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    I could have been kinder when selecting Andy's tour name. But you know me now. I was never going to pass up the opportunity to allow my imagination to run riot to name a 6 foot tall and skinny pallid ginger haired freckled Irish man in Italy. I could have added big nosed but in Italy his hooter is de rigueur and the sign of Man.

  2. 2.  A DEAL IS A DEAL:
    Allow me to introduce Carlo Papini the owner of our bicycle shop. What a top bloke. When we arrived at lunchtime to drop off our bikes, he had his wife, children and mother there to greet and thank us for our business. Along with his cleaned out beige Lancia City Car to give us a lift to the airport lest we missed our flight, even though he repeatedly emphasised how I had had his kecks off with the hire price of the bikes and that he was loosing money on the deal (€70 each for 4 days).

  3. His tourist chart of prices supported his argument: Carbon Road Bike - €50 per day.

  4. Another reason why G man should buy an iphone, I was able to remind Carlo of the price we agreed in writing only 4 weeks ago. Even then he made a last ditch effort and punched 3 x €80 in to the card machine.
    “Oh No Carlo. Don't let us fall out now, after all we have been through together! You want to see us next year don't you?!”
    He agreed and punched in €210 and we remained friends

    Tbf we had been through a lot together in the 4 days. As soon as my Cervelo steed hit the mountains coming in to Castelnuovo de Garfagnana a spoke snapped. G Man’s Parkpre's handlebar tape had come away and we managed to put it back together with the beige surgical tape from the first aid bag we brought. Although this served a purpose it didn't do much for the aesthetics of his bike.
    Lest any readers are disappointed by the fact that we had a first aid kit and that maybe we were actually adult enough to be responsible, don't get too giddy. True to form it was crap and may just have coped if one of us got stung by a nettle, or a wasp.
    Andy had had a wasp in his helmet on our training run the Saturday before we came and it had stung him twice, so we were alive to that particular risk. Gotta say, seeing him flap around frantically slapping his helmet like Rob on an Amsterdam's putana's culo is not the most unfunny sight I have beheld. Yelping in pain. Go back to aforesaid Putana for analogy. So the spoke broke and I emailed Carlo, who drove up the following evening to drop us a new wheel and a roll of bar tape off. A cynic would say he was scared of losing our business on that particular bike. I say he was God.
    We left the broken wheel by the front door of our house. Next to the drying gussets of our cycle shorts from the ride the day before from Pisa. He exclaimed repeatedly how beautiful my father's village is and how it was a pleasure to have driven around the area for an evening. It gives you readers a better picture in your mind's eye of just how beautiful it is, if a Tuscana cyclist compliments your stomping ground. It also reminds Rob and I how lucky we are to have our Martino and his ancestors.

  6. 4. MR LONG:
    When we walked into Carlo’s shop on Wednesday morning he looked at Rob and I and scrunched his nose up and was clearly thinking ‘why have you two shortarses asked for a 56 frame bike!’ Then he saw the traffic cone of G Man's head come into view behind us. Ahhhhh! Mr Long! He exclaimed. Nodding his head at us and understanding everything. MR LONG? GHINGER?

    Since I last checked, somebody must have sneaked in to my bed and shaved an inch off my feet. I would have sworn on everything I hold dear I was 5’ 9” (except my children's health as that is too precious to ever gamble with. You don't believe me then I ain't that bothered to put their lives on the table to persuade you). Last week I had Sylvia in the office measure me for Carlo's bike fitting service. No matter how many times I changed my stance or how many times I told her to change her technique I was definitely 5’8”. For days my confidence took a kick in the goolies. My self esteem recovered however when Rob pointed out a very silver silver lining. My **** to Height ratio was now a less embarassing stat than before. I will take that spoonful of sugar to make that medicine of hard life go down easier.

    We smashed our target cycling stats to pieces, and had nothing more to prove to ourselves, let alone any would be charity giver, hoping we would fail so they didn't have to back up their promise of hard cash. Rob and G Man can always look me straight in the retinas knowing until the last breath leaves my body, that they have my upmost Bro fist-punching-heart-man-hug-respect-love. So to celebrate we went out ‘on the piss’, eating pizza on a rooftop terazza at 2am and drinking Nastro Azurro whilst gossiping about the locals was much more important than what time we had to set off for the plane in the morning.

