Picos Original Riders

Picos Original Riders
Highlights of 2010

Last of the Picos Riders - to Rome Alone!

Our first two charity rides were a huge success - raising over £20,000 for the South East Cancer Help Centre.

The Centre does a fantastic job of supporting patients and carers at the most difficult times of their lives. They make a real difference and you could help them in their work by contributing to our fundraising. Donations can be made via JustGiving.comhttps://www.justgiving.com/Tom-Vaz/ or directly into the Centre. For more details of the Centre and their work see their website at http://www.sechc.org.uk/

After 3 years of rest it seemed time to dust off the old muscles, bones and sinews and do one more spectacular ride in aid of this fabulous charity.

This time I will travel alone for 25 days, mainly following the ancient pilgrimage route to Rome, the Via Francigene, covering a distance of around 1,400 miles.

The route travels through Newhaven - Dieppe - Paris before I eventually reach the Via Francigene in Eastern France. From then on it is pretty simple apart from having to cross the Alps without an elephant!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Day 20 Pontremoli to Santa Maria del Giuduce via Pisa

A long day was planned in order for me to meet up with Luke in Pisa which is a slight detour from the Via Francigena as well. And the personal milestone for me is that somewhere today I crossed 1000 miles on this trip.

I left Pontremoli later than planned because of the puncture from yesterday. Hurrying to make up time I covered the 65 miles to Pisa at an average of 14.4 mph, not bad considering all the weight in my luggage. Of course it was mostly downhill or level as I followed the Fiume Magra to the coast.

Passing numerous towns looking down into the valley gave the whole journey a surreal feel. Beautiful towns with castles and impossibly large churches with fabulous names like Villa Franca Babarasco and Caprigilia proudly looking down at us in the busy valley below.

The SS62 was very busy but in good repair. I had to slow down for endless numbers of traffic lights and roundabouts. Italian drivers don't like people to know where they're going. They come up alongside you as you negotiate a roundabout and will have a good look at you before deciding they want to cut across you and turn off. No indicating or any other curtesy like being in a sensible lane.

Eventually at the somewhat grubby town of Aula I diverged from the Via Francigena and carried on the SS1 towards Pisa.

After two very brief stops for milk and pastry and a banana. I'd run out of anything substantial to eat and as I approached Pisa on the dual carriageway SS1 I was starving. Traffic was overtaking me quickly but at least there was less chance of being cut up.

Finally, I arrived in Pisa at 2.15pm and got an astonished look from Luke when I told him I'd pedalled 65 miles to meet him for lunch. Of course the hug was lacking in enthusiasm but that could have been due to my being soaked in sweat.

A pizza and an ice cream later it was time for us to go or separate ways, Luke back to Florence and me onwards towards Lucca.

When I looked at the map last night there was a section which looked very odd. Something like a straight road with a 30% climb which I knew was unlikely. A small Boxhill like zigzag later and I laughed with relief as i realised thecstraight section was a tunnel! Finally someone is on my side😆.

Total distance today 72 miles.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Day 19 Fornovo di Taro to Pontremoli

What a day - from flat, boring Lombardy to beautiful mountains and Tuscany and a bizarre German festival in just 41 miles!

The day started with grey skies and a drop in temperature to below 20C. Fantastic, this was exactly what I needed with a long mountain climb ahead. 32 km going up 1km in three stages.

The mountainous scenery appeared soon after leaving Fornovo di Taro and as I reached  500m altitude I was already in the low lying clouds. Sweaty and alternating between feeling hot and cold plus with poor visibility I had to put my bright rain jacket on. Cue more hot and sweaty!

Plenty of signs for the Via Francigena have started to appear now. I'm tempted to steal one of these pottery models but I know I shouldn't!

After two climbs followed by short descents I reached my lunch stop at Berceto. The town has links with Enzo Ferrari who made his first racing appearance on the hill climb that follows this winding Parma Poggio-Berceto route. Eventually he stopped racing himself and created the famous marque.

At this point I discovered that I had a slow puncture. Taking the easy option I decided to just pump it up and keep going a decision that I'm sure will come back to haunt me.

Another couple of miles later I could see big changes ahead. For a start I was leaving the land of the Parma Reggiano cheese which has embellished all my pizza and pasta meals since arriving in Italy.

Then the sun came out and I was at the Passo della Cisa and Tuscany lay just ahead. A quick visit to the chapel and the point at which the Via Francigena crosses into Tuscany before the GORGEOUS ride down swishing, sweeping, swooping curves into my overnight stop at Pontremoli. A very beautiful town set among lovely hills and mountains.

HOWEVER I still have to get up early tomorrow to fix my puncture before a long ride to Pisa where I will hopefully meet up with Luke and the Tower will lean naturally without any help from my camera.

As for the German Festival? Sausages, beer and VERY LOUD music - just perfect for the vegetarian with an early morning start. Anyone for pizza and ear plugs?

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Day 18 Piacenza to Fornovo di Taro

Well I couldn't get a reasonably priced room in Fornovo so I'm a couple of miles out of town in a places called Sant'Andrea Bagni. The thermal springs here must have been a massive attraction once because the hotel I'm in is huge 50 rooms but there's hardly anybody in it. Massive dining rooms all managed by one lady who is also covering reception.

Not much to report on my way here which I think good news for me! I followed the SS9 out of Piacenza, long straights, sometimes with a cycling hard shoulder and sometimes without. This is a busy road with big lorries so lots of concentration involved. This cyclist helped me through one little town because she didn't laughed at the ideas of one way streets!Eventually I headed off onto a quieter road at Fidenza and I had suddenly had time to think again. I haven't forgotten why I'm doing this ride and I haven't forgotten all you kind people who pledged and donated money. It is a good cause and I carry your good wishes (and prayers) with me through the rough and the smooth parts of my journey.

