The last two years we’ve driven to Siena in Tom, this year my beloved put his foot down and we hired a larger car. Thank goodness! We had a dreadful journey with driving rain, sleet, snow and cross-winds. We had about 10 minutes of sunshine walking back from the restaurant where we lunched in Sarzana.
We’d previously stopped off in this town on the way back from Siena, two years ago. Failing to appreciate that it was an old walled town with its treasures, restaurants included, within, we’d finished up at a restaurant in the nearby countryside. Lunch was delicious but included in the price was a dance and sing song! We did not join in.
This time we found a delightful patisserie and restaurant where for the princely price of 25 Euros we enjoyed a three course lunch with water and coffee. Of course, in Spain, we’d have had wine too. Fortified by lunch, and a brief exposure to sunlight, we continued to battle the elements and traffic before finally arriving at our destination in Siena, where I scored another room upgrade. I know I don’t know how I do it either.
We dashed round the corner from the hotel to what must be the most beautiful press room in the WorldTour to collect our accreditation which, despite the length of the queue, progressed surprisingly swiftly and smoothly. Soon thereafter we were quaffing a very respectable Chianti in one of our favourite watering holes. This one has a very generous nibbles buffet. So generous in fact that we didn’t require dinner. We were only too happy to sink into our crisp white cotton sheets well before our usual bedtime ahead of what was sure to be an arduous day.
The following day dawned heavily overcast. About the only thing my beloved and I would have in common with the professional riders braving Dantesque conditions was plenty of base layers. Theirs would be topped off with lycra, ours with cashmere and waterproof down coats.
It started raining heavily as soon as the ladies race set off. They raced all day in the rain and, as anticipated, the strongest riders prevailed with a surprisingly large number of participants finishing in the wonderfully historic Il Campo – surely the world’s best finish.
My beloved and his camera took refuge behind the podium out of the driving rain, along with most of the male peloton. There was no getting away from it, they were all going to be plastered in mud. Recalling that famous stage in the 2010 Giro d’Italia won by Cadel Evans who made the most of his skills as a former mountain biker to prevail. Would that be the case today?
Meanwhile, I headed to the team buses to distribute my race winning brownies to a number of teams. I like to think they encourage the riders to get back to the buses quicker. Did the podium get any brownies? Now, that would be telling!
Despite trying to shelter at every opportunity, we got drenched. We headed back to the hotel for a change of clothes and some warming soup feeling thankful we weren’t riding. We’ve previously ridden around the area, including on the white gravel roads, it’s definitely an experience to be savoured in fine weather.
There was a brief lull in the rain which enabled us to watch the exciting finale of the women’s race before we returned later to watch the men’s. I love watching them grind their way up the final climb. It was an enthralling race with a totally unexpected podium. But then, that’s bike racing! I just love it when someone totally confounds the pundits and wins their maiden race. Of course, in this case, I bet no one predicted the podium.
I should probably have cheered from afar as I wasn’t feeling too good and was running a high temperature but, after an early night, I felt much better the next day. This meant my beloved, who’s always at a bit of a loss when I’m ill, had to dine out on his own.
The last two years we’ve headed home on Sunday, but not this year. We had a full day to walk around previously unexplored places in Siena in the weak sunshine and watch the sportive riders come home. There were some impressive times while I suspect some of the tail-end Charlies had been enjoying some of the facilities en route, and why not?
We retired to one of our favourite family-run restaurants for a simply splendid Sunday lunch amid plenty of locals. My late father would have approved: white linen tablecloths and napkins, the husband and grand-daughter in the kitchen, the wife running front of house, small number of covers, and full of locals who regularly eat there. Of course, there are lots of great restaurants in Siena.
Sunday evening we were still stuffed, despite walking for most of the afternoon and were only too happy to lounge around our splendid hotel which was housed in an elegant and charming 17th century palazzo which had been a wedding gift from Pope Alexander VII to his niece – those are the sort of relatives we could all do with! The hotel is centrally located, just a few steps from all of Siena’s many, major monuments.
Despite the weather, we were sorry to leave on Monday morning. We had a good drive home with the car carrying precious cargo: Chianti and lots of Italian edibles!
All cycling images courtesy of RCS