Have you missed the part 1? Read it here!
Day 4: Siena to Pienza
Woke at 6am, packed bags, filled bidons and left the room, paid the Hotel and headed outside for the daily ritual of switching on Garmin, loading up the trail and waiting for the route to be calculated. The trail does a loop around the piazza so we headed there for breakfast. We found a bar in the eastern corner and got an espresso for me, double for Marco.
There was a group of ballet dances practicing, silently, a piece. Rather scantly dressed for the temperature, which must have been 10 degrees. The sky was filled with starlings swoop and diving as they chased insects.
We reviewed the trail for the day in order to decide where we might stop for lunch and then for dinner and sleep. The largest ascent of the ride is up to the small hamlet of Radicofani and we were contemplating whether we should attempt it, which would be over 120km ride in one day. We both decided that it would be better to take an extra day so we settled on getting to Pienza and staying there for the night.
We had no concrete plans for lunch and decided to see where we would get to around mid-day. The ride started with a nice gravel downhill and then there were saw-tooth hills again so, another day of something close to high intensity interval training. There was never a break in the beautiful scenery, every time you look around there were rolling hills and cypress line strade bianche.
The gravel tracks were in perfect condition and the Exploro performed amazingly on the ascents and descents. I was often switching to the largest front ring so that I could get up some speed, but there were many times that I would stop quickly to grab another photo of the scenery.
We passed several small hamlets including San Giovanni d’Asso which seemed to be renowned for it’s olive oil. We stopped for a rest and to take some photos.
The strade bianche seemed to never end and along with that came the accumulation of white dust on the bike, bags and most annoyingly on the bidons. Every swig of water came a mouth full of dust giving one the feeling of drinking cement.
The going was very fast and the ascents could be tackled almost like on a road bike. This was by far the most fun day on the Exploro.
There were countless picturesque houses with pristine olive groves and gardens. There didn’t seem much evidence of residency, just the constant attention of curating gardeners. One imagines they are owned by some wealthy owner who is sat in an office somewhere with a photo on their desk rather than enjoying what they have managed to acquire. A minor tragedy.
Many undulations, climbs and ascents later we reached the bottom of a steep, but short, climb up to San Quirico d’Orcia. Out of the saddle for a last push to get into the town where we arrived at 11 AM.
We road into the centre where we saw a large stack of bikes and a bar packed with cyclist having an early lunch. A sign on our left directed us to a restaurant which was up a small side street. Arriving there at 1130 we were informed lunch started at noon, so we made a reservation and set off to explore the beautiful town.
At noon we headed back to the restaurant for lunch. We had a table in the garden which was an idilic place to have a relaxing lunch and let the not so distant memories of that steep climb just drift away.
I chose the buschetta to start and then a Tuscan Soup for seconds. I decided to confine myself to having just water, wine would have probably pushed me into sleep, however I was very envious of the other patrons ordering Brunello by the glass.
Talking about Brunello, if there is one change to the route of the trail that I would make it would be to pass through Montalcino. We passed very close and we considered taking a detour, however it was an extra 16km roundtrip with a couple of extra hills. We were not really in the mood to add extra horizontal and vertical metres! Montalcino is a very beautiful town and famous as the centre of this type of wine. Still, was happy to drink some without visiting…
After lunch we headed to the park and had an hour snooze before setting off towards Pienza. A cobbled stone road led to tarmac and we stopped at a local bike shop as it appeared that one trailer had a bike problem. He had hit the rear derailleur on a rock which resulted in the chain skipping when changing gears. I spent about 30 minutes explaining the functionality of the various bolts and screws and attempt to fix the problem. The changing improved, but I couldn’t get rid of one gear skip. Fortunately, I was saved by the bike shop owner arriving back from his lunch break. I made a quick exit and left the competent person to help fix it.
We sped off down the tarmac road at speed which then turned in to gravel as we veered off to the right. We were back in beautiful scenery with perfect gravel and undulating hills. Coming around a corner we spotted Pienza, our destination, across a valley, which meant another decent and reasonable ascent, but we made it with out much of ado.
We had managed to get rooms in a small place situated in the main square. We grabbed an espresso and gelato before heading to the hotel to check in, booked a table for dinner, dumped our bags and then headed out looking for a garage to clean our bikes and for a supermarket to grab some essentials, like water, for the ride the next day.
