why gravel?

Word and photos by Michele Minessi

Gravel is not a fad, and even if it were, it’s not a fad for me. Who am I? A lover of outdoor activities and, in particular, biking in all its forms. 

“Come to town by bike and have a beer?” “ok!”… ” Shall we go off the top of a mountain on trails?” “ok”… “Shall we go on a lot of alpine passes this we?” “ok” “Loaded bikes and go on vacation?” “ok!”… 

My life has always been like that since I started pedaling, and it’s still going on now… however, discovering the gravel has immediately filled that sense of incompleteness of hundreds of kilometers of alpine passes on roads that have become more and more dangerous, or mtb rides to reach a peak a few kilometers from where I started. 

All very nice and rewarding, of course, I will continue to do these things, but a gravel bike for me is the charm of a ride studied on the maps, it’s road but it is also off-road, it’s about climbing a beautiful alpine road at a pace and efforts similar to a racing bike and, once at the top, a plunge into old dirt roads at high altitude and then down into a new valley, it’s hanging three bags to go on vacation, it’s the discovery of the territory that slowly tints that dark mental map of forests, roads, villages and small and insignificant but beautiful details that I always ignored and never would have discovered and that now I proudly collect, I take friends there or advise anyone who asks me. 

In addition, it’s the sense of freedom, it’s touching nature not just from the roadside, it’s moving fast in the urban jungle, it’s its natural aptitude to clock up the miles, it’s the reliability of the solid and essential tool, a frame, large tires and very efficient brakes. It’s about being able to ride on roads, b-roads and forests in total safety and, last but not least, it’s the sense of strain and satisfaction of bringing the body to a tiredness that I love to look for. 

This is what I love about this bike, it’s not for everyone but this is what has connected me to this tool. 

Will it be a fad? Maybe … I welcome any fad that improves the experience and the sense of well-being that gives me, and then let’s face it … a gravel bike is really beautiful. Since I was a child, I have loved the racing bike, its shapes and its essentiality and, many times, I tried to mount the biggest tires possible because hell yes, it was beautiful to go crazy but it had technical limitations; however, someone has created it for me now and really did a great job!

There will always be someone who tells me “I used to do those things with just one bike and I didn’t call it a gravel bike, mtb or racing bike”…probably, what they lack is everything I’ve told you, gravel is just a tool. 

Enough words… let’s get out, stay outdoors, pedal, plan, sweat, have fun and enjoy!

Tuscany Trail 2021 – the route

The route of Tuscany Trail 2021 is taking shape. The route is one of the elements that we care about the most, we examine every road, every dirt road and path and we leave nothing to chance. We do this in order to make sure that you ride on the best possible route. The 600 km route is the result of at least 1200 km of road we went along throughout the year.

The 2021 novelty is Volterra. A return to the origins, since Volterra was a fixed stop, a key point of the route in the very first editions, those of the Tuscany Trail pioneers. From here, you reach the Siena area and that maze of white roads that are fascinating cyclists from all over the world. Years later, participants will again be able to enjoy this unique town and the special area in which it is “set”.

anfiteatro volterra

“Volterra, windy district of the alabaster, perched up there on an impervious peak surrounded by a landscape of velvety humps that gently flatten and hollow out, before plunging down along the vertiginous walls of cliffs and gullies.”

Volterra will be a very welcome novelty, that’s for sure!

The road that will take us to this village is also unprecedented. In fact, it winds through the Pisan countryside made by a succession of white roads perfect to be faced on a gravel bike. The beauty of these landscapes will reach its peak in Lajatico, thanks to the passage of the route from the Teatro del Silenzio. This is an open-air theater, where the silence of nature is interrupted only once a year by the voice of Andrea Bocelli.

teatro del silenzio tuscany trail
teatro del silenzio Tuscany

After Volterra, the route will take you to one of the most famous towns in Tuscany, San Gimignano. It is possible to see it from miles away as its 14 towers make up one of the most famous skylines in the world. The Tuscany Trail will make you feel the thrill of walking through its perfectly preserved medieval alleys.

tuscany trail_2020_054

Siena and its surroundings are the icon of the Tuscany Trail. Located halfway along the route, it is one of the most popular towns for participants. After climbing up (every town in Tuscany is always on a peak) and passing its city walls, the route passes through the famous Piazza del Campo, home of the famous Palio di Siena.

