Italian Time Trials, Gran Fondos and Pasta Parties

The chance to ride at a world class F1 and moto GP circuit is not something that happens very often, let alone one in Italy and with friends.

The first ever Over The Hill Gran Fondo, held in the Imola GP circuit was being held at the same time we were in the region just north of Tuscany and with a good friend Stefano from @saddledrunk offering to look after us in his family’s nearby home, it was an opportunity that was far too good to pass up. It also seemed like the perfect end to our month long cycling trip where all the training, riding and touring could be out to the test to see how we were really doing.

We signed up online a few days before the event to ensure that we got a space on the GF and along with the option of 102 or 162km event there was also a Time Trial option. Neither Gaby or myself had ever entered a TT before and though it might be a fun if painful 30minutes of bombing around an infamous circuit (making braap noises).

We did have one slight issue though, Gaby’s carbon bike had broken and she wasn’t able to use it. Our Charge touring bikes are built for massive mile munching and are perfect for that, but for a 15km TT they weren’t suitable so we went on the hunt for a bike to borrow!

Almost instantly we stumbled across a company called Kemo who were demoing their top end race bikes and kindly lent us 2 to have a wiz round the circuit on!

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To say Gabs was ‘off like a rocket’ was a bit of an understatement. Riding her loaded touring bike for 150km a day for the past month had clearly helped as she shot around the course with me desperately trying up keep up and putting my heart rate through the ceiling.

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After returning to the demo arena with huge smiles, panting and explaining how impressed we were with the bike, the mechanics and owner (with a little persuasion) offered to lend Gabs the bike to compete in the TT.

Numbers were hastily attached to the bike and jersey and off we went to the start line to eye up the competition!

We were defiantly the odd ones out with ‘typically’ cycling clothing and helmets…no aero ‘sperm’ lids or over socks for us and certainly no TT bars or Disc wheels.

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The girls were up first and after 10 had set off with 1 minute intervals it was time for gofastergaby to show what she was made of. 3 Laps of the 5km circuit as fast as possible. We estimated that finishing in 30minutes would be a solid time. 30kph.

After a flat out first lap and having over taken 2 people, Gabs looked in no way like slowing down, even taking time out to wave at the crowd and ‘ciao’ a few photographers on the way round. Well I suppose happy miles are fast miles after all!

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We still need to confirm the exact time but around the 25minute mark was her effort…and good enough to bag 3rd place. It also turns out that this event was a rather prestigious one as the winners received the Italian national jersey for their efforts! Next time Gabs…no waving and I wonder how she would do?

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Her prize for 3rd place…a huge Ham! Now if only more races rewarded success with charcuterie cycling would be the most popular sport in the world!

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Even though I didn’t get on the podium I was very happy with my efforts. I managed to beat 30 people with funny helmets and big carbon wheels and got a time of 22minutes over the hilly course.

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Gabs loved it, and understandably as she performed fantastically…I wasn’t so sure as felt like I was going to be sick with exertion for 20minutes, didn’t see anyone on course as I was keeping the same distance between the 2 in front and behind me and then collapsed…

…still a good day out, especially after pasta and Peronis!

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Mansell

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Back In Bourg

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We arrived back in bourg to a full and busy house and the chance to see loads of friends and sleep in a proper bed. Happy.

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More adventures are being planned as we speak. Stay tuned…

Sardinia- bike packing, wild boar panini’s, towns famed for bandits & roads with pot holes big enough to fall down

Tired legs and a bit of a foggy head from too much local vino last night, sitting drinking what was meant to be a mocha but came as a coffee with a scoop of nuttella in, chilling after what turned out to be an epic 3 day bike tour round the Sardinian national park.

We caught a ferry across from Corsica last Wednesday and headed straight out to Eastern Sardinia where there is a huge national park lots of beautiful little coves and rugged mountains. The whole region would be really difficult to travel around if you don’t have your own set of wheels, there is little public transport, its rare for anyone to speak any English and if the weather comes in it can be as much as 50km before the next village.

