When I was asked to take part in the so-called La Classica bicycle ride, I agreed without hesitation or a second thought. It would be a chance to go on an Italian adventure with dozens of bartenders from around the world and we’d be raising money for Water to Wine, an organization that helps provide people in need with drinking water. Only after some preliminary discussions with Martini & Rossi, the ride’s organizer, did I begin to understand just what I had signed on for and the miles I was expected to cover in only two days. The route would go from Milan to Turin, which is nearly 138 miles long and climbs thousands of feet in elevation.
Before I left for Italy, I needed to whip myself into shape so as not to be embarrassed. But this was no easy task, since the last time I rode a bike was a long time ago when I was just a boy on my way to school in Johannesburg. And so, six weeks of intense training commenced.
I also asked my friends who are serious bikers for some advice. Usually, after I explained what I was planning on doing, they were too stunned to speak. Eventually, they would insist that I should buy proper bike shorts with padding. I was undaunted.
Read on for a diary of my Italian bicycle adventure.
I love Italy and Milan in particular, but my regular giddiness of arriving in the country was dulled by the anxiety of the impending ride and the area’s famous hills. I checked into the Cosmo Torri Hotel and was quickly put at ease by the friendly Martini & Rossi folks. They surprised me with an awesome racing outfit and getting fitted for a wickedly cool bike made my day. Thanks to their reassurances that we were all in this together, my fear of the unknown quickly dissipated.
That night we were treated to aperitivo drinks and dinner at the Terrazza Martini with beautiful views of Milan and specifically of the glorious Duomo. Our Americano cocktails set the stage for the task ahead, since the drink is made with a Martini & Rossi's Riserva Speciale Bitter Liquer mixed with vermouth from Turin and a splash of club soda.
The morning came very quickly. Nervous excitement got the day started. But, since we were in Italy, before we left we first had cups of espresso and pastries and then got on our bikes at 9 AM.
Once we got started, I struggled to catch up to the lead pack, catch my breath and remember to take in every moment. The journey began with all the gusto of a new adventure but the last two big climbs of the day were filled with my cursing and regret. Fortunately, my internal drive took over and I got busy getting busy and finished strong. I was welcomed with a refreshing aperitivo at the finish line along with friendly high fives from my fellow riders. Dinner at the hotel was full of stories from the road and most of us didn’t last beyond 9:30 PM. Sleep was well deserved.
- La Classica Stage 1 Stats
- 77.4 miles at an elevation gain of 3,467 feet
- 5 hours & 58 minutes in the saddle
I woke up early and was surprised that I wasn’t completely sore. To my relief, my preparation and training beforehand had actually paid off. So I started the morning with some stretching and a healthy breakfast. Chatting with the other riders reminded me that I was part of a bigger group of friends. That helped me get in the mindset to go on another epic bike ride.
Today, we started with some hills but the sights were astounding. I even cursed less. Most of the time I wanted to stop but it was to take in the view not because I was tired. The ride seemed somehow easier because I was distracted by the views and I forget the difficulty of climbing the hills.
We ended the journey as a group and rode into the town of Pessione nearing Casa Martini. My tiredness was taken over by pure joy and a sense of accomplishment. Riding into a distillery has probably not ever had the same dramatic effect and an Americano has never tasted as good as the one I had at the finish line.
- La Classica Stage 2 Stats
- 60.3 miles at an elevation gain of 4,429 feet
- 5 hours 14 minutes in the saddle