Thursday, August 4, 2011

Training for Italy

Guest contributor Rich, who was on a tour with CycleItalia, describes the unique training requirements for riding in Italy.

Training for Italy

I really should have trained harder and longer for my trip to Italy. I thought I was in pretty good shape and well prepared, but we really don’t have anything here in Northern California that resembles conditions there. I would start every event strong, but lacked the staying power to keep up with the demands of the situations I faced. I worked on my intensity and endurance before the trip, but in the end I had to struggle simply to complete each days’ labors.

Of course, I’m not talking about the riding. The riding was fine and I was plenty ready for that. But the eating was quite another matter.

If Italy doesn’t have the best food on the planet I’d like to know which country does, and CycleItalia makes sure you are reminded of this at every meal.

I knew I was going to be in trouble at the first night’s dinner at our hotel. 1st course was an antipasti plate with various meats, cheeses, olives, peppers, eggplant, and small salads. Next came a plate of ravioli with meat sauce. The main course was beef with brown sauce and polenta with some broccoli on the side, and finally a cassetti (ice cream cake) for dessert. We enjoyed a local Barbera with the meal and I finished wondering if I would have anything left for breakfast.

Here is a typical antipasto plate:

And now for the pasta in a light cream sauce with truffles shaved on top right at the table:

Finally the main course: this one was pork cooked with a straw fire, which tastes better than it sounds:

And finally, dessert anyone? Apricot puree lightly frozen and filled with soft ice cream and surrounded with mint ‘pesto’:

All of our dinners were like this; long multi course events with new delights arriving at the table one after the other. Buckwheat noodles with cheese sauce, chard, sage and potatoes (yes, potatoes in a pasta dish), veal with mushroom sauce, pasta with mussels in olive oil infused with chilies, pasta with cream sauce and truffles shaved onto the top right at your table, risotto, the list is endless. The portions were reasonably sized, not massive, but it still took discipline to keep up.

Breakfast at every hotel was a buffet, and they all featured a variety of goodies ample to fuel a hungry cyclist for the day’s ride. Fresh fruit, breads, pastries, juices, cured meats and cheeses, and occasionally a surprise like tomatoes with mozzarella. For breakfast? I actually enjoyed them as pre ride fuel.

CycleItalia doesn’t carry anything but sugar cookies and water in the van for mid ride eating, but there is a reason for this. Every time we got to the summit of a climb there was a café/bar where we could indulge in coffee (espresso), strudel, mini pizzas or small sandwiches. Between noon and 2 pm each day, we would break off our ride and enjoy a sit down lunch at a restaurant, often sitting outside,. Usually the food would be one of the three P’s: pasta, pizza, or polenta. Here are a couple of examples. I don’t think I can ever eat another Cliff Bar after this.

For anyone planning a cycling trip to Italy (and I highly recommend doing so) make sure you train with plenty of miles and climbing on the bike, but don’t neglect knife and fork work.

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  1. Excellent report Rich... I did a tour with "Leather and Harry" in Toscana in 2000 and the wife and I had an incredible time. Those two really know their food, vino and cycling routes.

    And you're right: there is no better food on the planet.

  2. Ha! Rich really had me going with the first paragraph. Everything looks so delicious and exotic. I'd gain ten pounds even with the riding.

  3. Thanks for this beautifully written report. We are there in about a week!