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Italy 2001

Bikes! Pizza! Action!

Courtesy Francesca Paoletti

Chairman Bill Rides in Tuscany

"Mauro, Joe, hold up a bit. There's a group behind us."

Mauro looked back. Riding behind us was a pack of riders all dressed in their Sunday Club Best: matching jerseys, shorts, vests, jackets. Nothing looks as good, this side of a Division One pro team, as an Italian cycling club out for a ride on a Sunday in spring.

These gents were out of Marmirolo, a little town just a bit north of Mantua. We eased our speed, let the group catch us and jumped into their pack. No words were spoken. The club kindly made room for us and we rolled down the road, going about twenty miles an hour. Everyone behaved as if we always rode with the Marmirolo Club. In my far from fluent Italian, I introduced myself as an American from California. Bonds of friendship were instantly formed. I told them that we were three riders riding from Mantua, two Americans and one Milanese, headed for Lake Garda. We were given friendly advice about the roads, what turns to take, etc. One Italian gentleman starting giving me rapid-fire advice in Italian, far faster than I could comprehend . "Dica a lui" (tell him), I told him, pointing to Mauro.

The sun was coming out, it was getting warm. I slowed to take off my windbreaker. Mauro and Joe also slowed to wait for me. Being good guys, the Marmirolo club, without being asked, also slowed to let us rejoin them. I came back up to Joe and Mauro. Joe instantly put his bike into the 108" gear and did a lung-searing kilo to bridge up to our new friends. That's not the way I planned to start my first jet-lagged day cycling in Italy, but I never like to miss a good wheel taking me where I'm going.

So there we were, one guy from California, one from Colorado, and one from Milan, riding our bikes in Northern Italy, headed from the ancient city of Mantua up to beautiful Lake Garda, just west of Verona.

It all started last fall. Each year, in the first week of April, Mauro Mondonico, son of the famous frame framebuilder Antonio Mondonico, joins me in a 10 day cycling, eating, and art appreciation trip in Italy. We pick three cities and spend several days in each one making four to five hour rides into the countryside. I asked Joe Lindsey, who runs Bicycling Magazine's website "bikezone.com" (and before that, one of the editors of Bicyclist magazine), to join us. I've ridden with Joe a few times, and found him to be a strong, skillful rider. He also shares my preferences (and Mauro's) for riding. Get up early, eat an embarrassingly large breakfast, load up with lots of water and food, and go hard on the bike for hours without stopping. Joe agreed to join us on our little Giro. Our small peloton was set.

The next task was to select the cities to visit. We all met at the Interbike bicycle trade show in September, 2000 to iron out the details (and sell some bikes if it didn't interfere too much with our bike ride planning). This gave us an opportunity to bring in a consultant. Larry Theobald, who owns CycleItalia Tours, was also at Interbike. We laid out all the maps of Tuscany, Umbria, The Marches, and Lombardy on the floor. I had taken a pink highlighter pen to the maps marking all the roads Mauro and I have ridden. Mauro insists on never riding the same road twice on our tours. He feels that there is so much to see, we should always look for new places to ride. We could see where we'd been. We just needed to know where to go.

We put Larry on the job. He knows every little tiny road in Northern Italy. Mauro, who has the job of driving race referees and commissars in all the races sponsored by La Gazzetta (The Giro, Milan-San Remo, etc.), and has seen all of Italy over and over was very surprised at the depth of Larry's knowledge of Italian roads.

So, we all hunkered down over the maps. We decided on doing something new. We usually head down to the hilly areas of Tuscany or Umbria for the first day. I suggested that a flat area might be better for the first couple of days riding, until we were over the worst of our jet lag and had our legs back. We settled on Mantua as the first city.

I suggested Siena for the second city. We had visited Siena, in southern Tuscany in 1998, but Mauro's knee had blown up. He didn't get a chance to see how fine the Tuscan countryside south of Siena was. Mauro agreed. Siena was the second city.

Planning the trip

Planning the trip

We thought the little hill town of Cortona in Tuscany would be good for the third city. Joe and Mauro delegated the job of finalizing the arrangements to me. When we returned home, I was unable to find a hotel in Cortona that met our requirements. So, my two cats and I pored over the maps (I think Alex and Phoebe just like sitting on paper on the floor, but I'll give them credit for all their help). I settled on Montepulciano, a bit to the south and east of Siena. There wouldn't be too much driving going from Siena to Montepulciano, and the little hill-town sounded inviting.

Then, there was the task of getting the reservations completed. I send a standard faxed inquiry that I have developed over the years, asking the relevant questions. Not only do I ask if there are rooms available for the dates we want. I also ask if the breakfast is a buffet as opposed to a continental breakfast with just rolls and coffee. You need a lot of food if you are going to ride for hours in the hills. I also ask if breakfast can be served at 7:00AM. To ride in Italy the way that I like, an early start is preferable. Italian restaurants close at 2:00 PM. Therefore, it is ideal to have breakfast at 7 so that we can roll by 8. That gives us 5 hours to ride and still get showered and ready to eat before two. I also ask for a late checkout. This allows us to get in a ride the day we leave a city. If we roll at 8 and have to vacate the room by 10, we can't have a ride worth mentioning. By making my requests explicit ahead of time, I usually avoid problems. I say usually.

So we had our reservations for three beautiful Italian cities: Mantua, Siena, and Montepulciano. My wife, Carol, had consented to come again and make sure we behaved ourselves. Through a consolidator, we were able to get very well priced tickets on Alitalia at the end of March. This is important. The weather in Italy makes a dramatic change at the end of March. It goes from cold rain to bright sunshine almost like an electric light being turned on. This year was no exception. On the Friday before we arrived in Mantua, it was cold and raining. For Sunday, our first day of riding, it was a beautiful sunshiny day. Alitalia usually ends their cheap fares a week or so before we want to leave, so I have to work extra hard to get a good price on the tickets.

Judy at my favorite travel agency, Camarillo Travel, came through for us with cheap tickets at the very end of March. Given the shrinking commissions on airline tickets and how much work she did getting the tickets, she would have made more money flipping burgers at Burger King than searching for cheap tickets for me. Thanks, Judy!

I managed to get into reasonable shape for Spring, but not like in years past. I used to depend on my friend, Paul Scarpelli, an excellent rider, to train me into good condition. But the year before last, he dropped everything and moved to Utah. He took a job running a foundation dedicated to preserving the memory of the Polish actress, Rula Lenska. I called him this winter and asked him if he were going to move back.

"They need me here, " he said.

"For Rula?", I asked.

"No, for Hugo Winterhalter. I 'm assembling a complete discography of Winterhalter's work."

"That sounds a bit obscure, Paul."

