On a day like this there are clues.
First came pristine, freshly laid Tarmac. Barely dry. Like riding on a ribbon of silk. Smooth as a fondo del bambino. A new road surface being a sure sign that the Giro d’Italia is heading this way
Clue number two was the scarlet Ferrari that scorched past, making full use of this new Tarmac; San Marino bound, with San Marino plates, a be-suited Sammarinese behind the wheel.
Clue number three wasn’t so much a clue as a statement of fact: You are now entering San Marino. The microstate, clinging to its little mountain of freedom, and ready to play host to the time trial on Stage Nine of the 2019 Giro d’Italia.
We were here for the scenery, and to cycle to the summit, but also to recce the route.
Truth be told, the clues weren’t necessary. This Emilia Romagnan cycling trip was delivered by Terrabici and included the services of Chris, our consummately professional guide, a man who knows these roads like the back of his weather-grizzled Aussie hands.
Our job was to ride, and absorb the potted history delivered by him en route. Although I swear at one point I saw him fiddle with a discreet stopwatch. Was he taking our time splits as we wrestled our way up the climb?*
It quickly became clear that we were no threat to Dumoulin, Nibali, Yates, and their Giro ambitions, and he relaxed.
As an experienced cyclist I’ve never engaged the services of a guide before, being happy to pick and choose my own routes, but this little raid into San Marino was undoubtedly a richer experience for Chris’s local knowledge.
As we rode he talked us through the lie of the land, naming rivers and pointing out summits on the horizon. We learnt of the Roman remains of Rimini and their subsequent bombing in The War; the mountain tunnels and sulphur mines of San Marino; and the underground ‘grottos’ in Santarcangelo di Romagna – of unknown origin, but now used to age wine and cheese.
And we digested all this while tackling a nicely challenging ride taking us from the Rimini coast, to the principality of San Marino, and looping back; at fifty miles and almost a thousand metres of ascent this was no cultural dawdle through the countryside.
As for San Marino, it delivered what we expected. A curiosity and tourist trap, part museum and part retail opportunity. Stern faced (but surely friendly) officers of the Corpo de Polizio Civile managing traffic with a mild sense of theatre. And, of course, the looming back-story of a visit from the Giro d’Italia, and the climb itself.
The ascent of this mountain principality.
Around five kilometres in length, up to about seven hundred metres in altitude, with long sections at ten percent or so. For the likes of us the climb was a diverting grit-yer-teeth challenge with occasional panoramic views leaping out from behind corners. Tiled rooves and rolling hills in one direction, dramatic rocky outcrops in the other.
For the professionals, come the nineteenth of May, against the clock, their race could live or die here.
Photos taken, memories bagged, we necked a swift espresso (for politeness…our contribution to the country’s coffers) and headed back across the border to Emilia Romagna. Flitting back to the Adriatic coast, town to town.
At Santarcangelo di Romagna it was market day. We meandered through the square, half-clipped and freewheeling as they packed up the day’s trade, and negotiated a monk, in full cowl, strolling, absorbed in his mobile phone.**
“That’s not a sight you see every day…” we muttered. And then I wondered if this meant something? I mean…I’m not religious, but it felt like a sign. A monk on a mobile.
Something about divine intervention, perhaps, for the Giro contenders and their day of struggle up to San Marino?
*I may have imagined this.
**I definitely didn’t imagine this.
(Top two images via Pixabay|montage images http://www.road-theory.com)
Terrabici are a consortium of bike hotels scattered across Emilia Romagna, ideal as a base from which to discover the cycling of the region. They describe themselves as “the first regional hotel chain specialised in cycling hospitality.”
Offering an endless variety of biking holidays tailored to your needs, facilities and services include: bike hire, storage and maintenance; maps and information; experienced guides; transfers; Gran Fondo enrolment; food and wine tasting; regional meals in the hotel; laundry facilities; spa and pool facilities; and more.
If my experience was typical a more-friendly, welcoming, and better organised biking trip would be hard to imagine. Check out the website: Terrabici.