Day 9 – Living dangerously, and the grand arrival

A little late today; Rob B told me that his parents are reading this blog over breakfast, so I hope I haven’t delayed you Mr & Mrs B!

To start at the end, we are all safe and well in Mestre, the land side suburb of Venice, despite a day of living dangerously.

We departed from the awesome village of San Martino di Castrozzi, with a rapid twisting descent to the valley below. Spirits were high and exuberant, and risks were taken. Two-thirds of the way down, Andy H had a horrible high-speed crash and was lucky to walk away with only a wheel broken.

Dusted off, wheel changed, on with the show. Once we were down to valley level we cruised through a splendid gorge with steep sides of Dolomite limestone, and occasional mirror lakes, reflecting the rock above. It was warm in the sunshine but very chilly in the shadow of the mountains, and then warm again each time we passed through one of many tunnels.

Morning stop was in Feltre, another splendid medieval town.

With the rest of the day mainly flat, and some energy to burn, particularly among the youngsters, it was hare and tortoise time. Fast groups broke away and rode at high speed in line, generally ending in some minor mishap, at which point the wiser heads proceeding steadily would catch up or pass.

Andrew had arranged for a celebration reception at a car dealership 50km from Venice, and the hares approached here with flat speed touching 30mph powered by diesel Flesher at the front.

The table of food at the reception was a work of art, with individual punnets of grapes, a pot plant and salamis and cheese. Our hosts had really pushed the boat out, with fine sparkling Prosecco and a cake decorated with a bicycle iced in the traditional Bianchi celeste blue. How kind of them! Andrew was unfortunately not there, he and son Tom having detoured massively due to navigation problems. They did finally pull in just as we all prepared to leave.

The plan was to cruise steadily to a point just outside Mestre, regroup, and then roll into town together. Things went to plan except for the ‘steady’ bit. Everyone wanted a leg stretch, and the peloton hurtled along, bigger and faster than ever, with some traditional tortoises joining the fun. Everyone has become so strong over the trip, and it was great to see Jamie and Steve riding fast and free, as well as youngsters like Sam, Daniel and Ollie who we have seen develop from novices to really athletic cyclists over the past few months.

It was a bit reckless however, and when Dom took a tumble, bouncing back to his feet unfeasibly quickly, we all calmed down.

Comparing notes in the evening, it seems I missed the real highlight of the day, which was a team of choreographed skaters, dressed in bikinis, practising their moves. Andy B said it was like “beach volleyball on roller-skates”. Honestly guys, after thousands of shouts of “slowing” and “car up” over the past ten days, the least you should have managed was a shout of “bikini-clad roller skaters”.

Which reminds me: the alarm shouts of “gravel” and “tracks” became a bit mundane, but I think I managed one “wheelbarrow” and a “sea”.

So, the ceremonial roll into Venice began, and we filled the road, rolling past ‘no cars’ barriers and into the midst of an Octoberfest street party at one point. Finally, we were at the hotel, where Lyn and other supporters were waiting for us, and the cheers, hugs, tears and joy broke out. Bicycles were held aloft and team photos were taken.

Dinner was a fine blow out, but I think we should draw the curtains as the drinking games begin and leave the rest to your imagination.

Over dinner we calculated that each rider turned in the region of half a million pedal strokes in cycling nearly 1000 miles. There was a mix of “shoot me if you see me on a bike” and “when can we do it again?” from different riders. For me, I loved every one of those pedal strokes. Riding in a group working well together is a superb feeling, and the satisfaction being self-propelled across western Europe is tremendous.

I’m sure there will be epilogues and photos, but for now, “that’s all folks”, I’m off to see Venice.

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