Unsuccessful in finding a garage we started talking with a gentleman who lived near the supermarket and was kind enough to let us use his garden hose. His wife kept a very luscious garden of flowers and plants and there were several large and beautiful garden sculptures. Marco went to help find the hose and extend it down to their driveway where we would be able to hose down the bikes. I proceeded to discuss with the gentleman about life the universe and everything, as you do! It turned out that he was a sculpture and the objects in the garden were of his own hand. He had exhibited pieces world wide, but due to a recent illness has had to give up which was clearly of great disappointment to him. Explaining our current endeavour on bicycle, which didn’t seem a passion of his, we discussed the town and where the best restaurants are. In due course his friend and doctor arrived with a story of how he had managed to save the gentleman’s life some years ago as he had correctly identified a heart problem that required immediate assistance. Having rushed the gentleman to the hospital to check he proceeded to go into cardiac arrest. An operation with several by-passes and he was back on his feet!
We thanked the gentleman and his wife dearly for their hospitality and said our good byes. With our bikes now reasonably clean we headed back to the hotel for a shower, kit cleaning and lubricating the chain. Then to dinner.
Dinner was at the hotel and consisted of a delicious filet of beef topped with thin strips of lard. This was accompanied by roast potatoes and two large roast garlic which were part of the potato roasting process to add flavor. I washed this down with the best Brunello they had, which was passable. Sadly they didn’t have any Brunello di Barbi which is a particular favorite.
After dinner we took a walk around Pienza. It was a very lively town with equally lively bars and restaurants. Many people having aperitifs and watching the scenery. A really lovely evening walking around the town and just soaking up the atmosphere.
Back to the hotel to bed for an early rise. Sleep wasn’t easy as a family in the room next to mine arrived late and seemed to be transporting the luggage from their car to the room one sock at a time. Incessant opening, closing, locking and unlocking of their door with discussing which item to bring up. It seemed they had closed their door for the last time when an argument broke out, evidently about the fact that one sock must be missing…..unlock, open, close, lock….foot steps down and up, unlock, open, close, lock….for the very final time. I finally managed to sleep and with sufficient food and wine it was actually a good deep sleep.
Day 5: Pienza to Pitigliano (83km, 1205m ascent)
Woke up at 6am and enacted the daily ritual of packing bags and whilst I didn’t want to be petty I didn’t pay too much attention to how much noise I made in the morning! I only opened and closed the door once… honestly.
We had breakfast at the hotel for the first time in our whole trip. They had kindly offered to make breakfast at this early time so we could leave by 7am. I tried to eat little to avoid any stomach problems, but a couple of espresso was definitely warranted.
We left the town on the south west side, through a main gate onto a small tarmac road circling the town. A quick right turn on to a gravel track we descended at speed, which is such a great way to start a morning ride, especially on this day where we have to tackle the longest and steepest climb up to Radicofani. We will also have to tackle the first section of trail that has a walking section.
Down the first descent and part of the way up a small ascent I stop to look back and Pienza, an idilic view of the small town sat on a hill surrounded by olives and cypress lined gravel roads.
In the lull between Pienza and Radicofani is some pristine and fast gravel that is really fun to ride. A slight incline all the way to the base of the main climb means that you are always having to push yourself, but not too much.
The climb was tough and a long 10km which means I have no desire to stop and take photos. It peaks at 12% incline requiring some out of the saddle climbing required. I’m relieved to make it to Radicofani town and stop for espresso at the first bar and wait for Marco.
After our espresso is downed, we set off through the town, starting with a small climb, but then we turn left on to a steep gravel descent. Superfast descent with sweeping high camber curves. I am on the drops with index fingers on the brakes just in case. Intense concentration is required as the back wheel slides out periodically on the curves. I hang on to the speed and the inclination starts to flatten out as it arrives at a small cluster of farm buildings where I stop to wait for Marco.
Marco arrives and we set off again to tackle a few small ascents to take us up to the dramatically placed town of Sorano. Tightly clustered red brick houses are precipitously placed on the steep cliffs of a valley.
A steep short road descent is followed by an equally short and steep ascent, then a super faster descent arriving at the equally precipitously perched town of Pitigliano. We curve around the back and then make a tight left turn onto a single-track path that seems to be more of a secret escape route than an entrance to a town. It gets steeper and ends at a staircase leading up to the town. I dismount and walk up the 100 or so steps dragging my bike with me and then remount when I reach the first passable street. I gingerly cycle at a snail’s pace passing people on narrow streets strewn with paints and other arts and crafts on display.
I cycle to the opposite end of town where I find a piazza with the castle, some restaurants and bars. I stop at what seems the only bar open and serving espresso and I grab a gelato while waiting for Marco to arrive who grabs the same.
