Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Days 18-21 - Alessandria to Siena

I'm still going, despite the silence; I've worn the letters off the number pad of my phone and run up a huge phone bill, but most of all posting anything of any length from a phone is extremely time consuming, usually at times when I ought to be out on my bike.

So: from Alessandria I headed south towards Genoa and over the Turchino, as pictured below. Made reasonable time on the flat bits and when the road started to rise shortly after Ovada I fell in with a local cicloamatore who wasn't carrying any luggage but did have a sprinters build and had been out all day and was a bit knackered, so I was able to keep pace and chat a bit as the road rose. He stopped for a break at Masone, just before the pass, but caught me again as I stopped at the summit for the ritual photo (which is actually facing back the way I had come, for the record) & coffee, and led me down the descent, which would be a little less hairy if every Saturday afternoon biker in north-western Italy hadn't been coming up the other way and trying to find the same racing line round the corners as me. He also led me into the fairly grotty western end of Genova and finally left me shortly before the city centre, which looks worth a visit, but it was not the day for it for me, and I headed out to the eastern end of town onto the beginnings of the Riviera di Levante and found a hotel within spitting distance of the sea in Nervi, after a brief crisis. 103 km I think.

The next day was a matter of hacking straight down the Via Aurelia, now demoted to Strada Provinciale 1, where "straight" and "down" are not very accurately descriptive terms. Like coast roads often do, it twists and turns and rises and falls. The Portofino peninsula and the Passo di Brasco inland from the Cinque Terre provide more substantial climbs, the latter with several frustrating false summits, and although I was climbing fairly comfortably I was a riding blind in a gap between maps, so panicked a little earlier than I probably needed to, and got De Vertalerin to find me a B&B in the village of Borghetto di Vara, where I slept to a chorus of frogs. Very Aristophanes and all that. My average speed for the day was about the same as the day I went over the St Bernard; I reckon I probably climbed about 1200 metres in all over the 80km or so I covered.

Lucca seemed a fairly ambitious target the next day, especially after I had left the wooded valleys of Liguria (bypassing La Spezia down the Vara and Magra valleys) and emerged onto the flat coastal plane of Northern Tuscany, where a brisk onshore cross-headwind was blowing. Fortunately, every local bike rider seemed to be out, and I shared the headwind for a couple of longish stretches with helpful locals, before getting annoyingly lost - after about 40 km the landmark-free coastal strip development, which I don't like much at the best of times merged into a blur, and my attempts to find my way inland were frustrated by a (permanently) closed level crossing. However, I eventually managed to find the Camaiore road, and with the wind now comfortably behind me, I stormed the little climb with a very modest amount of panache, and then hammered happily at a steady 30-35 kph down the valley into Lucca, which is a town I have a lot of time for. The tourist office found me a central B&B and I could happily have stayed a week or two. Another 105 km.

My target for today was Siena, but that looked a bit too ambitious, especially with a not particualrly early start. However, once again I had the wind behind me, and I sped comfortably across the Arno valley and up the Val d'Elsa as far as Poggibonsi, although realising that it was the day after the first Palio of the summer, I was a little concerned about accommodation. The Vertalerin sorted it out again, though when the terrain got a little more undulating on the final stretch I started feeling the miles in my legs rather abruptly. Got here though, another 106 km or something like that (these numbers are all made up, of course, as my bike computer is locked in a garage). And so to bed.

3 comments:

TrentToffee said...

Now here's an idea. How about a Palio on bikes. It would seem like a typically mad and English thing to do. I'm not sure that it would be mad enough for the Sienese though.

De Vertalerin said...

Ha, you're probably right. I've been to the Palio and the Sienese are completely bonkers. I was the guest of a local lawyer, and got to do a load of stuff with the locals, including seeing the horse being blessed in the contrada's parish church. It crapped on the steps of the altar, which is supposed to be a super-good omen, but sadly it did the very worst thing, and came second (il vero sconfitto..)

One of the many interesting things about the Palio is that it's the horses that are racing, not their jockeys, so a horse which sheds its rider will still win if it crosses the line first. I should like to see a bike do that.

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