So where to start?  I have also made a DVD of the trip, so if you would like one let me know.  Thanks to Jason Abbott for getting me started!.  So we had a few days in Rome before we began riding, and I took the opportunity to see some Caravaggios in reality.  Ever since reading M by Peter Robb, I have been intrigued by the man, and his work.  Such an interesting combination, and how his view of painting pivotally changed the direction of that medium after him.  Saw three in the Pinacoteca Capitalino, and another three in the Church San Luigi dei Francesci (interestingly a church built by a French king for the use of French visitors when in Rome).  I would like to see a San Bazza de Oz sometime...........

  This is one of his three of St John the Baptist, probably painted around 1602.  You feel quite awestruck when you stand in front of such a painting.  Something so rare, so original and beautiful, and so old still existing, and you wonder about the history it has seen since it was painted.  And the fact that this work was one of those that changed the course of art is even more awe inspiring.

  This was in another part of that same museum, and just seemed to summarise ancient Rome and the Romans.  I liked the shot.

  So then the pain started as we began riding.  It is fair to say that there wasn't much pain at this hotel in Rieti however.  It was a recently restored hunting lodge of the Princes of Potenziani, and had a large pool out the back.  And a gym in which we had massages.  Two of them over two days, absolute bliss after a long hot day in the saddle I can assure you.  Day 1 was 100kms, climbing 5000'.  A reasonably easy starter day.

  This was at the start of Day 2, when we rode the Terminillo, did a loop and ended up back at the hotel.  The Terminillo was part of the Giro d'Italia this year, and the painted rider's names were still on the roads.  6200' high with parts at 15%, although the max 1km stretch was only 10%.  Av for the 21km climb is 6.3%.  Only, hah - I can still feel the legs screaming.  So Day 2 was 86kms, and 6,000' climbing.

And this was it, in the distance, the Terminillo.  Follow the road up around the left, snaking towards the summit.  A little higher than Ventoux 2 years ago, but probably harder and some of the stretches were longer and steeper.

   Mr Mitch Clinton (our photographer and mechanic) took this one, a great shot.  You don't see any pain (well masked), the sweat was sprayed on a moment before and had nothing to do with the 95F day.  And good advertising for my coach John and his KONA training kit.  10/10!

  This was another climb we did, you get the idea.  But also remember, for all the pain and sweat coming up, you get a great ride down.  I didn't touch the speeds of last visit (50mph/82kmh), there seemed less to prove this time.  Day 3 from Rieti to L'Aquila was 100kms again and 4,000' climbing.

  Day 4 from L'Aquila to Pescasseroli 100kms again (magic number?), and 6,000' climbing.  Is anyone adding all this up?  Same spray on sweat, same happy smile, and probably empty water bottles.  I think this was the day we had to divert the ride for 2kms as the local police had closed the road so someone could hold a rally car race.  Seriously.  The road was closed for 2 hrs while petrol heads burnt rubber.  

  This is a lovely photo of Patty Ann and Terri, one of the owners of Breaking Away.  Those gals can sure do a great job after a long hot day in the saddle.  We had a big team dinner this night, and ended up in a local bar sampling limoncello by the bucket I think, I don't really remember....

  I didn't quite come up to their standards, but did try the shi-shi bit with the scarf.  Pescasseroli is in the Abruzzo National Park area and a skiing centre in winter, it is nearly 4,000' high itself and was noticeably cooler than the surrounds.

  This old lady was just sitting late at night, it was ~11pm and I was wandering through the town after dinner taking night time photos.  I did start an 'Italian laundry hanging in the street' photo fetish, but decided I didn't have enough time for it along with my door, and Caravaggio fetishes taking up all my free fetish time.  Anyway, at first I was intrigued by the lace grate over the entrance, so we started chatting (in my halting Italian).  She said it was 300 years old and a family treasure.  Then out came the kids, and then the grandkids so we had to have a big conversation about Australia, Florida, biking etc.  A lot of fun really, and reminds you how easy it is to talk and laugh with complete strangers.

