East again. Giaccomo Angelli, Steve and Cedric Gracia’s ex mechanic now working for Cannondale, has been driving north from Rome to meet us. At a lay-by on the A9 we rendezvous almost instantaneously. The second step to restoring some kind of shape. The road into the hills takes a while as we go from motorway to goat track in a matter of minutes. It winds and it winds and we arrive at Casa Del Ghirosveglio in the mountain village of Bajardo at around elevenish. Most famous beard styles.
So often on mountainbike trips semi grizzly doormen and faceless receptionists, pretending not to be, greet you, but his was the real thing. The hotelier comes out to welcome us and upon entering the doorway of the tall stone building a bearded gnome smiles at us. By midnight we are sat with home made bread, cheese, Parma ham, olives, sun dried tomatoes and several bottles of wine. I am very very happy.
We wound up through San Romollo the night before and now after building the bikes on the high and sunny esplanade that morning we wind, having wound down, back from 3000ft into a lay–by where Fox Shox have set up camp, a pre –eason test camp. It seems OK, the Dirt team are running Fox this season but err, we have Steve Peat with us. Ooops, sorry folks. Everyone seems happy with the arrangement, and hell, after all this is just bicycles hammering down an ancient cart track. And it’s not as if suspension is about to change so radically since the last six years. But then rumour had it that the great Vouilloz was to show up at this very spot on Friday. We had planned Finale Ligure for Friday, our plans must surely now have to change.
Julien Camellini, Dan Stanbridge representing Mojo, and the entire MBUK team (all three) are pitted (in their vans) at the base of the gnarly old Italian hillside. Michael Pascal, Damien Spagnolo and Cyril Lagneu representing Q Bikes (and not a drop of Fox) are camped up doing some training. We kind of feel a little easier about lay–by crashing the Fox camp. I can honestly say that arranging washers in a pile of oil and plastic not once entered any of our minds. We were there to session the hill and take some snaps.
Roberto from Argentina Bike runs an uplift service in the area and has met up with us to do the shuttling, Marc Beaumont gets a hand with is his bike onto the trailer together with the four pound of data acquisition that enables him to discover something I cannot really disclose in this feature. The hill is hard and fast, a top section with wholesome rocks and few turns then turns steeper into a twisting, diving, more rooted but still rocky wooded section before braking out into the sun and with the Med glistening a few thousand metres below. It weaves a shale outcrop before exiting back into the makeshift pit area. It’s four to five minutes of torture. You can forget it on anything but a downhill bike. This is certainly no freeride. Ralph breaks two bikes. It’s a solid start to the week.
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Click through to view part two of the San Remo gallery…,
For those not familiar with the name, Pielle is quite simply the home of Barel and Vouilloz. The track is famously one of the hardest you will encounter. I came here eight years ago with Jarman, Rich Warner, Cheetham and Rowan Sorrell. That day we bust a load of bits. Today we cannot really afford to. It’s the first time Peaty, or any of the team for that matter, has been here. With the sea, the city, and the climate it really is one hell of a place to live and no wonder that so many champions have cut their teeth here.
Little needs to be said of the day. It was robust. We retired to La Turbie, a hilltop village overlooking Monaco and the nearest to the equally famous cap D’Ail. Settling into some tables on the main street bar, the waiter announces that food is now finished and that the only thing he can offer us is steak and chips. Gutted.
The journey back to Bajardo that evening is less erratic than that on the way there and the tone for the evening is set when Hoergarden enters the van. San Remo is a blur not because of intoxication but because of kph’s. A quick wash and into the village and into Restaurante Jolanda for a second nights entertainment by the Mayor, the inimitable Massimo, who runs this hallowed hilltop dining room.
You can only describe this place in an out of the way kind of style. We are the only people there and half expect something quickly microwaved. Little did we know the style in which we were to dine. Four courses of fresh pasta were followed by the fastest rabbit you will ever have. The pasta, each course different, was fresh and presented fit for a king, which of course we just happened to have on our table. I timed the rabbit at three minutes from the order. It is the fastest rabbit in the world.
Of course wine was drunk, grappa was presented and Penelope Cruz was down in the San Remo at the music festival. It was entirely salubrious and a heap of fun. Up here that is. Massimo and Jim Royle, his right hand man, flanked the large screen off the sleepy street. By now we had moved into the bar in no uncertain terms and had a fair old spread going on at the table. We had barely caught our breathe from the rabbit when a local walks in, orders up a bottle of some obscure local white and proceeds in about, well, four gulps we reckoned, to get to the bottom. For a dawdling settlement things were happening at one hundred miles an hour.
After yet another committed breakfast we wound down. Again. In San Romollo the Athertons (all three of them) had pitted (in their van) in the lay–by that Fox were slowly stamping their name on. Dan, Gee and Rachel quite simply looked like racers. Dan Brown must have pulled out all the stops. They look amazing. I quickly slope off up the hill to where the radio masts are. It’s going to be a very busy day. Roberto and the uplift pull up shortly afterwards and the most famous and successful downhill rider of all time jumps out. Nicholas Vouilloz will make his return to World Cup racing this year in Champery. He was here with to test suspension with Fox.
It’s a hard day, both Ralph and Giacc, who has had a very busy week on the spanners, go down hard on a run. Several weeks later Giacc still has sore hands and he has Mick Hannah’s bike to fettle. Ralph is now on his third bike. And I’m on Peaty’s but still as upside down as the other two. Oscar Saiz has the turn of the four–pound data aquisitor and Peaty has my camera again. The three of us later polish of a jar of olives on the side of the road with the smell of sheep never too far away.
The night is a mess from top to bottom, a bit like the tracks we have been riding. Josh Bryceland rules the night with impersonations of Giacc. “eetsa a bulsheet” and quips as to the sometimes erratic nature of the drinking “are we going to drink these shorts or what”. It ends in complete disaster.
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I vaguely remember dropping Peaty and Josh off at the airport and a frantic drive through Nice on carnival day. I remember hairpins tighter than pins and needling through the stone a cliff hanging Cote D’Azur villages. I remember the turquoise sea, the bearded men and the beautiful girl on a road bike. I will never forget the dog training school, the skiving strimmer men and the mad man in the orange trees. Ralph and Dazla slept through all of this. During our four days never too far from the Mediterranean, an international music festival was taking place in San Remo. It was kicking off all right. While the masses flocked to the glamour we slipped through the slopes high in the hills away from it all. My lasting memory is walking into a derelict and obscure cliff top quarry overlooking Monaco at 6:00pm with and 8:00pm flight searching for one last shot only to find a three–piece band complete with double bass and guitars. Biz