"Sure, you're just like all the rest. But Melachrino, Kostolanetz, Mantovani; they would all be nothing without the great Winterhalter."

So, I was again left without a strong training partner, but Paul's dedication knows no bounds. People tell me they see him, driving in his battered Yugo, looking for old and rare recordings of Winterhalter, whom he calls The Master. Godspeed, Paul.

So, in reasonable, but not sharp condition, I headed off to Italy to ride with Mauro and Joe for 8 days in what I hoped would be the Italian sun.

Saturday, March 31

As Carol and I walked past the barrier at Italian customs at the Malpensa airport in Milan, there was Mauro. He had already picked up Joe who had flown on a different flight from Denver. Mauro had the van there, so we loaded up our luggage and headed of to the Mondonico home (and shop) to assemble the bikes.

After greeting Antonio and his lovely wife, Gabriella, the first thing to do, before uncrating the bikes, or anything else, is to ask Gabri for a cup of her coffee. I try very hard not to be rude or be abrupt about it, but this is absolutely the best coffee in the world. I knew she bought a new coffee machine, so I as was apprehensive. Would this new coffee be as good as I had remembered?

Yes! It was fantastic. Gabri still has the magic touch. After a long transatlantic flight, getting a delicious cup of Gabri's brew was the perfect way to let us know that we were in Italy. Things will, for the next 10 days, taste better, be prettier, be kinder and more friendly.

Antonio insisted on putting the bikes together himself. He put his fine eye to everything, making sure that the transport of the bikes had not knocked anything out of adjustment. Once again, I brought my favorite bike, my Torelli Nitro Express. I love this bike. It's so nimble, comfortable, and stable. I keep trying other bikes, but I always come back to this one, my baby. It's equipped with Record with the same Torelli Modular Hubs I used last year. I want to keep thrashing these hubs under all sorts of conditions; wet winters, potholed Italian farm roads, airline baggage handlers, to make sure they are the best. So far, they've taken a licken' and kept on ticken'.

I've found that for me, a 13-23 is the perfect gearing when coupled with a 39-53 crankset. I don't bother with the 12 so that I can have my useful gears closer together. If we were headed for the high Alps, I might want a bit lower gear, but for the Apennines, this has always been perfect. After passing Antonio's muster, we took our bikes out for a test spin.

I always love spending time in the little Mondonico workshop. There, I can see and hold tools that Antonio's father used to build bikes. I prefer riding a bike built by Mondonico to bikes built by anyone else in the world. I've ridden and raced all different kinds of bikes in my over 35 years of cycling. Give me a real bike anytime over the fad bike of the month. One time someone asked Mauro why he rode his steel EL-OS Mondonico when he could have or build anything else.

"Because I like this bike." I can't improve on that simple truth.

Then we loaded up the van, filling every little nook and cranny with our bikes and luggage and headed for Mantua.

Just as we were driving away, Mauro's brother Giuseppe rolled up on his bike. We had expected Mauro's ace-climber brother and his friend Fabio (who joined us for a day last year) to join us, but things didn't quite work out. Fabio's knee was giving him trouble, and he had to give it some rest. Giuseppe also decided to stay in Concorezzo and work.

And so, there we were. Riding with a pack of Italians on a beautiful Sunday in April, headed north to Lake Garda.

April 1, Sunday.

In years past, I've ridden with Mauro from his house in Concorezzo, near Milan, up the shores of Lake Lecco and Como. While these shoreline rides that take us through Bellagio are spectacular, I felt the price we had to pay was too high. The ride to the lake shore is roads that are just packed with cars. While Italian motorists (even truck drivers) are invariably kind and respectful towards cyclists, a road dense with cars and trucks, soot and smog, is just not the ideal place to ride. We now just assemble our bikes and drive to our first cycling city.

With Mantua, we had decided on an experiment. While there were lots of little roads leading out of Mantua, we really didn't know how dense the traffic on them was. There's only one way to really find out: go there and ride. Today, we decided to just head due north out of Mantua for the east shore of Lake Garda. The west shore road of the lake is riddled with tunnels, and Italian tunnels are to be avoided. They are just too dark for a cyclist to be seen.

About 10 kilometers out of Mantua at the little town of Marmirolo, legs stiff and bodies unready we met our aforementioned Italian cycling friends. The speed was steady, about twenty miles an hour over the flat plain. That was fine with us. All the Italian espresso in the world can't make a jet-lagged body believe that the ten hour time change didn't happen.

After about another 15 kilometers, we parted ways with our friends with lots of friendly "ciaos" and other good wishes and headed north through Valeggio. As we got closer to Lake Garda, the terrain changed. The level plain changed to gently rolling countryside.

At Peschiera de Garda, we were at the lake, but the road stayed a few hundred meters from the shore. This being Sunday, we saw pack after pack of riders. One club after another, all decked out in dazzling finery (Carol read that cycling clothing must be designed by parrots) rode by. We were in Veneto now, the district that contains Venice, Vicenza (the home of Campagnolo), Padua, and Verona. This region, any Italian will tell you, has cycling in its blood. Never, anywhere else I have been, do I see as many riders as I do when I'm in Veneto. Clearly, the route we had chosen, a ride up the east shore of the lake, was a very popular one with the local riders. Pack after pack kept going by.

"Ciao!"

"Salve!"

Always, we get a friendly greeting as we pass the oncoming riders. Yet, we were never caught by a group from behind, except for the time that morning when we waited. These clubs all have a very low-key attitude. The rides are friendly, and all seem to ride without intensity. I have never felt challenged by a group we've met and joined, except when going through city traffic. Then, sit down, shut up, and hang on! It seems Italians prefer to go faster in traffic, weaving in and out of cars, than they do on the open road.

As we rode up the lake shore, cypresses and pines started to appear in the hill sides and the road came up against the shoreline. Now this was riding. The views weren't in the class of Lecco and Como, but I wasn't complaining. The countryside was very fine, the sun was out and the road was calling.

A few miles north of the city of Garda, we turned around. We didn't want to, but we were about 37 miles out and for the first day we wanted to hold it to 75 miles total.

We were all finally getting warmed up. The sun was giving us a feeling that we could ride, and ride hard. We started to push things a bit. On our way out of Peschiera, we caught a couple of strong looking Italian lads.

"Super, I thought. More big-ring help. We'll be home in no time."

Alas. These boys had no intention of helping. Every time one of us would pull off, our new Italian friends would open up room for us to pull in in front of them. No problem, they aren't slowing us down, and maybe they didn't have the chops to play this hard.

After a few big-ring kilometers, with an intersection coming up, Mauro slowed to check his map.

I couldn't understand the exact words our Italian passengers used, but those words conveyed the sentiment that we had no business slowing. It seems that we were to hold a strong, steady pace and keep pulling them down the road. This was communicated in very firm terms.

