Dutchmen in the mountains…

Three Dutchman arrive from Holland and one from Bergamo. On the last part of the winding road towards the ‘agriturismo’ a lot of porcupines show up in front of the car. It is pitch dark and luckily we have two sets of navigation...The XPDTN3 has started.

Upon arrival at the agriturismo we drink our first (but not last!) bottle of wine. Eating and drinking will become the theme of this adventure, where the 3T gravel bikes merely are used to get from one to the next awesome location. Three of the Dutchies, Patrick van de Laar, Bas Rooijmans and Rene Wiertz, are university friends; Rene Savelsberg is (by far) the oldest and so far only knows Bas and the other Rene. Over a nice glass we catch up and are excited about the next day riding.

The plan for the coming 3 days is to ride with local guides Marco and Max. There is some anxiety among the riders about speed, distance and physical condition. All excuses come up: Patrick has been injured for ages, Bas is actually a runner rather than biker, Rene S. aging nicely and Rene W. a busy CEO. But luckily we also can rejoice on our daily return to the agriturismo for excellent dinners and superb breakfasts…

Day One – Sovicelle, Radicondoli, Montalcinello, 72km

Our guide Marco appears early in the morning at our agriturismo. He knows the quality of the breakfast and loads up with cakes, fruits and two coffees (we call espresso’s!). We had done the same. As always, the last-minute bike fettling is taking place but we are soon ready to roll out almost as planned. But it is Italy: there is no real plan!! That is what makes this adventure so great: it is exploring the region as much as hustling up and down the trails of rock, gravel, dirt and even asphalt.

We leave the agriturismo with the five of us while it is foggy and get used to the bikes. Immediately on the very steep and rocky descent, one is quickly remined to keep the steer loose in the hands otherwise the visibility disappears because of the shaking. After a little while we are guided to the left onto an invisible path and a much smoother single-track ride starts through the hills of Toscana. The fog has disappeared and life is good!

Uphill is never too steep not too long, downhill allows for regrouping. Especially when the ‘strade bianche’ are showing up. Nice, broad and empty roads for which gravel bikes seem to be developed. After 2 hours, the shot of coffee is consumed in what turns out to be one of the many beautiful villages we will pass and visit. Competition in the group is growing with confidence. Maybe stimulated by the coffee we test each other and the guide joins the race. Heart beats and amount of sweat increases.

We realize why Toscana is so attractive for people from around the world to come and explore biking …according to the guide also many untrained people using electric bikes ?? The variation of the terrain is unbelievable: single mud tracks, white gravel, cobblestones and short distances on asphalt. The view remains wide and even though we don’t know where we are headed (only the guide knows) we enjoy the ride a lot.

Suddenly we take a very steep downhill path and end up at a farm house. Apparently, this is the location for our lunch. We are welcomed by a 20-person family eating already around their large kitchen table and sit down at a separate table with water, wine, cheeses, salads and more wine. Toscana at its best! We will feel the alcohol with another three hours riding ahead, but the spirit is up again after the serious ride in the morning. The never boring up and down continuous with all the variations of terrain. And after another 3 hours ride we end up…in vinyard at a winery. Tasting is a must, buying an option. Luckily, we skip the last 5 km on the bike and all get in a van with all the bikes on the roof: half sober, half tired!

Day Two – Chianti, around Castelnuovo Berardenga, 70km, 1128m

A shorter ride today East of Sienna. We take the van to the edge of the Chianti Region. The sun is hotter, the head not as clear due to the amount of red wine we enjoyed before, during and after an exquisite dinner of last night. First coffee after 20 minutes. It is part of exploring this part of the world: excellent biking and celebrating life…We paddle through the Chianti region with another guide. His name is Massimo (call him Max). Half way the day Marco joins us as well. It seems like all these guys are excited about riding themselves and use the Dutchies as an excuse to do so. We are almost a peloton!

Wineries left and right. No single tracks for now, but partly on the l’Eroica trails. Long steady climbs (some 12km long) that roll nicely. Gravel roads are the main course. Cars we don’t see on these roads. Some people with electric bikes. We need more water because the temperature is higher (but still doable compared to the extreme heat in the summer) and maybe the wine consumption. A steep ascend brings us to the gate of – despite the name – Castelnuovo Berardenga. We master the cobble stones and sharp corners and end up at the main square, with a prepared table for lunch! Local delicacies are prepared and, of course, we most famous wines need to be tasted. Luckily sitting in the shade and we are reminded again of the good Italian lifestyle.

You almost forget it is a biking trip. But in the spirit of XPDNT3 we explore locations that we approach by bike that otherwise would be skipped. In the afternoon, we visit small towns where the road is 20+%. The legs are tested, be assured. The least heroic part is the last 1.5 hours, where we mainly bike on asphalt towards our van. Very angulated road and we power through the area making top speed. This is a lot of fun and completes another very fun day. Beer and wine is waiting for us at the agriturismo.

Day Three – Colle Malamerenda – Bagno Vignoni (part of L’Eroica 75km)

In the family-focused Italian lifestyle the guides joined us for dinner last night with their wives and children. It was close to midnight when we finished. We are gaining weight after another delicious dinner. The last day. The longest trip. The most challenging. With a nice surprise at the end. In the van, we drove to a remote location and started our ride south of Sienna. Most of the day we follow the route of the famous ‘l’Eroica’. There was more wind, we were more exposed to a wider view. The roads kept on going up and down, the variation in terrain was a constant. I have been on vacation in this area multiple times, but never saw it like now on the bike. Knowing these unpaved roads is sheer pleasure and brings you close to how the Romans travelled many centuries ago.Lunch was another great experience: fantastic view accompanies with enough (white) wine from their own winery and, fortunately, less food (mainly homemade cheeses). We were warned that the most challenging biking part still had to come!

With that I mind we continued on a paved road going up for 8 km with 5-6% incline. Not a problem in itself, but it became a race among the riders. For the first time we were exhausted once reaching the top in a small town. But the surprise reward were the hot springs of Bagno Vignoni. A touristic area, but clearly we were the only people on bikes! It felt fresh to be in the water and the champagne on the side of an old Roman bath tasted very well. One way or the other the van appeared as well and satisfied we drove back to our agriturismo.Toscana is beautiful. Full life style. It only gets better on these bikes!

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The 3 day route takes single tracks and some main roads. But the highlights are the ‘strada bianca’ with beautiful scenery access to typical Italian villages.

Location:Toscana, Italy
Distance:200 km (124 mi)
Ascent:3850 m (12631 ft)
Best Time:Late Spring or Early Autumn, these times can still offer settled and pleasant days of weather (in the summer it can get really hot).
Terrain:Rolling hills. No long sustained climbs but some steep
Weather:Rather consistent weather, with sometimes strong winds. In the right season (see above) it is very pleasant from morning until evening.
Tires:Fast and light. The going is fast though at times can still be rough, high volume offers flexibility on pressures: 650×47 or 700×40
Gearing:As there are no long climbs, not extremely steep and often the going is fast on tarmac roads a tall gravel gear can be adopted. 40 or 42t front chainring with a 10 or 11/30 on the rear.
Don’t Forget:Your sunglasses are needed and enough to drink during the trip: sometimes quite exposed to the sunshine. Above all, take your money as you will arrive at beautiful villages to eat and drink