Pedalando con Bartoli & Argentin, Laigueglia, February 2008
Early Sunday morning in Laigueglia, the whirr of wheels and chains grows as we approach the start area. We wind through the narrow alleyways directed by the marshals. Finally the Mediterranean swings into view with a smaller sea of colour along side it - 1200 cyclists. All of them are waiting to ride out with Classics Campiones, Michele Bartoli and Moreno Argentin.
9:00am and we're off! Every rider surges forward in an attempt to get to the front to see the two legends. Don't they realise there's 100km+ yet to ride?
For the first 30km along the Ligurian coast it's the pace doesn't let up. But who cares? 24 hours ago we were shivering in a typical London February, now were riding along the Italian Riviera in shorts!
At Ceriale the route turns inland towards the capi that this region is famous for. We start to pick up some of the overly enthusiastic riders. Bit by bit we reel them in, our confidence being bolstered with each one.
The gradient starts to edge up bit by bit until it hits 10%. At Arnasco it eases to 7% before kicking up for one last stretch through Onzo.
Just before the 437m crest, at 40km in, we reach the first feed station. We resist the temptation to linger gorging ourselves on cakes and lemon tea by stocking up and pressing on towards the 677m high Passo Ginestra that looms across the valley.
The descent from Borgo di Ranzo allows a short respite for our legs, before the Ginestra begins at Villanovo Ippodromo.
It starts gently enough, even easing off after the first 4km, but then at the 12km mark rears up to 14% for the next 2km. As we twist around the mountain, we can faintly hear music playing. Indistinguishable at first, but becoming louder with every pedal stroke, eventually we have The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" as the soundtrack to our climb.
Just before we reach the summit, we find the source of the music. Despite a complete absence of houses for miles, there is a full on party with barbeque, wine and beer! We stop briefly for some food and a coffee and then press on marveling at the generosity of our mad hosts!
A kilometer later we start the long descent back to the sea and Laigueglia. 30km and it's all down hill. Oh how wrong we were!
At Andora, the route had a sting in its tail. It wasn't long or steep - only 2km at 4%. But, added to that was the stiff sea breeze coming off the Mediterranean which made it much harder.
The finish along the front in Laigueglia was a welcome sight, especially as it had thoughtfully been placed next to a beachside restaurant!