Lloyd's Cycling Club Tour 2014: Day One

Lloyd's Cycling Club Tour 2014: Day One

It was already 11 o'clock in the evening when the coach from the airport turned down the sweeping descent into Villa San Giovanni and we saw the light of Sicily glinting across the short stretch of water that separated us. As we pulled int to the hotel, we were greeting by the advance party who had arrived a few hours earlier.

Bikes were taken from boxes and reassembled, kit organised and then we either went straight to bed or, in some cases, the lure of the bar proved too much. Either way, we were all up and breakfasting a few hours later, packing kit away and finalising preparations and the, just after eight o'clock, the first group of riders left for the start of an eight day 960 mile epic ride from the very toe of Italy to Monte Carlo (and then on to Nice).

The 26 riders include brokers, underwriters, an odd lawyer or three as well as a few "ringers' from outside the market and a doctor and mechanic.

In support, we have two vans, one driven by a senior and a junior driver (both brokers) and the other by two physios.

After months of training and preparation, we were finally under way. This was an immense relief. It was good to be on the road at last.

I have been training for tis ride for six months and, with the support of the Lloyd's Well Being Centre, have lost four stone in weight. I have ridden a few thousand training miles. Perhaps the worst part of preparation was the logistical issue of ensuring all my kit was ready and working. The last few days before our bikes and bags were loaded onto the van to be driven to italy, were spent packing, unpacking and repacking; checking and rechecking. My nerves grew at my lack of mechanical nous. Would I reassemble my bike correctly?

But now we were on the road and my bike felt good.

It threatened to rain and clearly had been raining, but somehow the showers avoided us. The rain that had fallen brought some coolness and the temperatures, even in the heat of the day were considerably lower than they could have been thanks to a northerly wind. And there was the rub. We are riding north, straight into that wind.

Working together we ploughed on. The day was a short one. Only 93 miles with two major climbs; the first at 10 miles. We started to rise. I have not appreciated that we had covered such a distance already but after a mile or two of climbing conceded that we must have and dropped to a gentler gear. The climb went on upwards for seven miles and splintered the "slow group" which had started with half of the riders on the tour placing themselves into that category.

Despite my efforts to contain the speed, as soon as anyone else took the lead, the pace increased. On reaching the summit, we decided to wait for the others but after a while, sweat turned cold and we rode further towards the first rest stop. A glorious restful descent gifted us most of the miles to the scheduled rendezvous with the van.

The stop, identified by using Street View in Google Maps, had been usurped by some fly dumpers and was not a pleasant place to stand. The van had not yet arrived. We pressed on. Straight into another, longer climb taking us up over looking the coast and, just before the summit, to a pleasant cafe where we refilled bottles and stopped for a while.

All climbs earn riders downhills and our reward for climbing up what we might call a mountain but Italians just call a hill, was a spectacular descent with wonderful views along the coast, if one could avert one's eyes from the road ahead and the hairpin bends and Italian traffic.

For the first and only time of the day, we turned off the one road we followed and went down a steep narrow lane to a pretty town by the sea. The town square was filled with open air restaurants and we found one willing to host 30 sweaty cyclists and their support and eat quantities of pasta and calamari and drank ice cold drinks, fuelling for the last 35 miles of the day's ride.

Those miles were flat and, forming into groups, we fought the headwind and proceeded at around 20 miles an hour. One mile at the front and then 21 miles sheltering behind others. Disciplined and efficient.

We attracted smiles and waves from road side prostitutes and a hitch hiker waved his thumb at us. All day, groups of Italian cyclists waved and shouted "Ciao!" where in England one might, if lucky, get a nod.

Soon we were at the hotel for the evening in Amantea Cosenza, stowed our bikes and beginning the recovery for the next day's ride.

Only seven days to go.

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