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A Quick Break at Strade Bianche

Having spent a bit of time on this website it was perfect timing that a quick weekend break over in Lucca with the good lady coincided with completing it’s launch. It also just so happened to be the same weekend as one of the nicest cycle races on the calendar – the very young Strade Bianche, down the road in Siena. In only in it’s 10th edition, it has already staked a claim to be a genuine classic. Perhaps a future Monument…? It’s certainly one that the big classics riders want to win. Perhaps, none more so than two time winner (at the start) Fabian Cancellara in his last year on the bike as a Pro.

Lucca itself was beautiful and is one of the places we’ve got custom trips being planned for this year. For good reason, it’s a bit like our home trip of Girona. Green, quiet peaceful roads, always undulating and testing. Stunning scenery. The cuisine variety, I reckon, is greater in Girona, but who am I to judge… The good lady was sold straight away and is hankering to live there. Girona, Lucca, tough choices.
For Siena, we took a lazy 90 minute Chianti drive – coffee interrupted in a beautiful village recommended by a friend of a friend who had worked there years ago; well worth it. Even in the grey drizzle and wind (unlike our sunny home!) the drive was beautiful. Off the beaten track, only Italian words in the air, we had escaped completely. Inside Siena’s impressive walls this stunning, incredible city the ambiance was perfect. Just out of tourist season, a little quieter than normal, but with the simmering excitement of the race. Another coffee, focaccia then some massively chocolate laden desert and there was plenty of time (and sugar) to wander over to check out the finish half kilometre. That famous wall of a climb into the city’s even more famous Piazza del Campo.

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It isn’t a circus like, say, the Tour de France. The small paved streets were still open to wander on the race route itself so we could meander down the hill then crawl back up it at will for a while. The trick, to a degree, is knowing where and how to to get to the city in the first place. After the hill crawling, we picked a spot on said hill, 100 metres or so from the final turn and then waited and soaked up the building crowd and hubbub.
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If I am not riding my bike, I quite like chasing some races, or popping along the route or to the finish, but it’s so much better if I can immerse myself a little in the place. Chatting with the locals next to you, finding out what is going on in the race coming, slightly confused if you don’t have the lingo perfectly tuned in. Taking photos for people, waving to folk watching from their apartment windows and generally having a good old time. We spotted the Grubers and had a quiet word with them before they got into race-photography mode for the finish. It’s like a quiet street party or reunion which happens to have a bike race.
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Then it arrived. Etixx and Brambilla leading the way. A big Swiss Trek chasing down. Etixx and Štybar on his wheel. I hoped Brambilla would hold on – we weren’t aware of all the efforts he had put in. The ignorance was bliss. Would Fabs have a fairy tale last Strade Bianche and make it 3 titles. Or would Stybie retain the crown.
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No idea at the time. You rarely do know on the street. After about a third of the peloton had fought up the wall our new Italian mates alongside us got news of the result. Chapeau Spartacus. A sign for the rest of the Classics season. Look out everyone else, the kid plans on going out in style. And if there was a place to make that statement it is in Italy. They do style quite well.
(And chocolate fancies and often, but don’t be fooled, not always, coffee!).
Words & images by our Ian (themusette.cc)