I will not record here what Joe said.

A slight headwind came up, but we had our blood up. Bigger gears, we were hammering. I love this sport!

We ended up on one of those busy roads with lots of traffic for the last few kilometers, but we were in the zone. We got back to the hotel with about 75 miles for the morning.

Ducal Palace, Mantua

The Ducal Palace in Mantua, seen from the Piazza Ducale

After an overlarge lunch, we had the afternoon to see Mantua. Mantua had the good fortune to be ruled by the Gonzaga family during the Renaissance, despots with impeccable taste. Francesco II married Isabella d'Este, one of the legends of Renaissance. Isabella, despite the smaller purse that the little city of Mantua allowed her, was able to attract writers and artists of the very highest quality to her court. Some artists bristled at her commissions, however. She didn't have the sure, understanding hand of Lorenzo or Cosimo d'Medici. The Medici knew how to give the rough outlines of a job, and allowed the artist to express himself fully within the constraints of these intelligent commissions. Isabella micro-managed her artists and some refused to work for her. Yet, she was a brilliant woman who was elegant, vivacious, with superb taste. She made Mantua an intellectual and artistic capital.

The Ducal Palace is a large, rambling affair that was started in the 13th century. The Gonzagas kept adding to it for the next 300 years. This huge building was filled with enough wonders to keep me open mouthed for the afternoon. There is work here by Rubens, Pisanello, Giulio Romano, and one of my favorites, Andrea Mantagna.

The palace has a whole room entirely frescoed by Mantegna. Although the brilliant Mategna spent a large part of his professional life in Mantua, only this one room of his work is left. There is one painting of the Gonzaga court I particularly like. Somehow Mantegna has captured the feeling of power. Everyone in the picture is standing and talking, Ludovico, the ruling Gonzaga, above it all disinterestedly turns to an advisor to tell him something. A brilliant insight preserved for hundreds of years.

Detail from a fresco by Mantegna in the Ducal Palace, showing the Gonzaga court

The Palace also houses a set of the huge tapestries made from designs by Raphael depicting scenes from the New Testament. The original cartoons (designs from which the tapestries were made) are in London's Victoria and Albert Museum. The cartoons are worth a trip to London just by themselves. Every time I see wonderful old tapestries, it makes me wish I could see them when they were new, when their colors were strong and vibrant. They must have been awesome.

Basilica di Sant'Andrea

The interior of the Basilica di Sant'Andrea. Photo courtesy of Joe Lindsey.

We then headed off to the Basilica di Sant'Andrea. Stuck in a corner, with newer buildings built right next to it with no open space of its own, it is like so many Italian buildings. The exterior, crammed into a corner of the square, gives no hint of what's inside. Designed by the great architect Leon Battista Alberti, it is one of the most satisfying churches to be in that I have ever visited. You would think that after hundreds and hundreds of years, the basic basilican design for building a church would have been refined and perfected. Yet, this building, by virtue of its perfect interior proportions just makes you feel good to be there. I don't know any other way to put it. Alberti was a genius.

April 2, Monday

We had to leave the hotel by 12:30 today, so we had to keep our ride a bit shorter. We decided to head to the southeast. Our friends at Vittoria Shoes had told us to ride to Sabbioneta, a model city started from scratch by the Gonzaga family in the 16th century.

As soon as we got out of town, we were on the lonely farm roads that I love. The rural quietness brought to mind the most renowned son of Mantua, the poet Virgil. While Virgil is most famous for his long poem about the founding of Rome, "The Aeneid", he gained his initial fame writing about the farming life. His most beautiful lines extol the simple pleasures of farming, with the constant ebb and flow of life in the country. Riding through these narrow lanes, I could understand the emotions that must have moved Virgil to write 2,000 years ago. Really, little has changed.

We tooled along, going slowly, stopping to look at this, take a picture of that. Today's route involved doing something that so far, we had never succeeded in doing. The Touring Club Italiano maps that we use have the littlest roads marked as what we call "little white roads". We have tried to find the turnoffs to the little white roads before, but we have always missed them, always. This was no exception. We missed the turnoff to Sabbioneta, and so continued Southeast to Viadana, just a little short of the longest river in Italy, the Po.

Near Mantua

Scenery southwest of Mantua

From Viadana, we had no trouble finding the regular road to Sabbioneta. From here on, the roads were not as bucolic or lonely, but it was still rural Italy, and it was still beautiful.

We came to the big, imposing city walls of Sabbioneta and rode into town. I guess I'm spoiled. Sabbioneta was to me, just another perfect, pretty little Italian town. Just another ordinary day in paradise.

I stopped to ask a group of old Italian Mamas doing their morning shopping for the directions to the Ducal Palace, introducing myself as an American. One lady in particular took charge, giving me directions with emphatic gestures, making sure that we completely understood. As she continued, she stopped using simple Italian, so I asked her to talk to my friend, who was an Italian. I told her that I was a bit stupid ("una poca testa") and didn't understand her. I told her that Mauro was from Milan.

"Milanese!?!"

"Si."

That was it. She said that there was no point in giving more directions because people from Milan know everything and bid us be on our way.

Joe was a bit baffled why Mauro and I rode off laughing. I guess that around the world, small-town people resent the knowing attitude of people from the big city.

We didn't see anything that required an intense examination in Sabbioneta, so we hit the road. Once again, we put the bikes into the big meat and pounded on home to Mantua. The day before, we had taken a wrong turn when coming into town and ended up on the roughest cobbles I have ever encountered. My hands still tingle at the memory. This time, we got it right, and rolled right into town and to our hotel. We managed to squeeze in 57 miles over the Po River plain.

We packed up the bikes and headed off to our next city, Siena, in Tuscany.

We arrived at our hotel, the "Hotel Stupid", or in Italian, "Albergo Stupido". I won't mention the name of this hotel, as their bad service wasn't the result of malice or bad intentions. They were just uncaring incompetents in a tourist town that assured them of lots of customers. If you are planning a trip to Siena, send me an e-mail, and I'll warn you away from this place.

We unloaded our luggage and bikes and wheeled everything into the lobby. We were told that we could not put the bikes in the rooms. I always try for permission to take the bikes to the room, feeling that they are much safer there. We explained that we are very careful, and that the bikes are very special. The hotel was firm. They assured us that the locked garage was perfectly safe. With no choice, we allowed them put the bikes in their parking garage, comforted with the assurance of locked gates and 24 hour TV surveillance.

Then, they told us that we had two rooms with double beds.

"No, Signor! My reservation request is specific, we must have a room with two singles for my two friends." They argued a bit. I was firm, and they agreed to change the room. This wasn't going well.

