Road To Nowhere
Lucca is a spectacular place to ride a bike nestled in a valley between mountain and sea it's been a training ground of choice for professional riders for nigh on a hundred years. Every time you go for a ride you share road space with a former pro, a current pro or a future pro. They are all here. There is something for everyone. But it's not infested, you can escape, find the peace, the solitude and if you desire…the road to nowhere.
If other places are like Starbucks then Lucca is the trendy independent with the queues around the corner on a Saturday morning.
There are so many roads. SO MANY ROADS. Roads that don't necessarily go anywhere. They go up they go down and sometimes they go in circles but they go. Go like a cage dancer in Ibiza in 1989.
It would be easy to talk about the attractive spins that don't hurt you, the runs to the coast along the tree lined Roman avenues and the cappuccino rides but I want to tell you about the road that made me stay, the road that I want to put on the bedroom wall but the wife won't let me. It's the road that I suffer for and the road I will never forget.
Everybody here rides a bike and they all have one of these roads.
"I've got this house in Italy"
"I've got a few actually, you could rent one,"
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Why don't you rent one?"
"Where is it?"
Monte Serra dominates the skyline to the south of Lucca, rising impudently to face the mountains of the north. There are three ways up and they have all been ridden upon and written about.
The old man in the bar said I needed to go up from Sant'Andrea Di Compito, said you haven't ridden the mountain unless you go up that road.
I'd been sticking to the easy roads, riding to the sea and drinking cappuccinos, shaving my legs and getting a suntan. Then I woke up one day and I went.
Giovanni 'Nani' Clerici is a local legend, a champion from the 60's and 70's, a bona fide Tuscan racer. He's the one who told me about my road. The one who set me off on that path up the mountain when the clouds came down and my legs burned.
I have friends who don't go back there, have it written into their contracts. I know a guy who calls it 'mindfuck mountain'. I've crumbled on that road and seen the bouncing stars of 'the bonk' more times than I care to remember but still I return. Like a lamb to the slaughter.
They say that no sacrifice is completely altruistic we give expecting to receive. What I give to the road in energy I receive from the mountain in spirit.
Riding up Monte Serra is to follow in the shadows of cycling legends. The locals whisper about the records, Pantani, Basso, Ullrich. Sixteen minutes, some say less. Numbers that you don't ever want to think about.
You know when the climb starts. You've been ascending slightly alongside the stream and the camomile when all of a sudden there's a steep ramp to your left and no way out. For the first few eternities the corners try to break you, send you flailing back down the mountain.
There is a rhythm to be found, somewhere in the pedal stroke there is the rhythm that will empty your brain and make the stars dance before your eyes. I didn't want to fall off before the rhythm came so I pushed on. It started to rain after 3km, it felt like I'd elevated a thousand meters in those 3km but I don't think it was quite that. Did I mention the corners? The ones that break you? They don't relent EVER.
Nani had told me about a water fountain about 5km up, it's actually a hosepipe pissing out run-off with a few loose stones piled on top. I drank it anyway and bathed my empty head. The black clouds were now around my ankles and the humidity was seaping into my ears. I could feel that something was going to give, either my tendons or the rain clouds but there would be an exodus and it would be soon.
There is a turning after 7km left takes you further up, to the summit. Right takes you down to Calci and towards Pisa. Fuck how I wanted to go right, right down to the bottom into the bosom of a barmaid and a dozen flaming sambucas. I went left.
There is a levelling of sorts, the last 2km and it begins to look like how you'd imagine a lunar landscape to look if you'd never listened to Springsteen and thought that the moon was the New Jersey turnpike. My pike had just about turned and I was close to the end. The telecommunications masts soar up out of the clouds and my legs try to argue one last time but I know I've made it. I just don't know how I will be able to get down.
The next day I woke up and looked out of my bedroom window. I saw Monte Serra and smiled to myself. My legs still burned and my head still felt humid but I knew what was up there, knew what was around those corners and I knew I'd be going back there.
– Tim Lindley, Lucca