Wine trade does Giro di Toscana: day 3 – Strade Bianche
If the main challenge of the first day of the Giro di Toscana was the extreme heat, and the second one as well – along with some major ascents – day three was about both these challenges, plus something else….
That additional troublesome element concerned the road surface for today’s route, which is found on a type of track common around this, the central part of Tuscany, called Strade Bianche, translating as white road.
Taking its name from the colour of the crushed marble that has been used to dress these trails over the decades, it sounds like the sort of pathway you’d seek out for its appearance and ancient past. And it is a surface with legendary-status among cyclists.
But that is because, as I’ve been reminded again today, this two-wheel sport attracts masochists.
While the Strade Bianche may appear as a beautiful snaking white trail on a postcard depicting stereotypical Tuscan scenery, on closer inspection, this road is a mix of many things that make cycling treacherous and uncomfortable – particularly on a road bike, with its rigid frame and skinny tyres.
For a start, the marble dressing is a type of coarse grit that tries to redirect your front wheels – however hard you grip the handlebars – or pierce the thin rubber wrapped around the narrow rims (punctures are a common hazard).
Beneath this sharp monochrome aggregate is something more sinister: compacted rocks. Although polished from years of passage, they still stick out, hoping to force your hands from their vital role as controller of a fast-moving machine.
Then there are the deep potholes, and closely-spaced ridges, like a cattle grid made from hardened sand.
And I haven’t mentioned the cambers and descents, which, when coupled with such a surface, require caution and respect – the Strade Bianche is keen to unseat the gung ho.
Taken together, such elements mean that riding on this surface necessitates constant and intense concentration, bringing a mental exhaustion to the physical sort that comes with crossing this undulating part of Tuscany on two human-powered wheels during a headline-making heatwave.
At one point we were embarking on a twisting descent with a 15% gradient, eyes straining to trace the direction of the tight turns ahead as well as the dented, shifting surface beneath, which flickered as we sped beneath the intermittent shade cast by the bordering cypress trees.
Consequently, one could sense the collective relief when, after 40km of Strade Bianche, and dusted white like spongecake, we reached Buonconvento, with its smooth, hot, black tarmac roads, and the promise of expresso and ice cream.
Now delivered from the rattling, clanking, sliding and teeth-clenching experience such a surface provides, news that we had a steep 15km ascent back to Montalcino – our start-point this morning – was absorbed without despondency.
So, from that point onwards, we were grateful for the way a modern road warmly greets the wheels of a lightweight bike, and raced the final stretch, despite the intensity of today’s early-afternoon sun – as I’ve stressed before, the weather for this week’s ride really is extreme.
A huge thank you to my sponsors so far, particularly in the last 24 hours Gayle Bartscherer from Jackson Family Wines, who has been extraordinarily generous, with her substantial donation pushing me closer to my target fundraising figure.
Nevertheless, I’m still hoping for more sponsors, so please visit my fundraising page here to find out why drinks trade charity The Benevolent is such a worthy cause.