Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A little taste of Italy

So here I am, back in the dark, damp rainy North of England, with the memory of sitting drinking coffees in the Piazza, riding dusty trails, and sitting round a campsite in the evening without feeling freezing cold and wet, seeming a long way away! As I type, the rain is lashing down, the wind is picking up outside, and the thought of charging up my lights, dressing up in winter gear, and heading out on a night ride is not particularly appealing....it appears I've become a fair weather rider! It will take a while to readjust I think, and actually feel psyched to go out and ride, rather than sit and drink tea, which is what is top of the list at the moment...

Card and tea courtesy of of a welcome home parcel from Caz...thanks buddy!
Ah Italy, and the last week of my 6 month stint in Europe... and what a good week it was :)
Finale Ligure sits on the Italian coast, only an hour and a half from Nice, but a world away in terms of the feel and vibe of the place. I haven't spent a lot of time in Italy, but after last weeks trip, I'll be sure to be making some more visits...
I can't believe I haven't been to Finale before...it's an awesome mountain biking destination, has world class climbing, a pretty town complete with narrow cobbled postcard-perfect streets, clean, sandy beaches, cheap pizza, and gelato, and of course a great coffee culture...it's a brilliant place!

Awesome views, fun and dusty trails, and riding with your friends...a good way to finish the summer :)
I'd headed over after my work finished in Sospel, keen to go somewhere away from where I'd been working all summer, and relax and ride for myself for the first time in a while. There was the final round of the Enduro World Series taking place the following week in Finale, so I knew there would be friends and people I'd met before to ride with, and maybe the chance to race too. Fellow Trans-Provence guide Emily had a race entry, but needed to work, so we had been trying to arrange swopping her entry into my name. Getting my own entry was out of the question, with 600 riders already registered, and a waiting list that was rumoured to be up to 300! I was a little apprehensive about racing my first ever Enduro race as a World Series race, but as long as I didn't come last, I was just keen to take part.
I had no idea if I'd be good enough to even ride all the tracks, let alone race them, I literally had no idea what to expect. But I found I was pleasantly surprised :) The race tracks were brilliant, and suited my kind of riding well...steep, technical rocky trails with some tight switchbacks, and a fair bit of timed pedalling to weed out the pure downhillers! I was super excited about racing, and encouraged to see that hopefully I wouldn't be last, judging by the number of people who were struggling to even ride some of the technical sections, let alone race them.
The format for Enduro racing, is basically a long day's ride, with untimed Liason stages (although at this race there were cut-offs to make on the liasons), and then timed Special stages. At the end of the day (or two days in this case), the winner is the person who has accumulated the least time, ie the fastest, over the special stages. Enduro is kind of a current niche word for what I would say is essentially just mountain biking...its what most of us have been doing for years anyway! Go out for a day's riding with your friends, enjoying the scenery and the socialising on the way up the climbs, and then race/shred/shralp down the trails, eyes wide with adrenaline and delight, before regrouping at the bottom to share how much fun you've just had! Some clever marketing person somewhere is sitting in a large chair, probably stroking a cat (a la Dr Evil), laughing to himself about how much money he's making from being able to sell "Enduro-specific" products to everyone at the moment!

Pretty cobbled streets, beaches, and epic trails. Finale is ace!
The week leading up to the race was great. I rode with Sam and Toby and their friend Al, organising shuttles for a few of the days so we could maximise the amount of descending we did, and save our legs for the weekend of racing, as well as a couple of days of pedalling up and exploring with the (terrible) local map, getting lost a few times, but eventually finding some great trails. I felt like I was riding well, and it was nice to go fast, not have to worry about clients, and switch off from Guiding mode for a while! There were loads of familiar faces around to chat to, and plenty of time to sit drinking coffee or eating gelato in cute little street cafes. We managed to squeeze 2 vans and a gazebo onto one campsite pitch, and had some great chilled evenings eating tasty pasta concoctions (or pizza...well it would have been rude not to in Italy!), chatting about future bike adventures, and despairing over Sam's Desert-Island biscuit choice (Rich Tea biscuits should be no-where near the top of anyone's list!).

I was totally gutted therefore when it got to Friday and the day of registration. Emily's name was still on the list, and despite our multiple emails and a conversation in person with the race organiser the previous week, it hadn't been sorted. I was gutted, and despite a couple of hours of trying to talk to him, it became clear he wasn't going to sort the entry swop out in time for me to race :(
So once again, I had to watch whilst everyone else was racing for two days...it was like the TransProvence all over again!
However, I'd still had an awesome week's riding, and it just made me even more resolved to get some entries in for races next year :)

It was sad to leave on Sunday evening to start the long drive back to the UK, knowing it'll be a while before I can go out on a ride in shorts and a t-shirt, and simply dust off the bike at the end!

Surprise surprise....it's cold wet and windy in Calais :(
Arriving at Calais after 14 hours of driving over 2 days, it was raining and windy, and I could feel the post-summer depression starting to kick in. But fortunately, Chloe and Jim came to the rescue in Kent, with a warm welcome to their house, a comfy bed, and a feast of a meal at their lovely local pub....hopefully one day I can return the favour :)
The following day I finally completed the journey back to Cheshire, to be greeted by my parent's new very bouncy puppy that looked excited to have someone new to play with....(being more of a cat person, I've yet to decide if the feeling is mutual)...and a huge chocolate cake from my sister Clare, so a good "Welcome Home". The rest of the week since I've been back has been spent fixing my poor bike who has had a long and hard season, and tidying up my stuff after 6 months of living out of a van and a bag! It will be great to see my mum and dad when they are back from holiday this week, as well as lots of other family and friends who I haven't seen for ages....it'll be a busy winter!
New friend? Only if she stops trying to eat all my tyres....!

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