My friends and I aren’t your stereotypical girls. We do love shopping but mostly for bike kit, hanging out and chatting but about who’s racing where and riding what. We often meet up for coffees but only when its near the end of a ride.
So who are these girls? Rickie Cotter is a 24 hour solo mountain bike racer and one of the top competitors in the world, Lorena Jones is a cycling fanatic who works for Total Women Cycling during the week, then out often for the whole weekend putting down 100’s miles. I am a professional road racer, and compete in the UK and Europe for Velosure Starley Primal.
Rickie and myself met on on one of the biggest single stage races in the world last summer – The Transcontinental. This monster of a race starts in London, crosses the continent and finishes in Istanbul, totally self supported. A very tough challenge. I met Lorena whilst I was training for that event at the start of last summer half way up the Col Du Madeline – one of the giants in the French Alps. It’s always great to meet other girls who share your cycling passion so we just started chatting and got on straight away.
May bank holiday was fast approaching. With a few days off work and everyone making plans my friends and I decided that it was a brilliant opportunity to fit in a weekend of bikepacking. We explored lots of different options, there was talk of heading over to Wales, Scotland or just something super local out near London.
We all wanted a weekend of nothing but pedaling, top company and delicious food. As we planned and explored the opportunities we joked and decided on a weekend of excess with no rules. Huge amounts of riding, chowing down on what ever we fancied and not worrying to much about getting much sleep. As we chatted and the more excited everyone got our plans begun to escalate and one of the girls suggested the Tuscany Trail Race. A 600km off road mountain bike ultra.
The race starts in the Apuane Alps, then weaves though all the gems which Tuscany has to offer – including hill top town San Gimignano and cities like Siena. It then finishes on the Argentario Peninsular. It was going to be bigg
er than what we had initially planned on and would take a lot more planning and prep, but it sparked the sense of adventure inside all of us. Within the next 24 hours everyone was signed up and flights to Florence were booked.
Over the next few months there was a lot to think about and get ready. There is one set route so the organisers send you a GPX file to load onto a Garmin. As a lot of the trail is off road it was vital that we studied the route and made note of places to stock up on food, water and know where larger towns were in case of any mechanical issues or needed to find somewhere warm to shelter if the weather really came in. A lot of filing with bikes is always done in the lead up to a big event. You have to know your bike inside out so if something happens you can at least botch a repair to get you back moving, and well as making sure it’s still a comfy ride when loaded with bikepacking luggage.
I have a dropper seat post which I swapped out as I opted to travel light and just carry one of Alpkit’s Koala seat packs and a small top tube bag. We planned to complete the race in 3 days, so I decided on one set of kit. I went for Primal’s Elita kit. I wear Primal a lot so I know that the kit works for me, it’s super light so drys fast, really durable and most importantly for that amount of saddle time the chamois is comfortable. We also needed to be as self sufficient as possible so I took a portable battery along with 2 sets of Exposure lights. I went for a prima-loft jacket and bivvy bag and decided against taking a sleeping bag as I have managed without one in the past so thought I would be alright without one now.
Before we knew it, it was May bank holiday. On the Thursday evening the three of us: Rickie, Lorena and I met in London. Bike bags packed and ready to catch a flight to Florence early the following morning. We chatted away at 100 miles an hour as we all had loads of catching up to do, comparing what we had each packed and bike set ups. With a few pre race nerves we landed in Florence and caught a local train to the small town of Massa on the edge of the Alpi Apuane national park. As we pulled in to the station everything felt very real, Massa is a small town and there were 200 bikekpackers that had descended upon it ready to ride the following morning. We headed down the road and found the school gym which was the meeting point. It felt like arriving at base camp with everyone building up their bikes and packing the last bits of kit. Inside the hall was a stack of gym matts which you could help yourself to and set your self up a spot to camp for the night.
Source: Tales from the Tuscany Trail