Ride for Life

Topsham to Venice in Aid of Cancer Research

I bei girasole d'Italia

Day 16 -- Thursday June 26th

Proposed Route: Piacenza-Cremona-Mantova-Isola della Scala

Estimated Mileage: 90 miles/142 km

Actual Route: Cremona-Mantova

Mileage Covered: 48 miles/79 km

Average cycling speed: 15.54 mph

Maximum speed: 26.3 mph

Cycling time: 3 hours 09 minutes.

Terrain: Dead flat.

Weather: Overcast with some rain. Wind Force 3-4 dead on the nose, hot and humid like a blast furnace.

Degree of Difficulty:

Narrative: Today's ride was short, brutal and nasty. We started out under grey, overcast skies that threatened always of rain; it was humid, heavy and unpleasant; there was a fiercesome and hot headwind that we had to ride straight into the whole way; and the road was narrow and dangerous, full of thundering lorries and swarming flies. Deadly flat the whole way, it made me realise how much I hate cycling on the plains -- straight, open to the wind, boring -- as much as I love the ups and downs of hilly terrain. We just had to put our heads down and go, working hard together the whole way, with very little satisfaction or enjoyment. Riding on flat terrain, you may consider, is a dead cinch, but believe me, with busy traffic and a strong headwind, it is as arduous and certainly a lot less fun than riding in the hills but with none of the satisfaction whatsoever. So make no mistake, it was a very hard ride, hence today's banana rating in spite of the terrain.
And yet the day started and ended well. This morning, we paused in Cremona's city center, admired the Piazza del Duomo, the Cathedral with its splendid pink marble lions supporting the columns over the main portico, the slender and elegant bell tower. We also enjoyed a delicious panino stuffed with the sweetest and finest of all hams, culatello di Zibello, eaten on the steps of the Duomo. Then the cycle, which is probably best forgotten, our arrival in Mantova, another splendid Renaissance town, our ride over the bumpy and slippery cobbled streets of the old town -- our own version of Paris-Roubaix -- the unfortunate discovery that the campsite had shut down two years ago, problems with meeting up with the support van since our agreed rendezvous no longer existed.
Well, it all worked out OK in the end. We eventually met up with the support team by the lakes of Mantova, and then luckily discovered an excellent agriturismo with farmhouse camping just out of town. We showered and relaxed amidst a lovely fruit orchard and then the rains came down, so we headed out to nearby Isola della Scala to our friend Gabriele Ferron's Riseria Pila Vecia, a 16th century rice mill where the traditional milling of riso Vialone Nano takes place (the flatness of the terrain and the humidity makes this an ideal place to grow Italian rice). Gabriele unfortuately was in Germany, but we had a look at the water-driven mill and picked up some of his excellent Vialone Nano "ai pestelli" to bring home. Then we returned to the campsite and treated ourselves to a magnificent and seriously ample farmhouse meal, Mantova style, in the farm's ristorante agrituristica: salumi mantovana; polenta with mushrooms and cheese; risotto alla mantovana made with pork; pasta with mushrooms and pancetta; grilled sausages and pork; roast chicken and potatoes; salad; and a local cake, all accompanied by the excellent fizzy but raspingly bone dry Lambrusco di Mantova (and all this for the princely sum of 30,000 lire a head -- or about eleven quid).
Well, I suppose after that outrageous meal -- yes, we ate all that -- we should be amply fueled for our last real cycle tomorrow, a long ride on these dreadfully flat roads that will take us nearly to the outskirts of Venice itself. However, unfortunately as I write this at 12.30 am, it is still raining with no sign of letting off. At least it is keeping things cool and fresh tonight for sleeping.

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