On 12th October 2019 I competed in the Giro di Lombardia in Italy. That was it. I rode my last race as a professional cyclist.
Early the next morning, we - Sam Oomen, Stefan Bolt and I - had made a plan. The idea was to ride our bikes all the way from Lombardia to Lecchi in Chianti – that’s over 500 kilometers in only two days.
#transit – which was made into a film by LSRF (live slow ride fast) – was my way of saying goodbye to the peloton, but this journey also marked my transition from pro cyclist to pro adventurer.
I chose Lecchi because that’s where my manager João has a B&B. I hadn’t been on my annual trip there yet that year and really wanted to thank him for his support over the years. It also meant revisiting many of the beautiful places I was lucky enough to experience during my professional cycling career.
It was going to be a special farewell, so why the rush? Admittedly our speedy itinerary didn’t follow my newly-found ‘live slow’ philosophy, but it was my son’s fifth birthday the day after we would arrive in Lecchi – and family time is high on the live-slow agenda.
The route led us through stunning, varied and challenging terrain. From the Po Plain to the stunning, rugged Cinque Terre coastal area, through iconic Tuscan vineyards and cypress-lined hills. And one of the best things about riding in Tuscany is being able to get great food and drink wherever you stop!
It was an emotional trip, to say the least, digging deep into the reserves of everybody who joined us in making both the trip and the film a reality.
Day 1 of our journey was a tale of two halves - the first part fast-rolling and flat, passing through the Po Valley, the second part very hilly before descending back down towards the coast.Including the beautiful Cinque Terre area of northwestern Italy was my idea, even though it meant adding a few extra kilometers to our already ambitious trip!We only phoned ahead to book our accommodation for the night in Riva Trigoso when we stopped for lunch about 100 kilometers into the trip.That’s not like me at all but I was trying to embrace my more spontaneous side as part of my #transit journey.We kept each other going mainly by discussing what pizzas we’d have for dinner.It was just getting dark when we stopped again for a quick refuel with about 31 kilometers to go. Usually that’s nothing but with well over 200 kilometers already in our legs that day, a big push was needed.
We still had 278 kilometers ahead of us and today we also faced over 3000 meters of climbing. Nevertheless, we started the day in high spirits! The iconic panoramic views, colorful houses and steep terraces of the Cinque Terre accompanied us for the first part of the day before we headed back inland.We stopped in Lucca for some food. It had just gone 5pm and we had to get our lights out to prepare for night riding. To be honest, I was a bit worried at that point: still 115 kilometers to go and we’d be riding all of it in the dark, out of a busy town during rush hour and with more climbing awaiting towards the end.By the way, if you’re asking yourself why the recording is in two parts..this is how close we got to calling it a day and to getting in that car for the last 25km when João came to meet us out on the road on SP101.
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Less than 25 kilometers to go to our finish in Lecchi in Chianti but God, did we have to dig deep to keep going.Thankfully, João jokingly reminded me that I was technically still his athlete and shouldn’t dare even think about getting in the car.It was pitch black, we were exhausted and I was getting slightly worried about safety – no local driver would expect to see a cyclist out on the road at this time of the day! But luckily we stayed safe and there couldn’t have been a more emotional finale ahead of us: the entire village was there cheering and chanting! It was the perfect end to an epic journey.