Thursday 21 April 2016

Day 0 – Italy Beckons

So here we are on the eve of another tour this time to Italy and the delights of Tuscany. Over the next four days I will be riding from Livorno in the west on the Ligurian Sea to Ancona in the east on the Adriatic. All in all a distance of about 250 miles with 20,000 feet of climbing. (For non cyclist readers height climbed is an indicator of pain, sorry pleasure!

Tuscany is not an area that I know - I've passed through it a couple of times whilst heading south. I've also read about the spectacular old hill top towns and villages, some of which I hope to see and blog about as the tour progresses. Our tour avoids the main cities like Florence and Sienna, sticking instead to small and hopefully quiet minor roads. It's a region with a rich history so I hope to learn a bit more about it. We’ll be passing through the heart of Chianti country so I expect to enjoy a glass or three. And then there’s the Italian food. I love Italian food!

As a country with a long and rich cycling heritage I’ll be interested to see how we are regarded by the people we encounter en route. And riding on the ‘wrong’ side of the road could bring some interesting challenges, especially as we ride out of potentially busy Livorno tomorrow morning. We're going to be riding along part of the route of this year's Giro d’Italia and I wonder if we'll get some shouts of “bravissimo” from the roadside. Well, I'm allowed to dream.

Everything has gone very smoothly so far. Kim, our tour leader and Amanda who's helping to support the ride, have brought me to the airport for our flight to Pisa. Checking in at Stansted was painless and I was even able to enjoy the luxury of the Executive Lounge thanks to Kim’s card! Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch. As I write this, at 30,000 feet on the flight, my bike is already in Italy. Martyn, Amanda's husband and a good friend who I ride with sometimes, has been driving the support vehicle through France and Switzerland to ensure our bikes are ready for the Grand Depart tomorrow morning. I got to know Martyn on last year’s Lejog. If I have half as much fun as I did then, I will be a very happy cyclist indeed!

Well, it's a now a few hours later. We’ve all arrived and checked in at our hotel for the night, the Hotel Gran Duca on the seafront in Livorno. In front of the hotel is a statue of Ferdinando I de'Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1549-1609). The statue was created by Bandini e Pietro Tacca in 1595, and is surrounded by pirates in chains.

As I write today's despatch from the front line I'm sitting on the terrace of my bedroom looking over the harbour. I've enjoyed a lovely dinner (seafood gnocchi) and a couple of glasses of wine. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

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