The whole area is filled with mystery and rich in tradition. The women are often in traditional clothes and bars are filled with groups of elderly men playing cards with a bottle of red. We Parked our van in Dorgali a town near the cost, its main attraction is a large network of caves and grottos. We managed to catch a little boat to have a look in one we were able to walk a km through the underground cave network into where the seals used to go to pup away from people but this network is thought to stretch for up to 70km under the island.

We found a little agritourismo to camp in overnight, we spent the evening getting kit ready and making a rough plan of where to pedal over the next few days. We both used 2 Alpkit dry bags on the front and back of our Charge plug 5 bikes. In them we took a sleeping bag, roll mat, bivi bag, toothbrush & paste, board shorts, a thermal, arcteryx primaloft jacket and pair of flip flops. Then all the riding kit that we wore. We managed to keep kit to a minimum and our riding cloths that we chose to wear are from the Giro new road range so feel great for riding in but you also don’t look out of place if you wear them in a cafe/bar. A lot of the riding kit is made out of merino wool so if you wear it for a few days it doesn’t smell makes chatting to the locals a bit easier!

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I’ve never done a totally unsupported tour before so really had no idea how it would go, having the extra weight on the bike, where to sleep, would we find food, what if something happens a bike breaks or something like that?

We set off up and over a col above Dorgali on our first 50km leg to the next town and we climbed the col I looked back over my shoulder a couple of times at our van and camp sight but didn’t feel nervous at all but felt a huge sense of adventure without a worry in the world all I had to do was ride my bike, nothing else to think about.

We dropped down the other side of the col had lunch then descended to the coast. From there it was back to climbing as we ventured into the national park. The further we got in and the higher we climbed the cooler it got, untill the sun was gone and we were riding though forests and fog, it was now late afternoon but felt late we had to turn lights on the bikes but as the villages were so small there was no where to stop. I had an exposure joystick and Ben was using the new dynamo revo system which worked really well.

We pedaled through towns that were deserted with houses that were falling apart and must have been empty for years. It was really creepy it felt like we had cycled into another world and had no idea what would be round each corner. The thought of biviing in the wet was horrible we tried to ask in a few villages for any accommodation options….. nothing! Eventually we found 2 ladies sitting on a bench who told us there was 1 hotel 15km away. All up hill we kept going with all of our hope on the hotel being open with space, if not it was 30km to the next place. We made it, it was a tiny village surrounded by a huge rock face in the hotel there was us and a couple of climbers. We got a room and had a luke warm drizzle of a shower. Starving we headed out in search of food, there was 1 tiny pizzarea open but it was perfect the pizza as delicious, made in front of us to order, absolutely massive and €3. The spooky feeling of the mountains vanished as families flocked up to pick up a Sunday night pizza or sent there children to collect dinner. By 9pm we were asleep, waking up early ready to get back on the road with a coffee in the hotel and what seems to be the typical Sardinian breakfast of a slice of cake.

day 1 bikepacking sardinia

Day 2 was much easier the sun was out an we set out checking the map every now and again for the next village to aim for. The riding wasn’t any harder than the day before, similar amount of climbing and distance but a bit more of a mental struggle the terrain was quite repetitive. We got into Gavoi, quite a large town and were both craving a cold beer. We had been through Gavoi previously on a day loop when we first arrived in Sardinia and had been in a bar for lunch (wild boar panini’s). One of the men who worked there had spent some time in London so spoke good English so we went back to have a chat and ask him where would be a good place to sleep. He quickly phoned his friend a lovely lady and we went and stayed at her house. She had entertaining down and even had a play list of songs ready to suit the occasion. In the morning she had prepared a huge elaborate breakfast of 6 different types of cake, yoghurt, fruit, hams and cheeses. We ate as much as we could then packed the left overs into a little lunch box. When we were all packed up and ready to set off the songs came on and she blasted out “please don’t go, i love you so’.