Espressos and gelatos downed we set off to find the hotel which requires us to backtrack through the town. We managed to get rooms in a place called Ceccottino which turns out to be a beautiful bed and breakfast with an associated osteria that has been the guide of Osteria d’Italia since 2011. We book a table for dinner and then put our bikes in their bike garage, then we head off to our rooms which are absolutely stunning and a tad luxurious for a gravel ride.
Since this is the penultimate day I don’t need to wash any cycling kit, so I take a shower have an espresso served by a lovely Illy coffee machine in the room. I head down to the restaurant to have an aperitif before dinner. Dinner is delightful, with some delicious bruschetta and pasta washed down with a white and two different red wines from local producers.
After dinner, I head to bed to get some sleep for the final day.
Day 6: Pitigliano to Orbetello (67km, 847m ascent)
Woke again at 6am to pack and head down to the osteria to meet the owner and to get my bike out of the garage. A couple of other trailers are already waiting for their bikes and as I start to put my bags on Marco arrives to grab his bike.
I switch on my Garmin to pull up the trail and let it start calculating. Trail set we find it really hard to understand which direction to go in, so obviously, we head off in the wrong direction ending up going down the stairs I walked up the day before. Realizing this half way down the stair case we turn around and head off in the right direction.
We pass by the hotel and head out of the town past the castle where we had gelato and espresso the day before.
A short steep road descent followed by a steep ascent takes us up to a flat section. We descend onto a gravel track and then a challenging ascent that is uneven and technical. For some reason I had the expectation that the significant ascents were done with, so this comes as a shock to the system. I manage to struggle to the top of the climb only to be turned around by a farmer moving his sheep between different fields. Fortunately I don’t need to back track too far, but still not welcomed. Marco arrives and we sit watching the sheep walking pass.
We get to the top of the climb and see the sea for the first time.
Our first stop is the small town of Capalbio where I stop to buy water that I’ve needed for the last couple of kilometres. I get an espresso, set down, fill my bidons and wait for Marco. Shortly after Marco arrives and gets water and espresso. We down espresso and start to set off, but Marco has a flat. Incredibly the first flat between us on the entire trip.
We seek the shade that is cast by the local church and change the inner tube. Puncture fixed we set off.
We hit more gravel and the vegetation changes now that we are in the area of the Maremma.
We descent on to tarmac and hit a headwind, just as the road finally goes flat, so no relief yet. We cruise at reasonable speed and the trail then takes us off right up more gravel which turns out to be a loop that brings us back on to the tarmac…..the organisers seem to want to put in one last climb for us just before the end!
We descend on tarmac, under a railway arch and take a sharp right on to a sandy trail which at first is quite a struggle to peddle on. A couple of kilometres along we arrive at the gates of a national pine forest. Entering the park we are on a beautiful gravel track that is completely shaded by marine pine trees.
The going is quick and another right turn takes us to the edges of the laguna of Orbetello.
Several kilometers following the path along the lagoon we turn right onto the main road into town. We cross a bridge and enter the town to find the arrival line! A couple of people from the organization fire up some music as I cross the line and one of them dives in immediately with questions about my bike! Seems he also owns a 3T Exploro in green and did the trail last year. He shares some photos with me and we discuss the trail some more.
It was great to have finished the trail, but sad at the same time as it was great to have a daily routine involving gravel riding through some of the most beautiful scenery on the best bike I’ve owned. I confess that I am really excited to try the new 3T Exploro RaceMax on my next gravel ride to see how they could have possibly improved the ride experience.
I’ll definitely be back at next year’s Tuscany Trail and am now looking to also do longer rides such as the Badlands event in Spain. I missed registration this year, so that’ll have to wait to 2022 so watch this space.
- 3T Exploro LTD (M size)
- 3T Discus 40|35 LTD mounted with WTB Riddler 700x37c
- 3T Superghiaia handlebar
- SRAM eTap AXS Red – 48/35 quarq power meter front chainrings, 10/33 rear cassette.
- Garmin 830
- Apidura Expedition Saddle Pack (9L)
- Apidura Expedition Handlebar Pack (9L)
- Apidura Expedition Accessory Pocket (5L)
- Apidura Expedition Feed Pouch
- Knog Pwr 1100lm front light (not used as light in the end, but used as a power bank to recharge Garmin head unit)
- Knog rear led (also not needed)
- 2 Rapha Bidon Large (750ml)
- Rapha Explore Hooded Gore-Tex Pullovers
- Rapha Explore Long Sleeve Pullover
- Rapha Explore Short Sleeve Pullover
- Rapha Explore Powerweave Shoe
- Rapha Core Cargo Shorts
- POC Octal Helmet
- POC Crave glasses