Postcard from Tuscany

My annual road trip to the World Road Race Championships is usually a solo trip although my beloved has accompanied me to both Mendrisio 2009 and Melbourne 2010. This year he decided once again to take a bit of a break and join me in Tuscany. I generally make my hotel bookings about a year in advance  so it was lucky there was room for him in my rental apartment about 30km south of Florence. You might wonder why I selected somewhere so far from the action. It’s just over 30 minutes by car or train in a quiet dormitory town along the Arno valley adjacent to the Chianti hills, an area where we’ve stayed on previous trips, with plenty of great bars and restaurants within walking distance.

The drive over was surprisingly quick but then our previous trips have been at the end of July when the holiday season is in full-swing. We arrived with time to spare to wander the cobbled streets, check out the shops and an enjoy a Prosecco before selecting a restaurant for dinner – our Tuscan adventure started now. We’d fortunately arrived early and secured the last unreserved table in a small family run establishment where we could observe the small seasonal menu being made in the kitchen. Sated we returned to the apartment knowing it would take a long ride to eliminate the excess calories!

While the daytime temperatures were around 4-5 degrees warmer than back home in Nice, it was quite fresh first thing as my beloved attested on his return from fetching La Gazzetta – required reading in Italy – and the pastry crème croissants for breakfast. I know, that’s many more calories to be eliminated but I might as well be hung for a crème filled as a plain one!

This was my first ride since my fall and, proudly wearing my new aerodynamic Specialized lid, I was ready for action. My beloved hovered over me like a mother duck might a new-born duckling but he soon tired of that and rode past me up all the inclines. There’s loads of racing in Tuscany as we were forcibly reminded every time we ascended a climb to find the markings of a finish line from a recent race. The roads are relatively quiet, the terrain is undulating and, while there are some steep ramps, they’re not as steep as in the Basque country.

This rather set the tone for our days. A ride in the morning followed by watching the racing in the afternoon. Although I didn’t ride every day, my beloved did  – apart from Monsoon Sunday – and he enjoyed testing himself on the final race circuit. Racing over we generally headed back to our HQ for dinner. We didn’t eat out every evening as I was quite keen to cook with some of the excellent local produce, washed down with the local wine – Chianti.

Italians really embrace and celebrate cycling
Italians really embrace and celebrate cycling

With races starting at different places in Tuscany, we took the opportunity to watch both the start and finish of some.This did mean that I didn’t watch all of the racing but it’s fair to say I didn’t miss much of the action. I was however disappointed at the lack of or poor television coverage of some of the races.

I’ve only been attending the Worlds since 2006 and, by and large, the weather’s been fine particularly for the final men’s elite road race. This year proved an exception, storms were forecast but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen so much rain, not even in countries which suffer from monsoons. The roads were awash. I’d have been a DNS, never mind a DNF!

No trip to Chiantishire would be complete without a trip to my favourite butchers
No trip to Chiantishire would be complete without a trip to my favourite butchers

Since we got back I’ve been prolonging our Tuscan adventure with the produce I bought there: funghi porcini, porchetta, salamis, tomatoes, figs, wine. Of course, I can’t eat all of it so I’ve rustled up a few dishes for the freezer and preserves store to be enjoyed in the coming months.

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