2019 Strade Bianche and GP Larciano: Not so much dirty as dusty and wet, but a weekend in Tuscany to watch the Strade Bianche and the GP Larciano is bound to be memorable. Two more races to mark off Heather Morrison’s bucket list, but after reading about her adventures, we think she will return for more of the ‘White Roads’ action. Heather goes behind the scenes at the Strade Bianche and GP Larciano.
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My journey begins – I know it is going to be a long day, if there is a convoluted way to get to a place, I’ll find it.
I fly out of Edinburgh via Frankfurt to Florence, at this point I am more excited that I’m going to Florence than Strade, but that wont last long. The woman sitting next to me on the plane advised me to get the tram, which was new, instead of the train up to Siena. We chatted on the plane, I was raving that there were four Groupama-FDJ riders on the plane; Kung, Siegle, Vincent and Duchesne and Golas for Sky all on this flight. She was buzzing because there were two footballers on as well. I had been running around the airport taking secret photos.
When I got out of the airport, the tram was there, but I did try the Groupama Bus… lift to Siena boys… Smile. So tram it is.
Anyway tram, train and taxi and I reach my digs in Siena. I’m standing outside for 20 minutes, when I realised I had no telephone number. Travel Republic emergency number – nothing, so I was standing about. Then a guy came out, and he called for me. 10 minutes later a girl came around the corner? “Hello Heather, how was your journey? There is a problem.” Apparently they have been trying to get in touch with me to let me know. Now I have been on the road for 14 hours so far. She starts walking, admittedly she took my case, although the bag over my shoulder was heavier. She walks at quite a rate and I am knackered and my face is telling the story. We march for 10 minutes and arrive at the digs I am now in… no-one is there. She phones and we wait another 10 minutes. I am looking at the bar across the street with the €5 for long drinks sign. I know where I am going later.
Eventually Flavia arrives, and I hate her, she is gorgeous. I say I hope I am not on the top floor? I am. They carry everything up, and I still have to pause to breath, bloody hell I’m going to die here. We arrive at the top and after the formalities she shows me my room. WOW! And there is a balcony. Flavia says to me to walk to the end. I do and there is Il Campo, any pretence at annoyance is gone. I am gob smacked.
To end my 1st night… I head to the pub.
Friday 8th March
OK, I got up later than I had planned, I think I was out longer than intended the night before. Today I have to get the accreditations and I’ve been sent an invite for the press conference, so I’ll go along, and the sun is out. I’m hoping to get some time today for the sightseeing. Head to the race HQ for my paperwork at 12, as it says in the documents I have, and I’m told to come back at 2pm. I run up to the Siena Duomo and have to head back to the office.
When I get back there are few folks outside, I spoke to Geoffrey from Bahrain-Merida, he doesn’t seem to hold out much hope of Nibali in Strade Bianche, but he does think that Visconti is in with a shout as he knows he has a hunger for the ‘White Roads’ race. I’m glad to hear that as that is where my money is. After I get registered, I go for a drink as I hang around for the press conference, at Il Bandierino in Il Campo. As I sit there with my glass of wine, taking photos of personalities as they pass by and having a competition on Twitter to recognise the folks just walking by. Then Luca Scinto and Valerio Bianco sit down at the next table, I met Valerio a couple of years ago in Sardinia, when I was stalking Pippo, so I was having a chat and he mentioned GP Larciano, and asked if I was coming over on Sunday… Sunday? It was the teams home race. I wasn’t aware GP Larciano was so soon, apparently only one and a half hours away. Hmmm, I’m thinking, I’m thinking why did I cancel he car.
At 5pm I go to the press conference, there are few faces milling around, the ever present Gianni Savio is holding court with RSC’s Vegni. My highlight was that Alan Marangoni was there, the recently retired Liquigas and Nippo Vini Fantini rider who now hosts GCN Italia, remember his very last ever race, was also his 1st ever pro victory, mythical. I was happy to sneak a pic of Maranga and I head back to my room, I count the steps this time, 89 steps, big, feck off Italian town house stairs, don’t forget your purse Heather.
This evening I decide I have to find the start, my original digs were beside the start, but now I’m at the finish. So I need to find it as tomorrow is early, so I head out. I have relied heavily on the Google Maps man for years and he has never let me down, but he has not a clue about Siena… just not happening, so eventually I find the Fortezza Medicea and I know where to go tomorrow. I head back to Il Campo for something to eat, its now 22:30 and really early rise in morning.