As usual, they asked for passports to record our details in their registration. We handed them copies of our passports. Italian hotels are notorious for keeping passports for up to a day to record just a couple of numbers, and treat this most valuable of all documents quite casually. So we took Larry's (CycleItalia) suggestion and made copies.

"I'm sorry, but we must have the original passport. It is our requirement at this hotel."

"What is missing from the copy that you need to have the original?"

"It is our rule here. Only for 5 minutes."

"OK, we'll bring our bags up to the room and come down for the passports."

When we came down, they were just talking, doing nothing. I requested our passports. They had not yet started to record the information from the passports. And then, I'm not making this up: they photocopied our papers and handed them back to us.

Then, I confirmed that breakfast was to be at 7.

"I'm sorry, breakfast is at 7:15."

"What, we confirmed with you by fax that breakfast was at 7!"

"It's only 15 minutes, what does it matter?"

"If you had been honest about it, we would have gone to another hotel. After three days, that means that we lose almost an hour of riding."

They shrugged their shoulders. Later, I got a call to my room that breakfast would be at 7. I thanked them for their consideration. But...breakfast was served at 7:15.

April 3, Tuesday

I love to get up early when I stay in old Italian cities. I creep out of the hotel before sunrise. The city is quiet as a few people hurry to their jobs. As the sun starts to come up, the soft light gives a particular feel to the ancient stone buildings. This morning, the sky directly above was an intense blue, the blue Italian painters get when they put in lapis lazuli in the pigment. Lower down, at the roof top level, as the sun rose, the sky was lighter, and the buildings started to take on a three-dimensional appearance and the increasingly intense light gave a harder look to the city. The streetsweepers were out cleaning up the city for the new day. Little trucks were delivering freshly baked rolls to the bars and hotels.

Siena

A street scene in Siena

In "Faust", Goethe says that with each new dawn, each new day, the world is reborn and made new. This morning I could feel the wisdom of those words.

I popped into a bar for a cappuccino. The barman made me one with firm froth and pointed to a box of freshly delivered baked goods.

I took one. It was still warm. The warm cream filling oozed onto my hand. I could feel the delicate, buttery, flaky crust crumble in my mouth. This was living.

I returned to the hotel for breakfast to find the night clerk (charged with watching the bikes and cars in the locked garage with TV cameras) still snoring loud enough to wake the dead. He had turned the TV cameras off, I suppose so that the light from the screen would not bother him while he dozed. Nice job.

Mauro and Joe met me for a very good breakfast buffet. We ate our fill and set to exploring the countryside southeast of Siena. In 1998, Pat Brady and I, heading southeast, had ridden as far as the ruined Abbey of San Galgano. The road was a beautiful one, and I wanted to share it with Joe and Mauro.

We easily found our way out of town and headed out highway number 73. The route takes us through open, rolling countryside and then changes into a narrow, steep, pretty valley cut by a small stream. Out of the valley, we started to get our first switchback climbs of the trip. The day was warming, and we were at last finding our legs that had been taken from us by the jet lag. I had on Qoleum's Medium Embrocation that day. As my muscles contracted, I could feel the warmth start to grow from deep within my legs on the cool morning.

About 24 miles out of Siena, we pulled off the road at San Galgano. I love ruins. This particular one is a deserted Cistercian monastery built in the Gothic style: pointed arches and that powerful verticality that makes the visitor look up to the heavens.

Abbey at San Galgano

Ruins of the Abbey at San Galgano

It was almost completely deserted. We were at a Michelin 2-star site, and we had it to ourselves.

After the black plague had caused the Cistercians to leave the monastery for a place in town, the valuable lead roof had been taken off the building. Without a roof, the gothic stone walls truly look like a lost relic of a past age. The pigeons were the only other visitors. Their cooing was loud, as their calls echoed off the otherwise silent stone walls.

Gothic never really found a congenial home in Italy. Italians consider it barbaric and fussy. That's why real Gothic building are rare in Italy. The flying buttresses look to an Italian as if someone had forgotten to remove the scaffolding after the job was done.

Back on the bikes before our legs completely seized up. The hills were gently rolling with none of the climbs over 6%. The hills were covered with lush green grass, interspersed with fields of mustard in bright yellow bloom. The bright Italian sunshine made the fields of yellow and green almost incandescent.

We circled around to the east at the little town of Gabellino and then started to head north, back to Siena. Now we started to climb. We were feeling good, so we attacked the 6 to 12 percenters with gusto, climbing and descending. We were running a bit late, having taken our time for the first 30 or so miles. Not wanting to miss having a good hot lunch (Italian restaurants close at 2) we really started to hightail it.

We have taken to calling Mauro "Il Diavolo" for his unholy descending ability. Sometimes we call him Lucifer, other times Mephistopheles or Beelzebub. But no matter. He can drop down a switchback as if he were riding a sled on greased rails. This session was no exception. Every time he starts to go down any kind of winding descent, I try to stay with him. Then, as he gains speed, I have to just let him go. My only defense is to drop him on the climb and hope I've gained enough time for the descent.

We hammered with everything we had, riding as hard as I ever have this side of a race. When we got back to the hotel, we had just short of 80 miles. My legs knew it.

As we walked into the hotel lobby, there was Carol talking to Valeria. Valeria and I were good friends, even though we had never met. I gave Carol and her a quick greeting, noting that we were late and promising to smell better after a quick trip to the shower. No one seemed to want me to stay, so I assume that I had a certain "air" about me.

Valeria Paoletti had sent me an e-mail a few months ago after reading the diaries of my last few trips to Italy. We became good friends. I invited her to join us for a day on our vacation, if she could arrange it. Through the magic of e-mail, there she was. She was returning from a geophysics symposium in Nice, and had arranged to rent a bike in Siena and join us for a ride. So, we were set for a slightly bigger group the next day. Mauro and Joe wanted an easier day tomorrow since today's ride had been so hard. We decided to ride into the Chianti country, almost due north of Siena.

Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

Palazzo Pubblico on the Piazza del Campo by night. Photo courtesy of Joe Lindsey.

Since the day was warm and sunny, we took a chance on lunch. Siena's open city square, the Piazza del Campo, is famous as the site of the "Palio" horse race. The restaurants that ring the square give indifferent food and service to the hordes of tourists. In 1998 we were the recipients of such indifference. But, we are eternal optimists, with our hope trying to triumph over the evidence. But, we got lucky. We had an excellent meal in an unforgettable setting. Valeria, coming from the Naples area, the home of the finest pizza in the world, thought the pizza was forgettable. If I could have pizza all the time with bufala mozzarella, I wouldn't think much of pizza served elsewhere.

