Memorable riding in Italy
Having decided to take a few months off to experience Europe in all its grandeur, I find myself sitting on a train Lyon bound, after two awesome weeks in Italy. We join up with the travelling circus that is Le Tour on Wednesday so there is much to look forward to. Travelling anywhere with bikes is always a mission. For those of you who have yet to travel extensively with bicycles, let me paint a very brief picture: Disassemble the bikes, wrap them, pack them, check them in, pick them up the other side, hope like hell they are still in one piece, build them, hope like hell they work. This means is that wherever you are going, the riding better be worth it.
So far we’ve been beyond lucky. The riding in Italy has been breathtakingly beautiful and has surpassed all expectations. Two outings will remain with me forever though:
Monterosso is a tiny little town on the Cinque Terre on Italy’s Ligurian coast and the only way out is an eight-kilometre climb with an average gradient of 7,5 per cent. On reaching the top, you descend for 10 kilometres before climbing the next monster. Flat roads in this area are about as rare Pieter De Villers doing an interview without making us cringe, but that’s just fine as the scenery makes up for that. On one particular ride, I was feeling good and after three hours, I decided that it was probably time to turn around and head home. It was one of those rides where you’re on a high from the first pedal stroke and I was really looking forward to the return leg of the ride. I hit the base of one of the bigger climbs and was starting to get into a good rhythm when I felt a very weird sensation in my left leg. I looked down to see that my left crank had come off completely, the pedal still attached to my cleat. Not good.
Even though I usually carry a multi-tool with me religiously, I had opted against one for this ride, as I wanted as little weight as possible in my pockets. Arrogant. Food was also non-existent (for the same reason). Stupid. After spending a few minutes cursing my rookie error, I decided to try and put the crank back on by hand. Needless to say that wasn’t happening. I was a good 60 kilometres from home but I did have a cellphone. Relief. Everyone I tried to call had his or her phone off. Disaster. I tried pedaling with one leg and managed to do this for about six kilometres up this (not so) little climb but I got over that idea pretty quickly. A few Italian cyclists passed me but were totally uninterested in my predicament, which fuelled my already seething rage. A few busses passed and, despite my waving them down, they clearly had more important things to do than rescue a Lycra-clad clown. Upon realising that there weren’t too many options left, I decided that the only thing to do would be to pedal home making use of my right leg… A few hours later, I arrived home with one leg much bigger than the other, a diminished sense of humour and a growling stomach.
Moral of the story: carry a multi-tool in a foreign country at all times.
A few days later, I was at Lake Como, north of Milan. I had heard many stories about the riding there but was truly blown away by this place. We set out for a ride that would take in the famous Madonna de Ghisello climb (10-kilometres long), which has featured in many Giros as a hilltop finish. We hit the climb after about 40 kilometres of riding which is a good thing as the legs definitely need to be warm for the Ghisello. Once I hit the top, I was greeted by spectacular views and a little church, which is essentially a cycling shrine. It’s in honour of famous cyclists who have graced the Ghisello as well as fallen cyclists. The church is filled with memorabilia ranging from Cadel Evan’s yellow jersey to Eddy Merckx’s Giro-winning bike. Of all the items, the one that stood out the most was a jersey and photo of former Barloworld and South African champion, Ryan Cox, who died tragically in 2007. I was completely humbled and overcome with emotion but it was wonderful to see ‘Coxy’ being honoured as he deserves to be. A great guy and cyclist who did South Africa proud and would almost certainly have had a few TdFs under his belt by now.