The starting point is a small seaside town in northern Tuscany, sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains bursting with marble. At the end of a long day on the train, we collect our race numbers and greet the organisers. This year's event has once again attracted more than 1,200 participants, but due to health restrictions, the start is now unrestricted and, more importantly, spread over two days. We learn that the majority have already set off. No matter, we enjoy a warm and friendly evening in Massa and leave the next day.
The alarm goes off, very early. That's it, time to go. Time for a final shower for a while, and to pack our panniers, and we're on our way.
In the early hours of the morning, we glide along a canal through marshes glowing in the rising sun. My body is throbbing with anticipation and numb from sleep, so I need to take the time to wake up and settle into my routine before we start climbing mountains in earnest. We wind our way across the plain, cross our first ford and get our legs moving. The mountain looms before us. Then we plunge straight towards it, and straight towards the sun. First there's a wall, a dry slope that makes your legs tingle, then a real ascent, patient and quiet, starting on tarmac switchbacks and continuing on a forest track. It's still early, but we can feel that it's going to get hot.
First coffee, first pastries up there, watching a strange parade of cyclists: Lightweight, aerodynamic road bikes rub shoulders with mountain bikes, gravel bikes and laden touring bikes. We let Silvia go, having just shared a stretch of the journey with her. She's a young Italian who took up cycling last year during the lockdown and is now embarking on the Tuscany Trail.