Saturday 9th March – Race day
OK. Up early, I decide bugger this, taxi, physically not far, but if you make a mistake you will be lost in a warren of houses and alleys, so Flavia’s equally lovely husband gets me a taxi, but what kills me is locals just don’t care about the race. In bars, restaurants and my B&B the folks don’t really care. If I lived next to Strade Bianche I’d be going mental every year.
I get to Fortezza Medicea for the women’s sign on, it is busier than I expected, maybe women’s cycling is finally getting the respect deserves, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is the happiest person I have ever seen meeting Ant McCrossan.
And the big Italian hopes Marta Bastinelli, Elena Cecchini and Marta Cavalli and then you have the world favourites Marianne Vos, Annemiek Van Vleuten and Anna Van Der Bruggen. Are all here looking splendid and hoping for victory. The ladies set off and I wait for the men.
First of the men’s teams to arrive, way ahead of every other team are Neri Sottoli – Selle Italia – KTM super keen to get started. They get a big cheer as one of the local’ish teams and especially with four times Italian champion Giovanni Visconti who has joined the team this year after disappointment at Bahrain-Merida for a season. The big welcome means a lot to these guys, they are here to lap it up with Visco and Simone Velasco who recently won Il Laguellia.
The men’s teams come in fast and furious once it starts, there are many big teams with big riders here. This race only became a WT race last year, but I think everyone is agreed it could/should be the 6th monument.
The big stars are all here. Last years winner, and recently injured Tiesj Benoot, Greg van Avermaet, Julian Alaphilippe, Jakob Fuglsang, Alexey Lutsenko who has just won Tour of Oman and previous winner Moreno Moser and of course Italian favourite Vincenzo Nibali, although Lo Squalo is playing it very low key.
After the sign on I immediately head over to the start and catch the men setting off.
Once they are all off, I don’t really have time or opportunity to get out on the road, so I head back to Campo where the ladies are expected back in 2 hours, which turns into 90 mins as they are beating all expected times. On the way I go shopping, which means I have to go back to my room 89 steps. To drop bags and run back to finish.
I’ve got everything charged and I get into position for photos when the ladies are still about 30 mins out. I have no real idea of who is in front, gradually I realise it is van Vleuten, who has been my absolute hero since 2014 Olympics. She is going to win, bar disasters.
Annemiek comes in followed around 30secs later by Annika Langvad and ever 2nd, now 3rd Katarzyna Niewiadoma, Italian hope Marta Bastianelli is next with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig come in with Marrianne Vos in 7th. Bastienelli gets caught out in the fracas at the finish, Italian press really hitting her with the pressure.
The ladies podium up next, Anne Meik is in a good place at the beginning of this season. It amazes me she is walking never mind smiling and laughing…
We now have about 1 hour for the men to come in…
It’s always a scrum for photos spots at the end of a race, and today is no different. I have a great spot as the guys in front have agreed they will drop to their knees. But immediately the race is 200m to go, “giant elbows” next to me butts in and the wee guy in front refuses to drop. Alaphilippe appears, I get what I can and chase him down after the finish, it gets a wee bit fractious. The SanGemini stewards trying to get Alaphilippe back for the podium, start pushing like an old firm game on a Saturday afternoon, and in the melee Greg Van Avermaet get caught out.
The podiums come and Van Aert really doesn’t look happy, I don’t know if I’d want to be 3rd twice, but poor Niewiadoma had been 2nd twice but today was 3rd, but I don’t think I’d want to mention that to van Aert. One consolation for him and Fuglsang; it’s clear how much Alaphilippe hurts.
Saturday night and I’m starting to think about GP Larciano, Valerio had mentioned on Friday and a couple of people had mentioned it on Saturday, but Sunday is meant to be my day in Florence, if I go to Larciano, that’s it. I look at car hire and public transport. It would need to be a combination. Bus to Florence airport and car hire. I really want to do this but I’m thinking. So leave it over night.
Sunday 10th March – GP Larciano
That’s it I’m going. But already it is too late, I have to get to Florence for the car hire. I get to the bus station and figure out that the office is actually underground. I ask when is the next bus to Florence, this is Sunday remember, the bus is at 2pm, no I can’t do that. I decide to get a taxi! The things I do for men in lycra.
I head round to the taxi rank and ask, okay how much to Larciano, Lanciano? No Larciano. I show them on google where I want to go, and still they discuss (bloody hell, they’ve no clue where it is, it is a village) eventually they say about 150 euros. I am a “nose spite face” person, “I want that you give it to me now” didn’t really matter how much it was I was going, so we head off. Now it’s the Sunday after Strade Bianche, so its Gran Frondo Strade Bianche in Siena, it takes at least 30 mins in traffic to get out of Siena. Clock and meter is clicking.
