Blog Post

Stage 1: San Felice Circeo to Napoli
A week ago today the 96th edition of the Giro d’Italia got under way in Napoli. The opening stage was a flat but technical 130 km course that looped around the city. Initially it was going to be a 10 lap race around the streets of Napoli but a late change saw this cancelled. Either way, neither of these courses were ever going to be an option me. For anyone who hasn’t driven around Naples the word insanity doesn’t even come close to describing it. It really wasn’t practical or safe for me to cycle around Napoli, let alone loop around it or ride 10 laps of it. For my Giro grande partenza I needed a different starting point so I picked up a map and looked for somewhere that was about 80 miles north of Napoli. I found San Felice Circeo.

It took a couple of days for us to drive the 1,380 miles from Bewdley to San Felice Circeo so when it was time for me to get on my bike this morning I was more than a little stiff. Having never cycled in Italy before I really didn’t know what to expect today and to be honest the drive down hadn’t inspired me with confidence. The roads were busy and in general they were poorly surfaced but I wasn’t going to condemn the entire Italian road network on the little I had seen.

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The grande partenza from our hotel in San Felice Circeo

I did have a few worries about my ride today though. Mind you I had the same worries last year when I started my Tour de France ride in Belgium and if my memory serves me well that was never as bad as I imagined it to be.

As it transpired I was right to worry although I have to say that it wasn’t all bad. The coastal road was very picturesque and seeing a fair number of other cyclists out and about settled many of the doubts I had. When it was bad though, it was very bad, and the closer to Napoli I got the worse it seemed to get. I hugged the hard shoulder on the main roads and dual carriageways but it wasn’t easy looking out for cars while dodging all the broken bottles that littered the side of the road. In fact I was so focused on staying upright and not puncturing that initially I didn’t even spot the legions of highway hookers touting for business at the roadside.

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It wasn’t all broken bottles and highway hookers on the road to Napoli, there were Sexy Shops too

Actually the entire ride today was a bit of a baptism of fire for me. Because of the bad weather we’ve had this winter virtually all my training for the Giro has been done on my turbo trainer at home. In fact I’ve only ridden on the road four times this year with my longest ride being 52 miles – it was quite hilly though. As a result the plan today was to take a break early for food, stopping somewhere close to Formia, while we were still on the pretty coastal road. Well, that was the plan anyway.

Unfortunately I hadn’t factored in losing Kay inside the first 20 minutes and not seeing her again until I’d covered nearly 80 km, or 50 miles. I have to say though that I wasn’t too concerned because this was a common occurrence in the early days of last year’s Tour ride and I was confident she’d catch up with me at some point. And anyway, on paper our route today looked pretty straightforward, I couldn’t see how we could possibly go wrong.

Having said that I was still mightily relieved when she finally drove past me and I saw that she was fine. Conversely I was a bit sunburnt and quite thirsty. I suggested she find somewhere up the road to pull over so I could get a drink and grab a bite to eat. I told Kay about how I’d been a bit nervous riding through my first tunnels and she told me how she’d taken a wrong turn coming out of Terracina, ended up on a motorway, then found herself driving towards Roma. So it appears that they’re not lying when they say “all roads lead to Rome”.

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Not exactly the picturesque coastal road I had in mind for our food stop

As I got closer to Napoli I felt surprisingly good – not about my surroundings, about the level of my fitness – and even a slight detour around the Port of Pozzuoli and a final 10 km on cobbled roads and streets didn’t upset my rhythm too much. And when I approached the end point I recognised it immediately from the satellite imagery I’d used when I was route planning. I felt even better when I hit the stop button on my Garmin and noticed that the time was only 1:30 pm.

Today’s early finish really was an unexpected bonus. In all likelihood we won’t get any free time for at least another week, probably not until we’re in Gabicce Mare for the stage 8 time trial. Kay must have seen the time too and sniffed an early check-in. As soon as I hopped off the bike her camera was already in her hand taking some post ride photos to document the end of a stage.

While I loaded my bike onto the back of the car Kay prepared a protein shake for me and as I drank it we plotted our route to the hotel. After a couple of false starts and dead-end streets we eventually inched our way out of the city and made our way back to Pozzuoli where we’re staying tonight.

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Safely in Napoli at the end of an incident free opening stage

And so it begins, our daily post-ride routine for the next few weeks. Drive to the hotel, check-in; unload the car, essentials only; plug in the fridge and laptop, put the numerous electronic devices on charge; camping stove out, pasta and sauce put on to boil; cycling kit off and rinsed while I shower, then passed to Kay for washing; eat as much pasta and sauce as possible, before my stomach realises it’s full; wash up, sterilise all the water bottles; upload Garmin ride data to the laptop, and all photos and videos taken during the day; and finally, update our respective blogs – usually the most time consuming task, depending upon how good, or bad, the Wi-Fi is.

No doubt I’ve missed a few things but today is quite unusual because we arrived at the hotel at 2:30 pm and we’ve had more time than we know what to do with. In fact so much time that I was able to watch stage 8 of the Giro live on TV, the Gabicce Mare to Saltara individual time trial. I tuned in at the exact moment Bradley Wiggins punctured, I hope it wasn’t an omen or some sort of prophetic sign of things to come.

Photos From Stage 1

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