    It was a particularly stressful morning as we were preparing to return to the UK or at least as much as we could be stressed. Ok. Maybe across the 3 of us it was a bit stressful. We got ready, packed our bags and tidied the house as best 3 blokes can and trundled to the train station. G Man was extremely anxious, preparing his culo for scrutiny at the airport and I realised that the lazy Italians only work half days on Saturdays, so the trains we thought would run, we're not running. We needed to get to the airport and I was becoming a little concerned.
    The train we needed no longer came to our station, so we lost 30 minutes and instead caught the Pullman coach to the nearest train station on the line to Lucca. Another 40 minutes lost. On the train to Lucca the guard confirmed that the next connecting train from Lucca to Pisa arrived after our plane departed.
    G Man experienced a moment of clarity. He suggested I contact Carlo and warn him we may arrive to drop off our bikes after. Being Italian he would have ordinarily closed doors at 12:50 and gone for his siesta. No problem Paolo. I will wait for you. I told him how we must rush to the airport as the gate closed at 130pm. No problem Paolo. I will be your taxi.
    G Man’s anxiety levels were now off the scale, what with his acting classes playing out in his head at passport control.
    Me? As tour leader I was feeling less than responsible and wondering if maybe I should have been stricter.
    Rob? He was totally not arsed.

    When we arrived at Lucca station we needed a cab to be there waiting for us, otherwise Rob, Conno and I would be staying in Italy for another week. But we needed a large people carrier cab coz it had also to accommodate our 3 bikes.
    We came out of the station and saw a mini people carrier. Trumpeting from the heavens. Hallelujah!
    The greatest trick of the devil was convincing Man he does not exist.
    Hi. Pisa airport.
    Great.  We have 3 bikes?
    Oh no, no, no, no.
    It was the only cab in the piazza. Siesta time was right upon us.
    Why not?
    No room. No room. No room.
    But you can fold down one of the back seats.
    No, no, no, no, no.
    Come on? We are late for a plane! We will miss our plane!
    No, no, no, no.
    Can you ring one of your mates.
    Yes. [But made no effort - No, no, no, no.]
    I took hold of the situation by talking the universal language of green.
    We will pay you an extra €50!
    No, no, no, no.
    You're kidding me! I have a booking! Perleaze!
    As if! G Man was at breaking point and needed an outlet for his anxiety and was about to go all Old Trafford on this Italian ass. The poor man, but, believe in the Lord and he shall appear. Alexander sang from heaven. Rob held Conno back from panning in Beelzebub's face and pointed behind us.

  11. Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to her kitchen chair
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the hallelujah

  12. There, driving towards us was Marco in his Ford Transit minitaxi.
    No problem boys! Come on. You are worried you may miss your flight. I will get you there. No problem. Relax my friends. You have nothing to worry about.

  13. There may have been times when I have struggled to accept that God exists - On Tuesday 26.7.16 you ask Paolo Martini does God exist and I call you a mug, with all due respect. On Saturday 31.7.16, you ask Paolo Martini and you get a different answer.