90 mins later, As we approach Larciano, we get stopped by police to let the race pass at a junction in Lamporecchio. I take this opportunity to jump out and get some pics as they pass, only roadside I have seen this weekend. We pass under the Neri-Sottoli bridge and on to Larciano. I know the taxi isn’t going to get right into town with the race but I’m hoping to get as close as we can, my driver keeps talking about Larciano castle and asking for directions to there, I cant make him understand – it’s the bike race I am after Bici, Bici, no no Castello. Aarrrghghg!
We get to the barricade at the entrance to the village and the police direct us around, but he clearly doesn’t know what to do, I can see the finish line up in the distance and try to get out, no no I take you. We go round the houses but everything is closed. He asks a guy sitting in his car, this boy leads us around the town, about 20 euros worth and we end up back where I was and I finally convince him to let me out and I walk up the road for the finish. And the rain starts.
I get into Larciano proper and have a look around, I try to blag accreditations to hit the finish line. But the boss lady isn’t having it, even though a wee organiser guy has handed me an organiser pass. I give it back. GP Larciano is a circuit race so I catch them coming though the village for 2nd circuit and as I have time, I go into a bar for tea, Gianni Savio is getting served in front of me, Manuel Quinziato is sitting watching the race on his phone. This will be the right place then.
After my tea I head to the finish line, now it has been raining all the time, and my god do the Italians love an umbrella, never see so many, but I get an all right spot, if that guy moves his brolly. After the penultimate circuit they long legged ladies are wheeled out, in the rain, for the glamour shots, and I know it’s getting close.
The race comes through, I was hoping for Visconti but he finishes in 6th and the winner is Max Schachmann, followed by two Androni Italians, Cattaneo and Vendrame. The bunch sprint for 4th. I move around to try and get some photos of the podium, but all I can get are umbrellas, I have to get across the road, only after the pomp and champagne can I get near as people start to move off, which happens quickly as it is raining still. And I manage to steal a few end of podium shots. Savio on TV with Ciro.
Now my main worry begins, I have been told when I asked in the bar that there are no busses on a Sunday. There are no trains and no taxis in Larciano. How do I get back to Siena. The 1st person tells me to walk 300m to a bus stop outside Larciano, at a junction. The bus may come and turn off there. I walk to the bus stop. There is a note on the post and I turn to the person approaching to ask what it says? The person approaching turns out to be Marco Tizza, presumably walking to his car with his dad. He is carrying his bike. I realise I’ve asked a guy who has just cycled 200km for help, I say no it’s ok, but no he asked me if I spoke English and he translated the note for me. Just standing holding his bike. He tells me it doesn’t look like a bus will stop here. Ok, I thank him.
I walk on a bit and ask the police at the road block. 500m around that corner in the distance, there is a bus stop where I should get a bus to Empoli, I want Empoli because I know I can get a train to Siena from there. I stop at every bus stop but there is never a showing for a bus on a Sunday, No Domenica on these timetables.
Finally I actually have walked back to the start of Lamporeccio, this bus stop is opposite a glorified burger van with chairs and tables. Still raining, but people are sitting here, must be made of different stuff in Lamporecchio, I ask for help from a boy in the van, and he drives me to the correct bus stop for Empoli. And the bus is due in 30 mins. Great.
As I wait, I of course start to doubt everything, why would there be a bus here and not round the corner. Oh! Panic is setting in, and a young girl comes and stands at the bus stop, phew, are you waiting for the bus to Empoli? Yes, yes I will get back to Siena. 5 minutes and the bus comes.
The girl hands me a spare ticket she has for the bus. Wow, people are so nice. The bus trip is 45 minutes and it is fully dark when I arrive in Empoli. The girl has told me to stay on the bus until the finish, it will terminate at the station. I get off the bus and I can see trains but no way into the station, so I ask a boy sitting on a bench which direction for the entrance and he insists on walking me to the door. I get my ticket and a train is due in on Platform 3, I ask again how do I get to platform 3 and it is a subway. I run for the train which is coming in and in the melee of passengers disembarking I miss the train. So I have a wee glass of wine and a bounty (this first food of the day), the next train is only 30 minutes away.
What I have taken away from this weekend of Italian racing is that Italian people are basically good. Really pretty special, even on the morning when I left for the airport a young girl lifted my suitcase onto the train. The region is stunning, breathtaking. The racing is the best. And I’ll be back to see Florence and I might even see some white roads next time.
Keep it PEZ for the 2020 Strade Bianche race report on Saturday and all the news in EUROTRASH Monday.
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