It has been a great adventure up to now and I'm sure that when I hit tomorrow's mountain that your kindness will carry me over like the grumpy old man in "Up". If not then I will just have to buy loads of helium balloons!

You kind people who've made pledges and signed sponsorship sheets should be prepared to receive a phone call. As I am approaching the end they have their fingers on the dial and will be after your promised gold! Give generously because it has really hurt at times!

Total mileage today was 40 miles and the Grand Total so far is 924 miles!

Wherever there's shade and somewhere to sit there are old codgers who turn up on bikes. This is a great idea for when I get home! 
Gateway to where I don't know but those mountains in the background are where I'm headed tomorrow. 
Someone please tell me what this flower is. I have seen loads of these bushes and want one! 

Day 17 Pavia to Piacenza

An exceptionally hot today today. There had been very little cloud or tree cover. My route meandered north of the Po River but in a flat and fairly featureless landscape only the churches in the occasional village stood out.

I did eventually climb up a great height of 75 meters before swooping down towards the river. The cool breeze generated as I hit 30mph made it worth the climb!

I followed this character while cycling through Piacenza to scrutinise the rules of cycling in Italian towns. Basically cyclists have right of way over everyone else including pedestrians on a pavement! You don't need to worry about traffic lights or even wait for cars to stop at the crossings.

This glamourous lady spent ages convincing her dog to get in the basket. I'm not surprised it was reluctant!

At 7pm I struggled to find a place serving food in the outskirts of town. Eventually I had a batarĂ² - sort of a like panini but actually very tasty. Makes a change from pizza and pasta! 

At 9pm the temperature in Piacenza is still 30C so I just went to sleep early. One more day before the rolling hills of Tuscany.

Another 46 miles today. 

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Day 16 Alessandria to Pavia

I was warned that the River Po valley is very flat and boring and yes I agree that is. The roads were very flat and very straight but badly maintained. So much do that 1 meter width on the edge of the road was unusable.

I had planned a longer day's cycling but heat and the after effects of tummy troubles made me choose to stop in Pavia in South West Lombardy.

I had an interesting encounter with a pastry for lunch. I was about to bite into it when I realised that the thing was still in the pastry tin! 

Well let me assure you that Pavia it is a real jewel of a City. Full of glamourous people and medieval buildings; the whole place is vibrant. After checking into my b&b I went for a walk and visited the Duomo di Pavia (a Cathedral) and the Ponte Coperto (a covered bridge).

Both beautiful examples in their own way. Firstly a Cathedral with an early example of a massive dome. Reportedly worked on by Mr Da Vinci.

And secondly the covered bridge is a replica because the Americans bombed the original medieval one during WWII
I am especially proud of the scooter shot - not bad for a mobile phone camera! 

Day 15 Moncalieri to Alessandria

Leaving Moncalieri I followed the hills through Chieri and Soglio. This route runs roughly parallel to the main road to Asti.

There are a lot of beautiful views in the lush Piedmont hills but you know that the long downhill is followed by an equally long uphill. Lunch was a tricky affair, the owner of the little cafe didn't even understand what menu meant so I ended up just looking at the stickers on his counter until I saw the faithful word panini. You need some Italian to travel through these remote areas!

As temperatures hit the high 30s in the afternoon I stuck to the main road from Asti. Quite flat and fairly quick until reaching my overnight stop at Alessandria.

This was a very stylish b&b in a farmhouse but no wifi. The house was beautifully decorated in strong colours. Wish I'd arrived here earlier to enjoy more time in such luxury!

Total 65 Miles

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Day 14 Ivrea to Moncalieri

Just a nice, simple day was planned until I realised Luke was in Turin and that was just 34 miles away! So we arranged to meet for lunch at 1pm. Me travelling on a bike and Luke walking a few hundred yards. Guess who was late? Of course it had to be him.

His excuse was that he had to see as many museums as possible because they were going to be shut tomorrow. Oh well, so much for Dad's doing this long ride for charity etc...

Then he started off with I've read your blog and it's rubbish apart from Nina's sarcastic comments! Oh so hurtful Luke,  I don't know why I bought you lunch after that.

Actually the ride from Ivrea was really delightful, with the Italian Alps in the background and lakes and small villages en route. The last stretch into Turin was a bit weird as the Italians have just painted lines on the pavements to mark a cycle lane. Quite often the curbs haven't been lowered to allow you onto the pavement and of course there are the trams!

I emerged near Piazza Vittorio Veneto to find pedestrians, cars, tramlines and me all squeezed into a narrow archway and I nearly fell off the bike as the tyres slipped on the tram line.

Octopus for lunch! As we had lunch Luke noticed that my tan lines have reached absurd levels. This is my right arm where my short sleeves have left a remarkable before and after. I have distinct glove and knee support marks as well just in case a body turns up and you need to identify me.

Luke took me to the iconic Museo Nazionale del Cinema which is the image used in the Italian 2 cent euro coins. Apparently it was intended as a synagogue but has just ended up as a fancy building.

After we split up I made my way past the Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio where the minis were filmed going down the stairs in the "Italian Job".

And finally this evening in a restaurant I had another of my Mr Bean moments. As I was rummaging in my day bag I sliced the tip off one of my fingers on my razor (don't ask what it's doing in there). With blood dripping and me holding my hand in the air to stop the bleeding and ask a waitress for the bill I expected to receive prompt service. Fat chance!!! They ignored me for a full 10 minutes as if it was normal to have bleeding customers (you know what I mean! ).

I quite literally left them no tip (hahaha).

43 miles today