Wine trade does Giro di Toscana: Day 1 – The Maremma

Starting day one of the Giro di Toscana, it felt as though I’d consumed a litre of wine and managed fewer than five hours sleep… and that was because both were true.

Best assembled with a clear head

Although the ride began from the Maremma’s famed Tenuta Fertuna this morning, I had arrived with the 11 other cyclists in time for dinner the day before, allowing Paolo, the head winemaker, to treat us to a long and lavish evening complete with large servings of white Sangiovese – that’s right, a vino bianco called Droppelo made from Tuscany’s most famous red grape (it’s pressed very gently to avoid removing any of the pigments from the skins, as you would for Pinot Noir destined to make sparkling wine).

A short night, and slightly blurred senses wouldn’t normally matter hugely for a lengthy day in the saddle – in fact, it’s par for the course on a wine trade ride. But before the tour could kick off, I had to assemble my bicycle, which had been taken apart the day before to fit in a special box for flying the machine to Italy.

Dismantling it had required some help from a bicycle mechanic, so putting it back together again would take focus, or rather, a combination of concentration and patience – exactly the traits heavy drinking and sleep depravation tend to zap first.

Half an hour later and I had the handlebars on the wrong way round and my right cycling shoe attached to my left pedal, with neither of them connected to the bike. Thank you Matthieu Barriere for prizing the two apart, and fixing my pedal to the metal.

It was only 5km down the road of slow, bouncy riding that I also realised I’d failed to inflate my tires – which have to be let down before they can go in an aeroplane.

In all, I’ve never started a short commuter journey in worse shape, let alone a major ride in a new territory.

Meet Alan

I’m writing this now from a shuttered, air-conditioned room having completed the 85km circular route that was planned for us by Andrew Hawes – Mentzendorf MD, and master of the Giro di Toscana (aka The Emperor). The setting for my typing is relevant, as I’m still trying to cool down from today’s riding. We went fast, averaging over 28km, including some climbs, and persistent, reasonably strong headwinds, but it was really the heat that punished us today. Being over 40 degrees Celsius in the midday sun, after only a few strenuous minutes one’s face was roasting and reddened as well as drenched with warm sweat and sun cream – a nasty mix when it pours straight into your eye sockets.

Now, as one would expect from a group of people fuelled (mostly) on wine and powering fragile frames on skinny tyres, there were a few incidents. One involved much-loved Mentzendorff prestige business director Alan Montague-Dennis, who’d brought a bike so hi-tech and precisely-engineered that it didn’t want to shift its electric gears after its journey to Italy courtesy of Easyjet. Indeed, such was the advanced nature of this machine, it baffled those in local, chaotic, but brilliant bike shop, where Alan had spent several hours before one of the mechanics used a hammer to fix the problem, while the other watched with a cigarette in his mouth.

During that time, Alan had found himself another bike, the antithesis of his electrically-operated carbon fibre thing – a steel-framed beauty from the 80s, called ‘Alan’. (Yes, that is a real bike brand and yes, he has now bought it).

Another incident involved one of the brilliant riders from outside the wine trade, called Gavin Disney-May (we have been allowed to socialise with consumers). Having rode seemingly-effortlessly all day, this sensible and high-achieving figure in the world of finance ended day one of the tour somewhat dramatically, but thankfully without major injury. I watched it happen (and sadly didn’t film it for your amusement), but, basically, just as you reach the end of the track up to the Fertuna winery, there is a plastic waist-level barrier – and Gavin cycled straight into it.

In effect, he didn’t cross the finishing line, but careered into it, before collapsing, creating a human heap of dusty grit and damp lycra. At least he made it, as did all 12 of us, plus former pro cyclist Paolo Bianchini from Montalcino’s Ciacci Piccolomini – who rather shamed us gasping, sun-baked Brits by barely breaking sweat. Good in the saddle, but also the cellar, we look forward to drinking with him tomorrow night, as Piccolomini will be our next end point.

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A huge thank you to my sponsors so far, particularly those from the wine trade, notably Port and Douro leading figure Paul Symington as well as Master of Wine celebrity couple Susie & Peter.

But I would welcome more support, as I hope to raise over £1,000 for The Benevolent, so please visit my fundraising page here.

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