Ride for Life

Topsham to Venice in Aid of Cancer Research

Our bicycles have carried us a long way and served us well.

Day 15 -- Wednesday June 25th

Proposed Route: Alba-Asti-Piacenza

Estimated Mileage: 100 miles/160 km

Actual Route: Alessandria-Piacenza-Cremona

Mileage Covered: 88 miles/145 km

Average cycling speed: 15.4 mph

Maximum speed: 28.6 mph

Cycling time: 5 hours 43 minutes.

Terrain: Mainly flat with some very hilly stretches.

Weather: Sunny with some cloud; hot. Wind Force 3-4 mainly on the nose.

Degree of Difficulty:


Narrative: What a wonderful means of transportation a bicycle is! We have now travelled on two wheels nearly 1000 miles and, as we sit by the banks of the wide, lazy Po River this evening enjoying a glass of La Versa metodo classico sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in vineyards we cycled through today, we can sit back and consider that we our now less than 150 miles from our destination, Venice.
Our bikes have indeed served us well: they have enabled us at times to ride extremely fast, at other times to climb high, steep mountains, sometimes simply to sit on them and peddle for very long and dreary periods of time over less than exciting terrain, mainly in some degree of comfort, or at least with minimal discomfort. We have alternated between our touring bicycles and our racing bicycles about fifty/fifty. The Mercian and Bob Jackson are both classic English touring machines and they have been comfortable indeed to ride on long days especially: their main advantage, we have found, is not the extra gears that come with a triple chainring on front, but rather the wider tires and more robust wheels which have allowed us to soak up the bumps and poor road surfaces; that and the slightly more relaxed and forgiving geometry of the frame which undoubtedly makes a really long day more bearable. Our Orbits, on the other hand, are racing bikes, lightweight, with thin tires and wheels, and a more demanding set of gears, though the ratios we have have certainly allowed us to cope with just about everything, including Mont Cenis. The frames are stiffer and the riding position is tighter and lower, less upright. These bikes are truly a joy to ride, for their lightness, responsiveness, and simply for the sheer turn of speed that they can produce when you really put your foot down.
Today's ride was never going to be our most interesting. We were approaching the wide, flat and rather dull Po plain, and I anticipated a long, hot and steamy day in the saddle. In that respect, I was not wrong. But it actually turned out to be a very amusing and diverting ride all the same, as we found ways to make the miles go by. When another keen-looking cyclist came alongside us, as per yesterday, we anticipated perhaps another little tussle for abit of fun. Instead, we got talking and immediately struck up a friendship of the road. Roberto -- that was his name, from Voghera -- suggested that we get off the main road for abit and find an alternative route through the wine hills of the Oltrepo Pavese, and we eagerly agreed: sure, the hills were steep and many compared to the ease of the main Via Emilia, the old Roman road that runs the length of Emilia-Romagna; but the chance to escape the traffic, discover some more interesting terrain and in a classic wine region to boot was an opportunity certainly too good to miss. We thus enjoyed a diversion that was at once challenging as well as beautiful, passing through the vineyards as well as through the town of Montebello La Battaglia, so named because Napoleon won a famous victory here over the Austrians. We then returned to the main road in time to meet our agreed rendezvous with Ugo and Harry, and our new friend Roberto joined us for lunch, panini made with excellent mortadella di Bologna and English tea, a new experience for our Italian cycling mate.
Roberto was certainly no mean cyclist: he is a hill demon, and had climbed most of the high alpine passes, including Mont Cenis, many times. After our brief break, we settled down to some serious riding as there were still many miles before us. The three of us took it in turns sharing the lead and cutting the brisk 25 mph headwind, cycling fast and sweating hard in the 32 degree heat. There was no conversation -- we had already covered most topics during our more liesurely pre-prandial ride through the hills -- but the sense of teamwork and camaraderie that this silent, hard peddle invoked was most satisfying. As we appoached Piacenza, we got caught in some traffic, in particular a long line of trucks and lorries. As the vehicles moved off, Roberto set off like a madman, staying right behind the back of a lorry, drafting at about 35 mph. We sprinted in vain effort to keep up, managed to do so for just a little while, but as the vehicle pulled away and we lost any advantage of the drafting, we quickly dropped back. He pulled up after a mile or so, and we had a good laugh about it: he was indeed both a powerful as well as a wily cyclist, and it was an excellent -- if crazy -- trick.
In cycling, as in many other activities, there is a instant bond of the road, a fraternity that is immediately created through the sharing of a passion. The act of riding separate machines together at times as if almost a single unit helps to cement this bond, which transcends nationality, culture, even language. What a wonderful sport, what a wonderful activity cycling is. And what a wonderful creation: the bicycle.
Today we crossed from Piedmont into Lombardy, then into Emilia Romagna, and now back into Lombardy, the region where Nello grew up in. So tonight he decided to cook one of his favourite regional dishes: costolette di vitello alla milanese veal chops breaded and fried together with a delicious salad made from rucola, followed by some fresh goat's milk cheese. After today's long and rather hard three-banana ride, we attacked this meal like we attacked today's hills: with considerable gusto and enjoyment.


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