by il scribe DonOur final day in Palazuollo and there is some more off road riding to be done by Team Hardcore. By the end of the day Steve's tires look like Kellogs Shredded Wheats and Ian's cleats are cactus. But the ride is not all in vein because the boys are rewarded with a micro waved frozen pasta lunch, a speciality served at the village swimming pool kiosk.
That night we sit down to a farewell dinner in the hotel's restaurant. Before we start eating Ian considerately tells us that the young Austrian family at the next table can understand English. Ian insists that we therefore watch our "P's" and "Q's"(oh the breathtaking irony!). 2 hours and several drinks later Ian has slipped back into his native tongue. After several crow calls, little Heidi is in tears, Frau Greta glares at Ian and Herr Johannes aims a tirade of abuse at him. My German is pretty rusty, but if you click on that You Tube clip of Adolph Hitler addressing his Generals at the fall of Berlin you will get the idea.
Next morning we have a terrific ride out of town, a nice climb in the shade followed by a 40km flat ride through the Tuscan countryside. Howard is in his element and charges to the front of the peloton. The old silverback pushes us (his beta male blackbacks) all the way to Faenza.
In Faenza we lose our Garmin signal and cannot locate the train station. Fortunately Graham works his broken Italian charm on a passing cycling Señorita, riding a step through steel framed Pinarello. She insists on guiding us all the way to the train station. The local townsfolk turn and stare at the site of their Pinarello Princess leading 6 middle aged lycra clad men through the streets, like a mother duck guiding her chicks to safety. At the station the Pinarello Princess informs us that she was a Podium Girl in the 1985 Giro d'Tuscany and insist on kissing her favourite rider.
The train trip from Faenza to Cattolica is best forgotten. Suffice to say it was 40 degrees, the air conditioning was broken, the train was packed and we were forced to sit with our bikes in sweat box like conditions. On the ride into Urbino we stop at a farmhouse where an elderly women kindly provides us with water. I attempt to say in my best Italian "Thank you very much for the water beautiful Grandma" but according to Howard I actually say "I spit on you old lady". No matter, because the old girl has a good cackle and we are soon in Urbino.
Urbino is yet another charming medieval town perched high on a hill. In the centre of town there is a Piazza and a large fountain. Sadly the fountain contains neither water nor Anita Ekberg. But later that night we dream of "la dolce vita" as we eat our gelatos on the steps of the fountain.
On arrival at our hotel it is clear that word of our travels has passed through the Partisan network embedded in the Italian hospitality industry. When Alan "il Duce" Contini arrives at reception he is greeted with obsequious reverence. "You may hang your clothes wherever you want il Duce"
The next day we do a ride up Monte Nerone, a 15km monster climb that hosted the Giro d'talia in 2009. Luckily there is a restaurant after the summit where we refuel. Post lunch we descend 6km over broken gravel road or Strada Brutto (ugly road) as the locals say. We are getting good at these conditions. After that it's a (relatively) easy 20km ride back home in the mild 40 degree conditions. The heat has again got the better of me and I declare tomorrow will be my 3rd unofficial rest day.
That night we visit a charming AgriFarm restaurant just out of town, specialising in the produce of the region. Over dinner Howard regales us with stories of his days as a male model. His memoir "From Casting Couch to the Jackeroo Man - a story of the sexploitation of a young lawyer" will be released next year. Howard is optimistic that it will outsell 50 Shades of Grey.
We are just past the midpoint of the tour and there is no end in site for the heatwave. We are now psyching ourselves up for the "real" mountain climbs of the Dolomites. Help.