  Ah yes, the delightful village  Somewhere on Day 5, a 110km loop around the Abruzzo National Park ending up back in Pescasseroli, and another 5,800' of climbing.  But along the way.....

  we found a lake!  Full of coooold, clear water.  It did take several seconds to filter through the heat affected brain that stopping for a swim was a good idea.  We did wonder how we would dry off, but that seemed to solve itself in the heat.  The final Day 6, was a short 69km ride, we did climb 1500' but basically it was a speedy drop of 5000' down from the National Park plateau to the outskirts of Rome, when we then drove the vans back to the hotel.  As some of you know, that drop was the scene of some Roberto carpaccio that was left on a rough Italian road, and generally not a good thing.  I was fortunate that nothing was broken, and more so that my bike was only slightly damaged.

  So while we were sad to see the end of a wonderful week of riding with new and old friends, and putting oneself through some tests of endurance, I then took off to join my Italian friends in Tuscany for a second week, funnily enough, for more of the same thing.  I was joined by Patty Ann from Ponte Vedra, and Bill from Perth, and as we journeyed north from Rome came across this stunning piece of countryside.  It looks like a painting but I can assure you it was real.  I was told later it wasn't really Tuscan, if it were, the rows had to be two cypress then a pine, continuing in that order.  This owner started a 6 cypress then a pine pattern, obviously some sort of deviate.

  So on our first ride in Tuscany, we choose the mountain of San Baronto above the village of Vinci (Leonardo da...) where we were staying.  It is obligatory to stop at the top for coffee, here we have Guido, Carlo, io, Patty Ann, and Bill.  Après macchiato.

  Actually it isn't really a mountain since it is only 1200' high, but it sounds better that a hill.  The view here is wonderful however as you can see.  If you look though a previous Italian visit page, you will see the same photo taken with Dario Cioni (then with Fassa Bortolo, now with Predictor Lotto Pro-Tour team) and friends when he took us up for another coffee some 3 years ago.  Two items of note, my new arm fashion accessory, and the gloves.  See the gallo nero (black cock) of Chianti Classico.  That was no coincidence....

  PA, Guido, and Bill joined by our ride master, Loriano.  Again some very pretty scenery.  We based ourselves in Punta Ala, a resort on the sea and rode inland from there.  That southern area of Tuscany is called the Maremma, and is the wheat basket of Tuscany so a lot of the fields had been cut and chaffed.  It looked dry, was dry and hot, and sometimes looked a bit like Australia with the tall eucalyptus trees.  

  So we took advantage of shade when we stopped to regroup, or simply to discuss where and what we felt like for lunch.

  The Maremma is also the home of the village of Scansano, and surrounds of the same name where the untold secret of Italian winemaking is produced, Morellino di Scansano.  Like its famous cousins, it is usually a straight sangiovese, but often blended with alicante, and sometimes cab sauvignon.  There is a looong story about how Bill and I bought 12 bottles, but only 9 each ended up back in Perth/PV, but this wine shop was the start of all that.  The photo reminds me of part doggy in the window, part kid in a candy store, and part it's time for lunch now.

  Like Bill, I had a wonderful time in that shop.  This was a magnum of 2004 Poggio Valente that had just earned a top score of '3 cups' of all Italian wines that year.  Only 45 or so were given that top score.  So I made sure not to drop it.  I could have died and gone to heaven in that store.  Ask about the wonderfully aged pecorino and onion jam that Bill bought there.

  I think this was Magliano, on the way to lunch one day.  You have to keep slapping yourself (stop it........) when you see such lovely vistas, there are so many that you almost get resigned to seeing another one around the corner.  

  Another attempt at art.  This was looking from Guido's home across Punta Ala towards the Isola Elba (of Napoleon fame).  The decoration was part of the evening table for a wonderful BBQ/wine dinner we enjoyed.  

  Lunch one day at the little fishing village city of Talamone.  Loriano and Patty Anne try and steal the scene from my bike behind.  It was a very international group, evidenced by an Italian wearing an Australian jersey, and an American wearing an Italian one.  With my Spanish bike, Australian wheels and German tyres for good measure.

  And finally (I know it's past your bedtime by now), our journey back to Rome went via this village built on rock, Pitigliano.  It is built on tuff and there are caves everywhere, must be like Aladdin's Cave underneath.  It is also the village where many Jewish people fled from Rome during the war, and has some wonderful traditional Jewish cuisine there.

So that's all folks.  Hope you enjoyed the little romp.  Same time next year!

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