by il scribe Don
Our penultimate day in Lucca and I head to the local bike shop to repair my badly shredded bike shoes. The 185cm tanned Andonis who runs the nearest bike shop takes one look at my shoes, curls his upper lip and says "I don't do Shimano". He sends me to a bike shop on the other side of town where I wait 1 hour for the mechanic to finish his lunch before I finally get new cleats. Gotta love the Italian way of doing things!
Day 5 and we are leaving Lucca, 6 of us on bikes and 2 assigned with the task of loading the cases on the van and driving to Palazzuolo. Our intrepid couriers manage to pack almost all of our belongings.
Being a transit day an easy ride is scheduled. It's a simple 90km ride with Category 1, Category 2, Category 3 and Category 4 climbs. Armed with a map plus 2 Garmins we set off, minus our reliable navigator Jim plus his driver Ian who are having a well deserved lie in. What can go wrong? Well, as it turns out, nothing from the cycling members of Team TDL.
Fortunately Jim has sent us on a route through what the locals fondly refer to as Regionale di Larry. Importantly lunchtime sees us in a village where Team TDL had lunch 10 years ago. We start to salivate in expectation of the lunch that local chef, "Fat Tony" will serve. On arrival, to our horror, we learn that Fat Tony recently died of a heart attack, brought on by elevated cholesterol levels. Luckily this is a family business and his children now run the show. We meet the new chef "il figlio Fat Tony" who appears to be doing his best to fill his Padres shoes. We take bets on whether "il figlio Fat Tony" will still be here in 10 years.
Lunch is delicious but we must push on because the final part of the ride includes an 11km ascent at 7%, described by the locals as a "testicular torturella". We all make it in the mild 38 degree heat and throw back several beers on arrival. Meanwhile Jim and Ian have arrived in the Fiat Behemoth a few hours earlier and Ian has headed to the local piscine to put in a few swimming laps before dinner. Unfortunately the local teenage boys have other ideas and like Exocet missiles targeting a U boat, they dive bomb the poor bugger until he finally leaves their pool.
Palazzuolo is a quaint medieval village in the heart of the mountains, a most charming and romantic town. At dinner that night, served by candle light under the stars, Howard announces that he will be taking Liz here next year for a second honeymoon. For now he has to share this special moment with us. But lets face it the towns history and whatever the Monks and Nuns got up to in the 1500's is of no concern to us, we are on a Bike Riding Blokefest, here to ride the hills.
Day 6 and we rise early to beat the heat and do another 100km hill climbing extravaganza. Graham "I'm Hungry" Beer claims a rest day. At the top of the first climb, still in agony from the previous day, I throw in the towel and head back to town. The others push on, but by midday the heat has got the better of Howard, Sandro and Alan who also return and soon head off the the local piscine. The ranks of the Lollobrigidas are growing daily. This leaves Steve, Ian and Jim to complete the scheduled course. No matter, because not only is tomorrow a transit day for Ian and Jim, but they will also be driving back to Lucca where they hope to find their passports secure in the hotel safe - Dohh!
The hotel here is superb, based in a series of 15th century buildings and run by a charming family. Our ratings are as follows:
Sheets - medium thread count - thumbs up
Towels - one white fluffy towel per guest AND a white fluffy bath robe each (Graham refuses to take his off) - thumbs up
Wi Fi - strong and fast - thumbs up
Perhaps it is the heat, the punishing riding schedule or just plain old homesickness, but some of us are getting concerned about Sandro. Lately he has been overheard having conversations with his Garmin. This invaluable electronic ride mapping device has taken on a female persona, which Sandro fondly calls "Julia". When questioned about this behaviour Sandro sheepishly replied "I just do whatever Julia tells me to do". Garmin is the new "she who must be obeyed" device treated by Sandro with all due reverence.
Palazzuolo is unique in that every hour on the hour the local church bells are rung. This charming sound continues 24/7 and is guaranteed to interrupt your sleep more often than an enlarged prostate. So annoyed am I with this tinnitus tradition that when I walk the street I scan the faces of all villagers trying to work out who is responsible. So far I have spotted 3 locals with hunchbacks but can't decide which one is the bell ringer. Perhaps they work in shifts?
Tomorrow we head to Urbino, a 90km ride complete with 2 Category 3 climbs. Should be fun!