Wine trade does Giro di Toscana: Day 2 – Maremma to Montalcino

The teething troubles of day one seem distant – almost 200km away in fact – as the second leg of the Giro di Toscana comes to a close in Montalcino.

Punishing climbs were a feature of day 2

The ride, done in aid of drinks trade charity The Benevolent, began yesterday in the up-and-coming coastal part of Tuscany – the Maremma – and today moved inland to the some of the most ancient and priciest vineyards in Italy: Montalcino, the mountain-top home of Brunello.

For those who read yesterday’s report will know, the main challenge of the ride so far has been the excessive heat afflicting the riders, with midday temperatures surpassing 40 degrees, making sitting in the sun almost unbearable, let alone pedalling under it.

Today was no different, except the cycling was far more demanding. While the landscape of the Maremma mostly comprises relatively flat marshes alongside the Tyrrhenian sea, the route today was extremely hilly, even by Italian standards, and would be classed as mountainous by British ones.

Indeed, the final ascent to Montalcino saw us cycle uphill without respite for almost 20km to surpass 620m. Plus, today’s pace-setter was Paolo Biachini, a former pro cyclist, and co-owner and winemaker of Ciacci Piccolomini – a much-admired Brunello producer whose winery we shall visit tomorrow.

Brunello winemaker Paolo Biachini is a former pro cyclist

Now 58, he smiled his way up to the Montalcino peak in less than 40 minutes, and, according to our brilliant support team – Mentzendorff’s Lucy and Ed – not a single bead of sweat had formed on his forehead when they met him at the top.

In contrast, my body had emptied itself of pretty much every drop of moisture in a desperate attempt to cool its glowing state. And I had failed to tail Paolo to the finishing point. (I had tried on a previous 500m climb that day, and was still recovering).

Thankfully, I rode this last big climb of today with Matthieu Barrère from Provençal wine producer Estandon, who set a consistent and sensible rate, putting us only 10 minutes behind Paolo.

He also provided much-needed companionship, as we rode side-by-side when the traffic allowed, and we had enough breath to hold short exchanges.

The rest of the time, I should admit, I ducked behind him, preferring to watch his tyre chew at the tarmac than glare at what lay ahead, even though this was Italian scenery at its best, complete with its wild forested hilltops, and more orderly slopes containing vineyards and olive groves, along with the occasional line of pencil-straight cypress trees.

Now, it should be stressed that even without the heaviness of hot air, long, steep ascents are a test of will. As such climbs continue, the legs weaken, and niggling joint-based aches worsen, with each turn of the lower limbs augmenting the exhaustion and pain. Such discomfort normally builds gradually, but came quickly today, due to the initial fast 80km worth of riding already, having set our alarms for 6am to cover as much ground as possible in the relative cool of the morning.

Today’s long ascents were shattering, even for an experienced long-distanced cyclist such as Chris Mathews from Berry Bros & Rudd

And I can tell you now that tomorrow will be tough, as the past two days have created a level of soreness that won’t go away with a few hours sleep.

In short, the Giro di Toscana may be taking in some magnificent scenery and wonderful winemaker dinners, but it’s an ordeal, with long stretches spent wishing you could be strolling along in trainers, not curved unnaturally over a low-slung handlebar, pushing your body weight into a pedal as you force a two-wheeled contraption for miles up a hot hillside.

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A huge thank you to my sponsors so far, 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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