    i. Gianluca - Member of Cycling Club Garfagnano.
    Whilst cycling from Lucca to Castelnuovo on Wednesday, Rob was ahead and was unwittingly powering in to a 1 km tunnel that turned in to a dual carriageway inside.
    I was 20 yards behind him on the slip road when I had a sudden sense of dread in my gut. Conno a further 20 yards behind me had picked up a puncture and was shouting STOOOOP. I heard a panicked shout from below me. Stoooop!!!!! I looked down to my left and saw Gianluca frantically waving shouting Stop! No! Danger! I screamed up to Rob STOOOOOP! He could not have heard me. He did. He looked behind and saw me cutting my throat with my finger and Conno now at a stop and 75 yards behind and thank God, he came to a halt 10 yards from the tunnel entrance.
    As the 3 of us walked down tight against the road barriers of the slip road to meet Gianluca and thank him, a juggernaut powered past, not more than a foot away from us and blowing his horn in annoyance at the idiot cyclists on the slip road. It was so loud it made your heart jump out of your body. I know, I know! Had Conno not got his puncture, had Gianluca not been directly below me and not shouted, you would be listening to the tragic story on the National News of the British cyclist who got splattered inside the tunnel by the juggernaut. I know.
    ii. The coach driver who gave us a free ride home when we were lost and nearly broken.
    iii. The transit van driving taxi man at Lucca train station.
    iv. Carlo Papini.
    v. The laughing waitress.
    vi. Paolo. The dad of the son we climbed up to Passo Dello Radici with on Thursday.
    vii. Federico. The son of the dad we climbed up to Passo dello Radici with on Thursday. The exact same faces looking back at you. How could Federico do that climb on a full suspension mountain bike with flat pedals? Not possible. And 5 miles after Casone, when the gradient had increased to a sphincter tightening average of 13% he rode beside me wanting to know about us and our exploits. A young boy of 22, having the breath and more impressively the self confidence and social graces to enter a dialogue with a pigeon speaking 2nd generation Italian. I was broken, my legs gone and Conno and Rob were 10 yards ahead, then 15, then 20, then 30. But as I concentrated on his questions and thought even harder on my replies I stopped thinking about the ferocious burn in my legs. As we joined them he rode off to join his dad ahead of us and they waved us goodbye.
    viii. Hans from Germany. Who joined us for those few miles after Casone before we met Paolo and Federico. Hans was pot bellied and celebrating his 62nd birthday. His present? His wife waiting at the top of Passo dello Radici in their motorhome so he could ride the classic and bucket list giro to Passo Dello Radici. Seeing Hans churning out the revolutions up the ever increasing gradients empowered us 3 jokers for cyclists.
    ix. Franco. Cycling club member of Club Alpi Apuani. At 55 years old, handsome and rugged, with less than 15% bodyfat, bronzato and gleaming white team kit completto, and a wonderfully warm smile, he rode with us for 20 kms or so, showing us the way to Massa train station on our last night of cycling. I forgot to add this route to my Stava stats. When he asked where we had ridden from that day he pushed out his bottom lip, nodded his head and pronounced “Che Bello Giro! Bravo! Siete Forte!”. He knew the road well. No doubt having ridden it all his life. I told him we were hungover on beer, Grappa, Limoncello and Sambucca and a 2am finish. He was impressed. As proud as punch I told him how that day we rode the giro to Passo Dello Radicci. “Porca Miseria!!!” he exclaimed Which loosely translates as **** ME!!! He looked us up and down “Una BELLA vacanza!” His respect for us was palpable. By the way, I told him, we carried on and climbed the next mountain to Abetone. Roughly translated he replied **** OFF, YOU ARE KIDDING! GET! NO WAY! YOU 3 ARE **** LUNATICS.

  15. When Rob had come to fix Andy's inner tube on Thursday, he looked puzzled. He could not find the puncture.

  16. 11. PISA AIRPORT:
    The Italian passport control guard was conscientiously checking the passport of the 5th person before Andy. He took the passport offered by the 4th person, studied it, TWICE, and passed it back. He took hold of the 3rd persons passport, read it for 5 seconds, passed it back. He took the 2nd persons passport, checked his computer screen. The 26 year old Italian in the queue before Andy dropped his papers, the guard scorned. Andy looked like he was about to faint, or vault the barrier and make a dash for the plane. The guard took the young mans passport, tapped his computer, looked at the lad, nodded and let him through. Andy moved to the front with tiny baby steps, so clenched were his buttock cheeks. The guard looked at his face, smiled warmly and waved him through declining to take from Andy's quavering hand his passport. As I came to the guard, he checked my passport, chuckled and returned it.

Blighty. Here we come.

Cherish those close to you. Cherish your family. Cherish your friends. Propagate and cultivate those relationships that mean something to you.

  1. 3 TOOLS:
    I bid my farewells, gave and received man hugs of love and went to find left luggage in the hope of finding my biking tools. I asked the affable chap at the desk if he could find my left luggage and he responded that he would try. He asked me what it was? And then my jaw dropped. I pointed at his hands. He had my three cool tools in his hands. I asked if I could take his photograph because the tale I had to tell must be heard. He laughed and agreed. Well maybe there's a God above
    But all I've ever learned from love
    Was how to shoot somebody who'd out drew ya
    And it's not a cry that you hear at night
    It's not someone who's seen the light
    It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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