April 4 Wednesday

We all met for an overlarge breakfast that was actually available at 7! Let's give credit to this hotel where credit is due. We went out to the garage to get our bikes. I took a close look at my bike. My front derailleur had been giving me fits the day before, and now I noticed that the crank had shifted slightly to the left. I had taken the bottom bracket out and retorqued it to factory specs before we left for Italy. Yet, it looked like the adjustable cup might have come loose.

Well, there was nothing to be done except take the bike to a shop and have it retightened. We all went to the shop that had rented Valeria her bike. After much fussing, it was discovered that the bottom bracket was destroyed. The spindle had come loose from the bearings. It had to be replaced. The shop, which had many pro bikes on the wall, did not have a single Chorus or Record Italian threaded bottom bracket. I then asked that they find any crank, new or used, at any price, and stick it on the bike. They had nothing. They called around and found a shop in Colle Val d'Elsa, 20 miles away, that had a Chorus bottom bracket for me. We piled into the van with the bike to get the new BB installed.

What a difference. This mechanic (the shop's name is "Gippo") knew exactly what he was doing. Everything was cleaned and greased before installing the new bearing cartridge. While I was feeling the press of time, this mechanic, like every other Italian bike mechanic I have watched, was very leisurely about his work. At one time, he stopped everything to talk to Mauro at length about Shimano parts and walked away from his work (my bike) to show Mauro the parts and make his point clear. I've been coming to Italy long enough to know that the right thing to do under these circumstances is to just go Zen. Ooommmmmm.

But wait a moment. This is Italy. The human connection always comes first. Italians don't blindly rush here and there, mindlessly going about their jobs like automatons. You get to know the other guy and talk about what's important. Sanity reigns. So the job took 10 minutes longer. My bike was well cared for and the mechanic enjoyed his work

If I wanted a hurried vacation, I could go to New York. If I wanted to relax, and take things in an intelligent, sane manner, I should go to Italy. I was in Italy, so I was slowing down. A bit.

After lunch, we decided what to do. Rain was predicted for the afternoon, and the sky was certainly looking threatening. I had the clothes for bad weather, so I decided to ride, if even for an hour or two. Valeria, who works at Mount Vesuvius (she is a geophysicist), and is unafraid of the elements, also voted to ride. Given the prospect of a short ride, Mauro and Joe decided to use the afternoon as usefully as they could. We had a terrace outside our rooms with a superb view of the hills of Siena. They decided that the virtues of the terrace and the intermittent sun should be intensely explored.

A little after 2 in the afternoon, Valeria and I headed out of Siena, going east, then due north into the classic Chianti country. I had never been here before. This was stunning! Going north up Highway 408, the countryside was just beautiful. The hills were covered with vineyards and olive trees. There was just the slightest, gentlest breeze, making the olive trees sway and show the silvery undersides of their leaves. The vines were just leafing out. The climbs and descents were gentle.

And hey! Valeria could ride. I didn't know what to expect. At one point, as I warmed up, I wanted to stop and take off my jacket. I sent Valeria on ahead, thinking I would easily catch her. Not so. I thought I was motoring, but around each corner I expected to see her, wearing Mauro's blue windbreaker. I had to go for a while before I caught her, and I had to work to do it.

The sky kept looking ugly. At mile 17 I asked Valeria if she wanted to turn back, being worried about getting caught in a cold rainstorm. Valeria said press on, wanting to do the whole 70 kilometer loop.

Just before we turned west and south, to head back, we met a group of old, gray-haired riders (I guess that also describes me) coming the other way. They shouted that we were coming to some real climbing ahead. Boy, were they right.

At Radda in Chianti it got serious. Radda was a beautiful hilltop town, with a view of several valleys as we looked out from the hill top, but it was work to get there. It seemed like all we did was climb, but looking at the map, there were some descents. The coasting part just wasn't etched into my mind like a good 12% wall.

Once we hit the road due south to Siena, we had a long, gentle descent a lot of the way to Siena.

We ended up going 42 miles today, with some serious climbing. Brava, Valeria! And, we never got any rain.

April 5, Thursday

After breakfast (at 7:15) we went back to our rooms. Rain. The sky was looking like it would clear. At about 8:45, we decided to take a chance. The rain had stopped and the sun was out. We had decided to do the same loop Valeria and I had done the day before, with an extension of some extra miles added halfway through the ride

We headed on out, the bright sun was peaking out from the heavy looking clouds. As we headed north things started to look uglier. As we started the gentle part of the climbing, it started to rain. Now Mauro actually likes to ride in the warm rain, so he was happy. It was just a light drizzle, and we were dressed for it. As we started the harder part of the climb to Radda, it started to rain hard; cold, hard rain. Then, hail. This is sunny Italy? We were just a few miles short of the halfway point, and the steep climb was keeping us warm, but I didn't need hail. As we got to the top, the hail stopped, then the rain stopped. It was still cold, but it was getting better. When we got to the road south, headed back to Siena, Joe and Mauro decided to head back to the barn for warm showers and hot coffee.

Since the sun was out, I decided to follow our original plan, and head north to Greve in Chianti (that's the full name of the city). The roads were dry. I wasn't feeling soggy at all. The road did a nice, gentle, then increasingly sharp and curving descent into a little valley, filled with dense trees and a little village. Then, I immediately had to start climbing again. It was all winding, hilly countryside and more beautiful if that is possible than the roads we had just been on. Pines, cypresses, and oaks grew where the ground was not farmed, and olive orchards, pasture, and vineyards where the land was cultivated. In one little vinyard an old man with clippers was pruning his vines. He waved, "Ciao". "Salve."

Just a mile short of Greve I looked at my watch. I wanted to continue, but I had to get back or miss my appointment with a hot pizza. That's a date I don't ever want to break.

As I rolled down the road, I was feeling better and better, stronger and stronger. I was taking each hill crest in a monster gear, flying down the road to Siena. Yet, I was troubled. The views, looking to the west, of the valleys and hills, was spectacular. What should I do? Slow and admire the view, or listen to my body and keep putting the hammer down?

The great composer, Robert Schumann, was also the foremost music critic of his time. He used to write about the competing forces that fought within him. One, he called "Floristan". Floristan was the poet, the dreamer. The other he called "Eusebius". Eusebius was the hard-driving worker; the part of him that demanded performance and work. My Floristan and Eusebius were fighting. Admire the view, or crunch the monster gear? Look or crunch? Floristan or Eusebius?

Aw heck. Roll it! When you feel this good, you just have to put it in the monster gear and go. Yeehaw!

By the way, if you remember Schumann as the prototypical Romance era composer who was just a writer of pretty tunes, go back and give him another chance. Schumann wrote fine music: dense, complex, and adult. He refused to write music that would show off a performer's technical abilities at the expense of his musical message, despite constant calls for such fashionable bravura compositions. Even his wife, Clara, one the finest musicians of the age, asked him to write a Liszt-type showoff piece. Schumann, a man of strong convictions, refused. I wish his life had ended in a better way. He died in an insane asylum.

