580km around the beautiful Tuscan hills and mountains in the early June sunshine. That’s what I imagined when I entered the Tuscany Trail and I wasn’t far wrong. There was certainly hills and mountains, mainly of the super steep variety, the trail was indeed 580km long and the Tuscan countryside is fantastic. However, as one might expect, it rained! Not a gentle shower, this was full on biblical rain.
I lined up at the start in the Piazza in Massa alongside over 500 other riders to tackle the Tuscany Trail. The rain had momentarily paused to at least allow the spectators a dry experience however normal service was assumed as soon as the race started.
My race tactics were to pedal and not stop. As obvious as that might seem not many people generally try and complete the trail in one hit with no sleep. I had pretty much ruled out any sleep with my light equipment and bike setup. My brand new Mason Titanium prototype was packed with the bare essentials, warms layers, a rain jacket, a stash of Torq energy products and (much to my annoyance) a pair of shorts and a tee shirt I had to carry so I could wear something clean at the finish and on the flight home. I had deemed by Bivvi bag as too much extra weight so had decided to leave it at home, my compromise was a Gore rain jacket with a hood that I could sleep in if required.
The first part of the trail wound its way up through the mountains. At times the trail resembled little more than a stream as the torrent of water continued to fall from the sky’s and cascade down the hills. After the first long climb I found myself alone, perhaps a good indicator that my form is coming along nicely. My bike of choice was a gravel bike and I knew that I would be at a disadvantage in the mountains compared to those who had opted to ride a Mountain bike. I knew if I could stay in contact with the leaders in the mountains I stood a very good chance of being faster in the second part of the race.
I was briefly caught by one rider in the valley between mountains, my pre-race disorganisation meant that I had forgotten to by fresh batteries for my GPS so I dived into the first open shop I found. However once back on the climbs I soon found myself alone and out the front of the race.
As evening drew in and I made my way out of the mountains towards Florence the rain began to ease. A quick stop next to a food cart overlooking Florence drew some funny looks from the selfie stick toting tourists and provided my first proper meal of the day, a toasted panini and 4 croissants. Heading into the night the rain finally stopped and I began to cover ground quickly as the trail began to incorporate Tuscany’s famous Strade Bianche.
Despite the continual rain for a large part of the day I had made the schoolboy error of not drinking enough. This came to a head somewhere in the early hours of the morning when my stomach decided enough was enough and evacuation was the best possible solution. Thankfully in the absence of any loo roll I discovered that a Croissant I had saved for later was wrapped in a napkin so the emergency run into the bushes ended in a relatively civilized manner.
Re-hydration was now my priority so I backed off my pace and drank as much water as possible. My stomach was still a little sensitive, however I managed to keep fueled with the help of a few Torq Energy gels. I made it to Sienna around 4am just in time to see the last of the Thursday night party goers staggering home. Thankfully dawn broke soon after and I took the opportunity to have a brief sleep. 5 minutes later I was rolling again, my head feeling remarkably fresh after such a short ‘sleep’.
The sunshine finally began to make and appearance as the morning progressed and I was even forced to stop and apply sunscreen! By this time I had switched into energy conservation mode, I had figured my lead was over 2 hours so all I had to was finish the last 120 miles without incident.
As I neared the summit of the last long climb of the race I was beginning to regret not fitting an easier gear. I was contemplating this as two large dogs bounded out of the bushes and onto the rocky track I was climbing. They didn’t seem overly aggressive and I shooed them away and thought nothing more. A few seconds later I felt a sharp pain on my right calf and as I looked down one of the dogs had charged me from behind and bitten my leg really hard. I could feel that this was serious and adrenaline charged through my body as I shouted profanities at the dog as loud as I could.
My leg was extremely painful and I struggled to put pressure on it. Instinct kicked in and I staggered with the support of my bike up the track to the closest road which fortunately I could see above me. I flagged down two passing touring cyclists who immediately sprayed the deep puncture wounds with antiseptic spray and helped me to the small town.
I now found myself going from a commanding lead to scratching from the race in an instant. There was no way I could continue and it was obvious I needed medical attention. I had made my way to a local restaurant who called an ambulance for me. I had no idea where on earth I was and as I was carted down to the local hospital in the back of the ambulance clutching nothing but my frame bag. My bike had to be abandoned at the restaurant and I hoped more than anything that I would be able to get it back!
I had no idea of how much time elapsed between the bite and finally being released from hospital. My body clock was out of tune due to the missed night’s sleep and the events of the day. My wound were deep enough to require 7 stitches and once the adrenaline had stopped coursing through my body I found myself unable to walk.
It’s at this point that I must extend my deepest thanks to Olga and Andrea, the organisers of the Tuscany Trail. As soon as they heard about my situation they came straight to the hospital and were there to meet me when I was released. I don’t really know what I would have done had they not been there. I was unable to walk, didn’t really know where I was and my bike was 45minutes drive away. Thankfully they helped me find my bike, found me a hotel room and found me food. They even arranged for my safe transport back to Pisa for my flight by their friend Rocco so again my thanks go out to all of you.
The Tuscany trail is a fantastic event, dog bites excluded, and I will certainly be back in the future. I would recommend it to anyone. Personally it was a little disappointing having to pull out in the lead but as with all endurance events to finish first, first you have to finish. I proved to myself that my form and fitness is there, maybe had I been a little more alert when needed I would have finished.