day 2

The first half f day 3 flew by we went through Nurro the mountain capital then headed out to a town called Bitti where we stopped for lunch. At that point though my legs were suddenly knackered but we only had 50km to go. We had a gradual downhill back towards Dorgali down a road covered in rocks at first we though there had been a rock slide but we kept seeing more and more – it turns out that if there is a crack or hole in the road in Sardinia they think its best to just cover it up with a lot of rocks and dirt! Dorgali sits at about 450m and we were then down at 70m so it we had a final climb to face to get back and it was slow. My knee started to ache and sitting on my saddle was becoming very uncomfortable. But we did it we got into town and stopped at the first supermarket, put our waterbottle in our jersey pockets and beers into our bottle cages.

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Back at the campsite we were greeted by Angelo who had misunderstood that we were going cycling for a few days and had been really worries that we hadn’t returned for days. That evening Angelo served us an all you can at feast, we had a 5 course dinner of Sardinian specialties, a cheese tart, fricatta , battered courgette, potato and meat dumplings, beef and veg , panacotta, jugs of wine and a shot of a local digestive. It was all amazing all home made and the perfect way to end our tour…. excited and looking forward to the next one.

 

Gaby

Corsica- A mountain in the sea

As part of our months cycling trip we visited decided to spend a week in Corsica. Mainly down to chatting to people and hearing great things. Corsica is a small island off the French coast in the Mediterranean sea. Mountains make up two thirds of the island, its 183 km long, 83km wide and has 1000km of coastline with 200 beaches. Monte Cinto has the highest peak at 2,706m and there are 20 other summits of more than 2,000m. There are also large forests on the island which cover 20%.  

These stats are all very impressive but on arrival we were BLOWN away, Corsica is absolutely breathtaking. You could be anywhere in the world yet you are just off the French coast. There are 9 different regions each completely different geographically and culturally.

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We got an overnight ferry across from Marseille, arriving into port at 7am just as the sun as coming up. We came into Ajancco the Capital, we went out onto the deck to have a look around expecting t see some hills we were faced by a rugged skyline of huge mountains! So much bigger than we expected and a lot of them snow capped.

We spend a week traveling around and covered most of the island either by bike or driving between places in the van. The island is a world apart from the French mainland, some villages feel very French while others very Italian. There is a sense of hostility especially if you go through the more remote parts, there are bullet holes in a lot of the road signs and often the French is spray painted out and just the Italian names left on the signs. We stayed in one small village near the cap le Corse and went for beers in a little bar which felt like someones living room the barman took out order in quite bad French but then continued to speak in Italian to his buddies. Actually Corsica has its own language which we didn’t realize which is much closer to Italian than French which is what he may have been speaking.

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The food and drink is amazing, it feels like Corsica is very self sufficient and a lot of the food feels locally produces. There is a lot of dried hams and meats, fresh fruit and veg, inland there is wild board in the spring and autumn where as there is more fish and seafood on the coast. There are plenty of local cheeses but not many cows on the island so you mainly get goat and ewes cheese. To wash it down there are plenty of local drinks there are 3 main beers Pietra being the main one and lots of Corsican wines.

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If you are looking for somewhere is Europe with stunning beaches, little coves, huge forests, snow capped mountains, delicious food and wine Corsica has it all. You can be sitting in a modern wine bar in Ajanccio one evening, ski touring the next day, go on amazing treks, Mtb, road rides, hikes, rock climb, go canyoning the list is endless… and its all confined to one island making everything accessible.

Corsica is epic there is defiantly a sense of adventure in the air and its somewhere that we defiantly hope to be revisiting!

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Corsica – A Cyclists Dream

Corsica has to be one of the most breathtaking places that I have been lucky enough to ride! Everywhere you turn the views are outstanding and varied! Cliffs and emerald waters around the coast and rugged, snow capped mountains in the center.

The riding isn’t for the faint hearted though as there is barely a flat bit of land on the whole island and some of the roads and weave up to quite dizzying heights!

It needs to be on a lot of people’s bucket list! Smooth roads, challenging cols and stunning views make for an unforgettable riding region.

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