But, I digress.......

April 6, Friday,

Florence

We scheduled a day of rest after five days of riding. Last year, I didn't take a day off and was too tired to really ride with any gusto the last couple of days. Since we were in Siena, just a few miles south of Florence, we decided to take a day trip to the Renaissance City. I think, along with Periclean Athens, and possibly the France of Louis the XIV, Florence of the 15th century was one of the extraordinary high points of human creativity. Joe had never been to Florence. So, we decided to take a day trip.

We left as early as we could, and arrived by bus at the church of Santa Maria Novella about 10 in the morning. I had been giving the half-day assault on Florence no small amount of thought. Four or five hours is the absolute limit for a walking tourist. After four hours, the sightseeing becomes an ordeal. After five, one feels like there are bloody stumps at the end of one's ankles.

So, The Renaissance in a few hours..... what to see out of the overwhelming abundance of fabulous art that this incredible city offers?

Fist we walked directly to the Church of San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapel and Tombs. We got there before the tourists were completely awake. The line was short, and we were able to go right in. Now most critics hate the Chapel with its overdone, lush walls of inlaid marble and other colorful stone. They use words like "tasteless", "overdone" and the like. I even grant that a bit of restraint would have improved the chapel. Yet, when you walk in, the grandiose feeling with what I believe is hard dose of baroque emotional overkill just hits you between the eyes. I like coming here. But, I also like going to Las Vegas. Keep that in mind when you read any of my art judgments.

But there is more to come. There is a little room in the chapel, the Medici tombs, with some of Michelangelo's most famous sculptures. Night and Day, and Dawn and Dusk are here. And unlike the Pieta in St. Peter's in Rome, you can come right up close and see the master's work. Every time I see these sculptures I wish that Michangelo had liked the female body as much as he admired the male form. His sculptures of women (except when he portrays Mary) are always disconcerting, looking like soft men.

We had seen enough to make the whole trip to Florence (and maybe Italy) worthwhile, but we moved on. The Medici Chapel is built next to San Lorenzo. The church of San Lorenzo never got a facade. Carol and I call it the "Mud Church" because of its unfinished front. Yet inside, as so often happens in Italy, the exterior gives no hint or promise of what's inside. Fillipo Brunelleschi, who remodeled the church, created a restrained, elegant interior that, with his use of space and light gives the visitor are real sense of repose.

In our short, hurried trip through the Florentine Renaissance, the church of San Lorenzo gives us an abundance of fine pieces to see what happens when a society removes the carbon rods from its creativity reactor. Works by Donatello, Fillipo Lippi, Fiorentino are scattered throughout the church. We could spend all day right here, but there is so much to see in the rest of the city.

Florence, seen from the Piazzale Michalangelo

Florence, seen from the Piazzale Michelangelo. The dome of the cathedral dominates the landscape

Then, off to the Cathedral. This huge building dominates Florence. To me, one part of this huge building symbolizes the Renaissance more than anything else: the dome. The Dome of the Cathedral of Florence IS the Renaissance. It symbolizes the daring, brilliance, audacity, creativity, precision, cutthroat politics and beauty that were all hallmarks of this brilliant pinpoint in time and space.

When the cathedral was designed, it was determined that the giant octagonal space at the crossing would be covered with a dome of specified proportions. Believe it or not, no one knew exactly how to cover this huge expanse with masonry. It is a complex question, but the basic problem was how to hold the bricks in place as the dome was constructed. The extreme height of the dome and the shortage of timber, among other problems precluded using a wooden support. It was even suggested that a giant pile of dirt be used to support the dome while it was being built. Someone even went so far as to suggest scattering coins in the giant mountain of soil, thinking that people digging for money would help remove the dirt from the cathedral once the dome was completed.

The brilliant Fillipo Brunelleschi figured that he could build the dome in such a way that the compressive forces generated by the bricks would hold the bricks in place as the dome was erected. He was right. Brunelleschi had to invent all new machinery to convey the masonry to the dome He had to fight the political intrigues of competing artists that wanted a hand in the job (most notably Ghiberti of the "Doors to Paradise" fame), and the varying fortunes of the City of Florence as she warred and intrigued with other cities. Sometimes, there just wasn't enough money to proceed with the job.

Yet, over everything, Brunelleschi triumphed. I believe that it is still the largest masonry dome in the world. It is perfectly proportioned, a magnificent symbol of determination and genius.

In our rabid four-hour search for the Renaissance, a trip to the top of the dome was in order. The lines of tourists were still short, so we walked up the 463 steps to the top of the dome. The dome is in two pieces. There is the heavy supporting dome, the inside of which you see when you are inside the cathedral. The tile-covered dome you see from the outside is a shell, resting on the strong inner dome. When we climbed to the top, we walked in between these two shells.

We still had more time. We went into the cathedral. There, on the wall is a fresco that is a testimony to the dishonesty of governments. Sir John Hawkwood was hired by the Florentine government as a mercenary. He made them promise to erect a bronze equestrian statue of him. After he was dead, instead of going to the considerable expense of making the giant casting, they hired Paolo Ucello to paint a picture of Hawkwood mounted on a horse. Much cheaper. Hawkwood probably came out ahead. Given that so many bronzes end up getting melted down for cannon, the painting probably had a better chance of surviving. Maybe Hawkwood (called "Acuto" by the Italians) had the last laugh.

By the way, that's why so many of the Greek originals of famous statues didn't survive. Most were bronze and were the first casualties of war. The Romans made fine marble copies that could not be melted down and made into weapons.

Insatiable, we headed over the Baptistery to see Ghiberti's famous "Doors of Paradise". While a great deal is made of the fact that they took 50 years to complete, we should not be misled. Ghiberti ran an extensive shop, with many employees. He took on more commissions than he could handle and complete in a reasonable time. He didn't just work on the panels of the doors. I think just getting in Brunelleschi's way, trying to get control of the dome construction was almost a full-time job for him.

Yet, the work is fine, so very fine.

We headed over to the museum of the cathedral. There, some of the originals of the panels of the second and finer doors are displayed, all restored. The doors on the baptistry are copies. Heck, here are works by Arnolfo di Cambio, Donatello, della Robbia, and a Michelangelo "Pieta". So much was produced by a little town in a little country, so long ago in just a few short years. So much of it is so fine, so deep. Yet, now we have a planet of teeming billions, and none alive can match what these few men did.

