I (Shop Minister) and the Shoe Guy were actually in Italy during the Giro. A screwy hour long ride on a train took us from Florence to Carpi, a smallish friendly town and the finish of that days stage. It turns out that everything in Italy is for some reason written in Italian, and for a few hours we were not sure if we had missed the Giro finish. But alas we were plenty early and we set up on the inside corner of the final turn, 200 meters from the finish. There was a giant TV screen showing us all the action while two dudes announced excited things in Italian live and loud. Let me tell you, I have never seen a party atmosphere at a race that was like this. Young and old having a good time and excited to see the pros fly through.
My wife got some amazing shots as the riders came through. This is the stage where Cavinough lost to Bertolini in a photo finish.
The Giro was awesome, but riding in Italy was a once in a lifetime experience. Shoe Guy and I brought our pedals and shoes and rented some Bianchis not too far from the hotel. The nice lady at the shop spoke great English and she gave us a map and directions for a 90 km ride. But first we had to get out of the city, which was easier said than done. This picture of the one-lane cobble stone roads with cars, scooters, bikes, and no rules was taken during a slow time. After about 12 km we got out of the city and into our first climb. Shoe Guy took off like he saw a sign for free pie a la mode at the top. A move which he paid for because every switchback produced yet more uphill. After about 10 minutes of climbing I passed him, 5 minutes later I hit the summit of that climb and waited for the Shoe Guy. That is when we meant a mustachioed, Italian cycling angel who never told us his name. We call him Santo Luigi.
It turns out we were already lost and didn’t even know it. Santo Luigi spoke enough English that we could communicate relatively easily. After a short discussion of where we were headed Santo Luigi simple said “You a follow me.” And we did.
We followed Santo Luigi through rolling hills to San Casciano. We would pass him on hills and wait for him at the top, or a couple km down the road. Speaking of the roads, it is like the roads in the countryside of Italy are made for cycling. No pot holes, no tar lines, very little gravel, just smooth windy pavement.
After San Casciano, Santo Luigi told us to make a series of turns and then to wait for him at the bottom. Little did we know that we were about to descend for about 5 km with super sharp hairpin turns. Shoe Guy discovered that his rental brakes were not to be trusted on bombing down hills so he was forced to be very cautious. I, however, went as fast as I could on an unknown road. Once at the bottom of the hill we waited for Santo Luigi and the two of us talked about how we weren’t sure it could be better than that.
At the bottom by a crossroad Santo Luigi told us he was not going with us any farther, but he had a good route for us to take. We were to go through Greve and take a left towards Sugame. As he said this he flattened out his hand and tilted upwards 45 degrees. So I said “Turn at the big hill?” Santo Luigi left his hand pointing upward and said “No, no, it’s a good for you” with a grin. He told us about a few more turns to get us back to Florence, we shook hands, and we never saw Santo Luigi again.
Greve is where we stopped for lunch. It turns out that this was the perfect meal for cycling. I had two glasses of a local chianti, a large salad with tuna, black olive and onions, bread soaked in olive and balsamic oils, and a cappuccino for the road. I say it was the perfect meal because within 10 minutes of finishing the meal we turned toward Sugame. The road towards Sugame was a 6 km continual climb and we felt no ill effects from the food-take that Hammer Gel! We reached the summit of Sugame at 529 s.l.m. which is 1,735 feet. The climb was fun, but the descent was ricdonkulous. A twisty, turny, 10 km down hill with beautiful views of the Italian countryside. As our arms burned from being in the drops forever going downhill Shoe Guy yells “San Luigi, you make a me so happy I could a kiss a you on the mouth.” Santo Luigi was right, it was good for us.
The rest of the ride we passed through little Italian towns as we headed back to Florence. It was a perfect ride that seemed to be mostly down hill. That is until I got us lost. We missed and important turn, frankly because the Italian street markers are stupid. They don’t have street names, they just say what town streets head to at each crossroads. Anyways, I got us lost. So lost that at one point we almost got unto the freeway, the on-ramp wasn’t marked either. In an attempt to find the right way I ended up adding a climb that makes the Six Flags climb in Allenton look like a bump. At the top we found two nice old Italian ladies who knew no English but tried to point us to Florence. After a few more wrong turns and the Shoe Guy’s patience wearing thin we made it back to our wives who unsurprisingly didn’t even miss us yet, although we were an hour late. We ended up riding 96 km.
Sorry about the novel but such an experience deserved a decent write-up.