Read what happened before this: Day 2
It was the middle of the night and silence reigned. Eight heads lay on eight pillows, dreaming peacefully. Then a racket broke out: Al’s snoring. Bernie was forced to wake him up and get him to stop sleeping on his back, prompting a little confusion as Al thought Bernie wanted to get into the bed. We laughed about it over breakfast as we ate our five different types of cake. I could certainly be a pro cyclist if it meant having cake for breakfast.
After filling up with coffee and cake, we rode into town, hoping to find out some information about the next day’s race. While it may seem like a bit of a cultural stereotype, the Italians don’t seem all that fond of organisation. Registering for the race, in the first place, involved navigating through a website that made Ryanair’s look user-friendly. None of us were completely convinced we were in fact registered, or whether our medical certificates were any good. We expected there to be some clues in the town centre, though of course, we were completely wrong on this. While Bernie starting chatting up a man on a bike, who may or may not have actually had anything to do with the race, but who was definitely called Massimo, the rest of us retreated to a cafe for more coffee.
Eventually we figured out where we had to go to register: a farm on the outskirts of the town. No problem. We rolled out there with a minimum of fuss, and at the entrance to the farm we found large noticeboards with names of riders. Ours were on there! It was really happening!
We went inside and filled in some forms, the final part of the registration process. As I was handed an envelope with my race number, I was informed that if I exchanged a coupon at the desk at the end of the room, I would receive “a small present for registering”. Great, I thought. I clip-clopped (cycling shoes!) down to the end of the room and handed over my voucher. “Man or woman?” I was asked. After ascertaining that I wasn’t about to be handed a hunky italian man and that I was indeed a woman, I was handed a bag containing: a pair of “prosecco cycling” socks (brilliant!), a bag of pasta (always welcome) and a bottle of prosecco! What a win.
Outside there was some food laid on for all the registering cyclists. I assumed – as I am from Britain, and more specifically London, where every hope you ever have is dashed and you learn not to get your hopes up – that it’d be rubbish. But it was freshly cooked risotto, massive chunks of mozzarella on tasty homemade bread and gallons of prosecco. I got stuck in.
Quite surreally, there were helicopter rides going on, and a display of old bicycles, so there was plenty to do while drinking prosecco and “making friends” with lots of middle aged men from London. I took photos of bikes, ate lots and drank more quite contently for about an hour.
We reluctantly decided that we couldn’t stay at the farm all day, and there was talk of going up Monte Grappa. We had one fairly rubbish map between all of us, so it was always going to be a challenge. Al rode back to our farm to get the van, for reasons that are now a mystery to me, and we killed time waiting for him by pretending to do dressage around the farmyard. We arranged to meet in the piazza at Pederobba, just across the river, and Al set off in the van.
I consulted the map. Pederobba didn’t look far off. “Put that away!” said Bernie, “I’ve asked a man where Pederobba is, and he says that it’s straight down this road, across the bridge, and it’s right there!” We didn’t argue, though in retrospect, we should have asked who Bernie had asked. We followed the directions and ended up at a roundabout. After trying all the possible exits, it became clear that we were nowhere near Pederobba, a fact backed up by a man that we asked. In fact, Pederobba was nearly 10km north of where we were. So we headed on to the main road and headed north, passing a warehouse called “sexy shop” and taking a detour through an industrial estate.
On arriving in Pederobba, we found the piazza. It was full of motorbikes. No van, no Al. We rode about a bit aimlessly, feeling a little like the Marie Celeste. Stu eventually spotted the van, but Al wasn’t there. We assumed that he’d got bored waiting and had decided to ride up to Monte Grappa, so headed that way. On the way we passed a bike shop and Katy and I decided to have a look inside, partly because we wanted to see what it was like, and partly because we were both keen to buy some sunglasses, having packed pretty much the kitchen sink and yet no sunglasses. This was the final straw, and the group splintered.
So from 8 intrepid cyclists, 5 of us remained on our trek up to Monte Grappa. We rode through villages and laughed at the reckless driving from pretty much everyone on the road. We traipsed up and down some hills, and when we stopped to ask some local youths whether they knew this was the way to Monte Grappa, we got a bemused look, like they’d never heard of it. After one final close shave with some nocciola in a sports car, I decided that I’d had enough riding for the day, and that what I wanted was an ice cream. After all, despite quite a lot of evidence to the contrary, I was on holiday.
Katy decided to join me, and we rode back towards our farm. We stopped in the piazza of Bigolino, our nearest village, and asked a passing lady if she knew of anywhere we might be able to find icecream. She pointed out some directions and grinned at us. And when we turned the corner and saw the gelateria that awaited us, we saw why she was grinning. My. God. Icecream like no other. Two enormous scoops, sort of skull sized scoops, for 2 euro. Katy and I sat in the sunshine, eating icecream and having an incredibly civilised time.
About an hour of icecream eating later, we returned to the farm, where Elle was sitting in the sunshine. She told us that Al had come back to the farm in the van but had since gone out again, and that she hadn’t heard from anyone since. Katy and I joined her in the sunshine, and we waited for the others to return. And waited. And waited.
Eventually Al called me. He’d found the others and they were at a cafe in the centre of Pederobba. The reason they were there, rather than heading back, was because Bernie had dropped his phone on Monte Grappa and had ridden off back up the mountain to find it. Fair enough. A little while later Stu called and confirmed that they were indeed all there, and that Bernie had returned on his bike, without his phone, and so had taken the van up the mountain, leaving the others at the cafe. What Stu didn’t tell me, and what I found out later, is that in doing so Bernie reversed the van into a table at the cafe, got into an argument with a driver who was “giving it the hands” and later got stopped by the police.
While Bernie terrorised the Italian countryside with his weapon of choice, a Fiat Ducati, the others drank beer at the cafe, and we opened up some prosecco. Finally Bernie returned with his phone, and the others piled into the van and back home. The phone was smashed into pieces – it must have fallen out of his jersey pocket.
Katy and Elle got on with the important business of cooking, while Bernie prowled about trying to eat all the cheese destined for dinner. After sneaking a not insubstantial amount of cheese into his mouth, he headed outside to do some work on the bikes. Now, most people would ask before taking someone elses bike apart and pouring oil into the bottom bracket. But no. “Stu,” I said, “is that your bike?” Sure enough, Stu’s bike was in pieces, the clicking in the bottom bracket clearly too much for Bernie to bear. It’s amazing just how much oil fits into a bottom bracket.
The rest of the evening was relatively uneventful: we smashed a wine glass, ate loads of pasta, drank amaretto and headed to bed at a reasonable hour.
Read what happens next: Day 4