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
 
John Keats

We walked over to the square of the city hall "Pallazzo Vecchio". There is a giant ugly fountain by Ammannati of Neptune. Not everything made during the Renaissance is immortal. Michelangelo used to walk by it muttering Amminati's name, bemoaning the terrible fate of an innocent piece of marble in Ammannati's hands ("what a waste of marble") . Close by is the Loggia dei Lanzi. There is Cellini's "Perseus". There's so much...

We headed off to catch our bus. We stopped by the church "Santa Maria Novella" whose facade was designed by Alberti, where the young Michelangelo ground colors for Ghirlandaio. The genius and the beauty keep coming at us. I'm overwhelmed. I have enough stuffed in me to last for years, as I remember and think about these familiar but beloved beautiful friends.

Back in Siena, we loaded up the van and headed off to our last city, Montepulciano, a little Tuscan town perched high on a hill.

Montepulciano

Montepulciano, seen from below

Sometimes, you end up somewhere, and you know that everything is all right. We walked up to the reception room of the Hotel Marzocco and immediately felt good. We were shown every courtesy and consideration. We were shown an excellent locked place for the bikes that made us feel very safe. Our rooms were excellent. Ours had a terrace with an astounding view of the Tuscan countryside. Montepulciano is about the highest hill town I have ever visited, and the view from our room was truly outstanding. We could see all the way to Lake Trasimeno.

After we got settled in, Mauro wanted (no, insisted is the right word) us to clean our bikes. He had thought ahead and had brought cleaning rags. I wanted to get a little spray bottle of some kitchen cleaner so that we could get some of the stubborn grime off our bikes. Several of the hotel employees were gathered when I made my request for directions to a little grocery store that I could walk to and get a bottle of cleaner.

What ensued is another one of those windows into the Italian soul.

There was a discussion. A serious discussion. Where such cleaners might be found? Where the various little stores in town are located? What exact kind of cleaner might be needed? No, that store would not have cleaners specifically for bicycles.

Finally, a man came out with a spray bottle of kitchen cleaner.

"Perfetto!" I said.

Now, to an American, this seems like just a confused bit of silly babbling. It is so easy to misunderstand what was happening. Instead of a confused cacophony of confused people, several caring people were discussing exactly how to satisfy our request, and they wanted to get it right. Italians don't approach problems the same way northern people do, and it is so easy to ascribe northern explanations for Southern cultural differences and be contemptuous of how they act. It can be maddening to an impatient American. Just go Zen. Everything is OK. That delicious food, the beautiful art are the result of thoughtful care. But it doesn't happen in a vacuum. Cultures are complete codes of behavior and manifest themselves in every bit of human action.

We got the bikes cleaned and oiled, and we were ready to roll the next day.

April 7, Saturday

Rain was predicted for today, but we had the right clothes, and we had a day of rest. We thought we were feeling frisky, so what the heck? Let's ride.

We had plans for a big loop, with several possibilities of bailing and heading back if we ran out of time. The country here is so hilly, it's easy to average less than 17 miles an hour while going all out. We planned to ride to the hill town of Cortona, and the head down to Lake Trasimeno, circumnavigate the big lake, then head south to Chiusi, and then back up to Montepulciano. In flat country, or gently rolling countryside, or a group with better form, this was all possible. We had our hopes up.

Breakfast at the Marzocco Hotel was a treat. I glumly accepted the fact that this good hotel would not serve breakfast until 7:30. Since everything else was so perfect, it was a small price to pay. When we got down to the breakfast room, the lady told us that there would be a delay of five minutes, while she got the bread.

She ran over to the bakery and came back with loves of fresh bread. A little butter and jam and we were in heaven. She asked us if we wanted orange juice. We said, "Sure!" She went back into the kitchen and we could hear some whirring noises. She came out with glasses of freshly squeezed Sicilian Blood Orange juice. Mama Mia! This was living. Then, as were were demolishing their breakfast room, she came out with a plate of fresh, warm crescent rolls, so delicate and buttery. We could have stayed right there, eating until we burst.

Now I ask you. So often we calculate the quality of our lives in dollars, or the acquisition of objects. Yet, what greater pleasure is there in the world than a breath of clean air, a glass of clear, cool, pure water, some fresh bread, hard exercise, and a healthy body? Add in the love of family and the camaraderie of good friends and enough money to avoid poverty, and everything else seems like so much dross; heavy anchors of an acquisitive life that mean nothing.

We headed out of the city, with the rolling hills going off forever. One look at the country and we knew we were in for a morning of hard work.

The ride out of Montepulciano was first a long, gentle descent with a short steep section of 12%. Heading north to Cortona, the hills just rolled and gave way, mile after mile, then a steep climb up to Cortona. A few miles out of Cortona, the hills got serious, Really serious. We had a long climb of over 7 miles with pitches over 12%. For the first time in years, I was wishing that I had something smaller than a 39 - 23. It was enough, but I would have been more comfortable with a 24 on some of the steepest parts. I didn't bring a heart monitor this year, And it is probably just as well. I'm sure I would have scared myself.

I rode on ahead, thinking I would be able to handle my cycling companions roughly. I hit the climb with all I had and looked back. Damn! There was Joe. What the hell was he doing there, and closing fast? And looking good doing it? I pretended to be charitable and look like I was just being nice and waiting for him. He came up to me and we proceeded to continue the climb. Suddenly I was feeling both the accumulated mileage of the week and all of my 50 years. We went over the top and started on a long descent into a valley. We never wait at a hill top for Mauro. Given Lucifer's ability to descend, it is a waste of time. Joe and I (I call us the Chicken Brothers) went down the hill knowing that the hot breath of Satan was going to be at our backs in no time at all. At the very bottom, he sizzled by me. Did I smell sulfur as he blitzed past? Were those flames just under his tires as he flew by?

Just at the bottom, we had to double back and climb back up. We had to do the whole thing almost all over again to get over the hill and down to the lake. This was slow work. We were going about 9 miles an hour for a long time. At the crest, we could see the huge Lake Trasimeno.

In ancient times, this was the scene of one of the greatest disasters in Roman history. Heedless of the danger, the Roman General Flaminius rushed his men up to Hannibal's well-placed army. Hannibal had even arranged his men so that the Romans would fight with the sun in their eyes and the wind and dust in their faces. The Romans were slaughtered. Years ago, Owen Mulholland took Livy and the other ancient writers with him on a trip to the site in order to figure out the exact spot of the battle. My plan was to head east after arriving at the lake and visit that very place.

When we got to the city (Touro) at the lake, we looked at our maps and our watches. We were going to run out of time before we ran out of road. The going had been so slow and hard that we were way behind schedule. We decided to head directly west and south down the lake shore to Castiglione, and then almost directly west, back to Montepulciano.