With the beauty of Siena still in our eyes, we come to the symbol of the Tuscany Trail: the white roads. Tens of kilometers where participants will experience the feeling of pedaling on the perfect surface for every gravel bike.

senese e siena tuscany trail
Copia di DJI_0268

The route goes on, always heading south, and crosses many other unique landscapes such as Pienza, the Val d’Orcia, Radicofani, the cities of Tuff Sorano and Pitigliano, the Grosseto area and finally Orbetello.

There are still many months to go before the start of the eighth edition of the Tuscany Trail and we’ll certainly be able to give you a preview of the route in the future. We suggest you to follow us on our social networks Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

We also remind you that the route may be subject to changes, even substantial ones, until a few weeks before departure. If you are a registered participant, save the e-mail address info@tuscanytrail.it in your inbox so that you don’t miss any of our news.

My first Tuscany Trail

Words by Andrea Fossati

Tuscany Trail 2020: the arrival in Massa

It’s a Friday morning different from usual. Wake up at seven, shower, coffee and drive to Tuscany. What could be better than celebrating one’s birthday by treating oneself to a bikepacking adventure with a gravel bike and in the company of two friends? Gilberto and Martin are waiting for me in Massa: that’s where we will start for the Tuscany Trail 2020.

After three hours of highway travel, I finally managed to get out of the traffic and reach the parking lot of the summer camp. Some cyclists are already involved in the pre-departure operations and I think I’m behind schedule. Actually, I’m not in a hurry: over the next few days, I will just have to cycle and enjoy it, without looking at the clock – except to make sure I find a table for dinner at the end of each stage.  Yes, because the Tuscany Trail is not a race and I will be able to take a break from the daily routine and do what I wish, without stress. Nonetheless, I change quickly, pump up the tires of the bike and hope that I have not forgotten anything of the essential equipment for the trail. I finally go to pick up my “race” packet and attach the “Tuscany Trail” table to my bike bag with ties. Finding myself at the start of my first Tuscany Trail, on my birthday, after spending the past months that we all know, is like having already arrived at the finish line. I filled my water bottles and finally pressed the start button on the GPS navigator: let’s go for the Tuscany Trail 2020!

Tuscany Trail 2020: the track and the plan

The Tuscany Trail 2020 consists of a 500 km route with about 8.000 meters of positive difference in height that leads from Massa to Orbetello. In the past few days, I downloaded the track provided by the organizers and checked the distances, altimetry and type of areas. The difference in height is not insignificant and some climbs are not to be underestimated. As agreed with my two companions, we decided to complete the itinerary in five days: we wanted to enjoy the experience without worrying about the clock, enjoy the views and refreshment breaks and arrive in Orbetello safe and sound.

Tuscany Trail 2020: the bike and the equipment

White roads, asphalt and singletrack are the ingredients of the Tuscany Trail menu. To face the adventure safely, without sacrificing lightness, I rely on a carbon gravel bike mounted with 650B wheels and 50mm tires (strictly tubeless) and a 40-42 drivetrain. It’s a setup I’ve tested many times: fast on asphalt, agile on dirt roads and stable in the most technical downhill areas. I’m sure it will do its duty at the Tuscany Trail as well. In order to transport the necessary equipment, I equipped the bike with a complete set of bikepacking bags: waterproof handlebar and saddle bags for clothing, as well as a frame bag and a top tube bag for accessories. This time, tent and sleeping bag were left at home.

Stage #1 of Tuscany Trail 2020: Massa – Fucecchio, 91km - 1.110m D+

It’s 01:30 p.m. on Friday, September 25, and we set off from Piazza Aranci, in the old town of Massa. Although the collective start in Tuscany Trail style was avoided for reasons of social distancing, we found ourselves cycling in a group almost immediately. I heard different languages being spoken. We chatted and laughed: I quickly realized that the atmosphere was international and relaxed, exactly what I expected. After twenty kilometers or so, we hit the first of the two climbs of the day and the group split up. Martin tackled the slope like a true climber, everyone had their own pace and we met up later at the entrance of a singletrail as we took a break. Then, we continued towards Lucca, where we had just enough time to cross the old town before we had to put on our full rain gear. The last few kilometers in the woods with the lights of the sunset made us forget the rain and we arrived in Fucecchio for dinner. Beer, pizza, dessert and digestive, then it’s off to bed.

