Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Lucca - la citta dalle cento chiese
By il scribe Don
Day 3 and it's Arrivederci to Tony, Hans and John. An easy 80km "recovery ride" has been scheduled, which Team Hardcore - Alan, Steve, Sandro and Jim sign up for. Team 32 - Graham, Howard and myself, aka "The Lollobridigidas" have other ideas and plan a train trip to the seaside. Ian is torn, he consults today's ride profile, estimates the kilojoules he will burn, deducts the kilojoules he has consumed at breakfast and 2 seconds later decides to join the Lollobrigidas.
Team Hardcore take the train to the base of their "recovery" climb, it's an HC rated 20km monster with a 20% kicker for the final 2km. 1.5km from the top the gradient gets the better of Jim and Alan who dismount leaving Sandro and Steve to battle it out for line honours. 500 metres from the finish the Italian Stallion cracks and is forced to walk, leaving 1 rider to claim the KOM points. Let's face it Stevie Hicks flew up that mountain like a "White Winged Dove".
Meanwhile the Lollobrigida's arrive at Viareggio train station and walk down to the beach. Every bit of beach is restricted to members only and so we apply for exclusive membership of the first "club" we come across. By some miracle they accept our application and we are soon seated in the private cafe enjoying a pre swim espresso. We then move onto the beach to our private deck chairs and private umbrellas. We strip down to our bathers and then, much to the horror of the locals, commence a 4 way oil off.
Down at the waterside the water is warm and "cleanish". We notice that we are the only people on the beach wearing boardshorts. Post war rationing must still be impacting on the Italian textile industry judging by the size of the local's swimming costumes.
Anyone thinking of visiting Lucca should certainly consider staying at the Hotel Universito, a charming 1850's building right in the centre of town. Our rating for the hotel is as follows:
Sheets - high thread count - thumbs up
Towels - 2 large white fluffy towels per guest - thumbs up
Wi Fi - weak to non existent - thumbs down
Staff - in my opinion, friendly, courteous and helpful. According to Alan rude, obnoxious and surly*.
*Alans rating may have been compromised due to his eviction from the hotel's communal showers. He was banned from the communal showers on Day 1 and the staff have been catching him breaching the rule on a different floor each day. The staff have also been upset by the washing line Alan and Sandro have erected in the corridor outside their room. A 3 metre long construction permanently full of dripping cycle gear. The elderly couple in the adjacent room have twice come a cropper as they navigate past the elasticated structure like 2 flies tip toeing around a spiders web.
Day 3 we catch a train to Bagni di Lucca a mountain village 30km away. As we cycle along the mountain valley in our matching TDL outfits I am reminded of the scene in The Sound of Music where the Von Trapp children cycle in their matching Lederhosen hand stitched from curtain material. Only today the role of Captain Von Trapp is played by Steve while Alan assumes the position of Sister Maria.
Out of the valley we commence the long 30km ascent of yet another HC climb. At the 20km mark a few of us stop to replenish. Unfortunately Ian is receiving unwanted attention from a swarm of bees who are clearly confused by the honeycomb patterning of his synthetic crutch nicks. We high tail it out of there confident that the worst of the climb is behind us.
5km later the bitumen ends and we are forced to navigate a gravel and boulder road that resembles a dried up river bed. Initially I relish the challenge of riding over this surface. In fact I have not had this much fun since I last rode my Dragster in Belair National Park, circa 1970. However I am not on my old Dragster and soon the ride becomes a bone shattering, spoke breaking, tire shredding nightmare. This continues for 14km or 3 hours on the old scale. My bike seems to be holding up and I say 3 Hail Mary's and give thanks to Anthony, the patron saint of E Bay, for talking me into fitting 25mm Gatorskin tires. However just 1km before the rocks end I puncture and walk the rest of the way. When we regroup I learn that Steve, who is on identical tires has also punctured. His tires now resemble a peach skin as the sidewalls have broken down and are starting to fray. Quite a few of us have either ruined our shoes or destroyed our cleats. Fortunately there are no injuries or badly damaged bikes.
We then descend for 10km over glorious bitumen and stop at chalet hoping for a 3pm lunch. Once again Alan works his charm on the owners and we are soon seated enjoying beer and pasta. The decor reminds a few of us of The Cuckoos Nest in the Dandenongs, last visited on Mothers Day 1977. Luckily this restaurant does not come with a pineapple slice laden smorgasbord.
It's now an easy 40km descent to the train station at Bagni di Lucca. It's the 2nd time we have travelled this road and again the friendly locals cheer and wave as we whizz through their towns. It's a real buzz and sometimes it feels as if we are riding the Giro d'talia. In Bagni di Lucca we again bump into the local "Mayor" who has been invaluable in giving us directions. A terrific friendly guy who loves Australian cyclists and Akubra hats.
Today Jim has scheduled a short 80km "recovery ride", but I am not falling for that trick again. Your scribe has awarded himself a second, well deserved, rest day. Tomorrow the circus leaves town as we head east to find more mountains to climb. It will be sad to leave this fantastic region but do I detect a spring in the step of the Hotel Universito staff?