The sky kept threatening us with rain, but we stayed dry. The wind, however, was merciless. We hammered as best we could, but could only go about 20 to 22 miles an hour. As we got closer to home, little rain droplets started to fall. We got into town and to the hotel reasonably dry. When I came out of the shower, I could hear the rain. Just in time! Total distance today, 63 miles. Mauro got 104 km on his cyclometer. We were fried.

April 8, Sunday

We had planned an easier loop, we thought, for today. For quite some time I have wanted to visit the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore with its cycle of frescos by Luca Signorelli and Il Sodoma. From Montepulciano, it should be easy.

Rain was again predicted, but we have been reasonably lucky so far. After raining all afternoon the day before, and much of the night, the streets were starting to dry. By the time were were a few miles out of town, and down on the valley floor, the streets were about dry.

Turning off the 321 and heading towards Madonnino, we ended up in cyclist's paradise. The road was a little winding path with trees growing on either side, opening up now and again to vast vistas of the Tuscan countryside. We were overwhelmed with the beauty of what we saw. We just slowed down, listened to Floristan (I told Joe that my Eusebius was hog-tied in a closet) and twiddled our pedals. We stopped here for a picture, stopped there to admire a view. We were exhausted from the week's riding and the countryside just demanded our attention. Ferdinand the Bull worked harder.

Road near Montepulciano

A little road near Montepulciano

The road kept getting smaller. Every so often, when I on some high-grade cow-path, I worry that I'm getting lost. Yet Mauro was confident that we were on the correct road. Then, the pavement ended. We were now on a dirt road feeling like we should have on goggles, tires wrapped around our torsos and aluminum bottles on our handlebars. I look at the pictures of old racers, racing on roads like this and I am in awe. The idea of chasing Ottavio Bottechia down a road like this, with no safety rail, with only courage and skill to guide one, at the very least, gives one pause.

As we rode up and over the rolling hills, we saw a flock of sheep on a hillside, a bit off the road. The sheepdog saw us and started running in a path to perfectly intercept us. Meeting us, but staying on his side of the fence, he made us understand that in no way were we to come near his sheep. Without a speech center, Mr. Sheepdog made this abundantly clear to us, stay away!. Then, he ran along the fence next to us, continually emphasizing he dislike of our proximity. After making sure we were not going to do anything but leave, he abruptly turned and headed back to his flock. I think he is the hardest working guy in all Italy.

We arrived at the Abbey. When I am close to a Michelin 2 or 3 star site, I make sure that I get there. This Abbey has a cycle of frescoes depicting the life of St. Benedict. They were started by Luca Signorelli, and finished by Il Sodoma. I wanted to take my time, but being in cycling clothes (and wearing shorts in an Abbey, a real violation of church etiquette. The kindly brothers didn't say anything to us) and starting to get worried about the weather, we made a cursory visit and rolled off.

As we headed to Buonconvento, Mauro assured us that we would not be rained on. Never listen to the Devil. Almost immediately we started to get light drizzle. Then real rain. Then hail came at us again. As we rode out of Buoconvento, the sky cleared again. We had originally planned to go to the famous wine city of Montalcino, but we decided to cut the ride a bit short and head down to San Quirico and then back home. Al Capp used to draw a character in L'il Abner that always had a rain cloud over him. We were just the opposite. We could see rain clouds dousing Tuscany on all sides of us, but we were, with but that one short moment, staying dry and in the sun. We almost always had sunbeams following us all over Italy. Still, we did not feel like tempting fate.

By the way, it's a shame that Li'l Abner, being a comic strip, is more or less lost to people younger than me. No less an authority than John Steinbeck thought Al Capp was the finest satirist of the 20th century. Steinbeck was right. It's a pity L'il Abner is forgotten.

But, I digress....

Big gear time. Then, when we got to San Quirico, the road got steep. Really steep. Through Pienza, we pounded the little ring for all we were worth, feeling like the rain was just behind us and chasing us hard. We got a few drips, but by the time we got to the hotel, we had again avoided another dousing. We only rode 55 miles, but those last 25 were thrashed so hard that we were whimpering. I wasn't looking forward to climbing 4 flights of stairs to the room.

Once again, as I came out of the shower after the ride, the rain came. We could see lightening over at Lake Trasimeno, with the thunder echoing through the valley. Carol's plan to read on the terrace on a warm afternoon, with a view of the countryside was again dashed.

We found an excellent restaurant around the corner. They brought us plateloads of hand-made ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinch in butter and sage. Then we ordered the local noodle, called "pici" (say "peachy"). They look like spaghetti on steroids or like German Spaetzle. Big, thick noodles begging to be eaten. We dug in and kept eating late into the afternoon.

As Joe put it, "It's the right thing to do, and the good tasting way to do it."

April 9, Monday.

The last day of riding. This is always a bittersweet time for me. My legs are so sore that I can barely ride, yet I can't wait to go out for more.

We picked a small loop, heading directly south to Chianciano and Chianciano Terme. I won't babble on any more about the pretty roads.

Mauro & Bill

Mauro & Bill enjoy the day's ride. Photo courtesy of Joe Lindsey.

You've heard it over and over. But, as usual, we missed our little turn off and ended up in Chiusi. We asked person after person for directions to the road to Sarteano. We got lots of directions, all of them wrong. Everyone wanted to help, but no one could help us. At Chiusi, we found our road, a tough climb up to the little town of Sarteano. Mamma Mia! Those pathetic little appendages attached to my hips were crying. Then we had to turn our bikes to Montepulciano and head back. The riding was over.

Some thoughts:

I have been coming over to Italy to ride these cycling tours for four years. I think we counted up that we have accumulated about 10,000 miles between me and my friends that have ridden with me. In that 10,000 miles, through cities, country, dirt roads, potholes, neglected little glorified cow-paths, nasty cobbles, there has been only one flat tire (Mauro's). And that flat was from a sew-up in the rain in the middle of a city.

10,000 miles and only one flat. I have never gotten a flat in Italy. I don't think I've ever sustained a tire cut. This is because Italy is a sane society. Broken glass isn't everywhere. Most of you reading this have had club rides that sometimes can't even leave town without a flat. We pride ourselves in our national wealth, but our terrible waste should shame us.

With tens of thousands of miles on my Torelli modular hubs, the bearings are as fresh and smooth as the day they were made. There wasn't the slightest sign of water contamination.

I brought Qoleum embrocations with me. My stash of Musclor was exhausted on last year's trip. Qoleum was the result of my search to replace it with something that was at least as good, and was available. I was so happy with the sample I got, I decided to import it for Torelli. Each cool morning as we rolled out, especially during the later days of the trip when I was tired and stiff, the gentle warmth made those first kilometers much easier.

I'm not going over next year. Mauro Mondonico says he's coming to California to ride on our roads.

Welcome Signor Mephistopheles. See you next year.

Exeunt omnes.