Stage #2 of Tuscany Trail 2020: Fucecchio – Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, 111km - 2.000m D+

After a great breakfast at the café, we got back in the saddle. The first 60 kilometers were easy and smooth and we reached Florence for lunchtime. A must stop at the Trippaio del Porcellino kiosk in Piazza del Mercato Nuovo for a lampredotto sandwich and a glass of Chianti, the perfect integration of protein and minerals for a bikepacker. Gilberto and I took advantage of the break to change the brake pads: the ground was wet and we knew that one of the most technical sections of the Tuscany Trail was waiting for us. From Bagno a Ripoli onwards, the going got tougher and we tackled a series of single trails in the undergrowth that were decidedly challenging, but never impossible. The 50mm wheels mounted on 27.5″ rims proved to be the right choice and I enjoyed all the technical descents to the fullest without ever taking risks.  Arriving in Tavarnelle di Val di Pesa is still a hard work and the difference in height in the last 50 kilometers makes itself felt in the legs. The reward? Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, pepper filet with baked potatoes and a few glasses of Chianti. And cantucci with Vin Santo – of course.

Stage #3 of Tuscany Trail 2020: Tavarnelle Val di Pesa – Siena, 72km - 1.260m D+

It’s 9:30 and we’re the last cyclists to leave the hostel. Last night, the hall was full of bikes and we met many of the same people we had met along the way: it’s nice to meet and greet each other and then meet up by chance miles later in the same place with the same bikepackers. The sky didn’t look good and the forecast was clear: rain. So, we decide that the stage of the day will be Siena. The Via Francigena is the protagonist of the route and proceeding towards the village of Monteriggioni the Tuscan landscape begins to resemble what I had in mind: gentle hills, vineyards and expanses of olive trees. However, the rain began to be incessant and after an hour and a half under the water we finally arrived in Siena. Hot shower, pici cacio e pepe, a visit to Piazza del Campo (a must) and rest.

Stage #4 of Tuscany Trail 2020: Siena – Radicofani, 106km - 2.000m D+

It’s Monday morning and we wake up at 6 a.m. knowing that we have to make up for lost time on the schedule: if we want to get to Orbetello by tomorrow, we have to work hard. Between us and the finish line, there are 226 kilometers but, above all, there are the most feared climbs of the Tuscany Trail, including the ascent (on dirt road) towards Radicofani.  The Val d’Orcia reveals all the beauty of Tuscany, a beauty capable of making the continuous ups and downs on dirt roads with painful sprints less unbearable. In San Quirico d’Orcia, we met up again with some people we had already seen: the effort began to be visible on everyone’s faces and we tried to motivate each other. So, we go up to Pienza (another Tuscan jewel), aware that soon we’ll have to face the bugbear of the day. The climb towards Radicofani begins on asphalt and, after a couple of kilometers, becomes a dirt road with a sharp cut to the right, where you would be lost without GPS. Martin and Gilberto disappear after a few pedals. From here on, the road climbs inexorably for about 4 kilometers, on gravel. I tackled it with respect and wisdom, thinking that maybe the 38T front sprocket would have made my life easier. Reaching the top is a real pleasure. Just enough time to organize the accommodation for the night and we enjoy a glass of wine in the company of other bikepackers. The evening continues in a typical osteria, to the delight of the palate and the peace of tired legs.

Stage #5 of Tuscany Trail 2020: Radicofani – Orbetello, 120km - 1.600m D+

We wake up full of energy for the last stage. We face the descent from Radicofani with the first light of the morning and the mist enveloping the hills. We know that, today, everything will be easier, but we soon realize that the hills of the Maremma are not clement at all. It’s a continuous up and down on exciting dirt roads, the case when you never touch the brakes on the downhill and you proceed at higher speed uphill – until you chatter your teeth with a 20% difference in height. This is the theme of the day and we soon get used to it. Coffee break in Sorano, the town carved into the rock, a second coffee break and schiacciata in Pitigliano, ice cream in Capalbio and, finally, here is the sea. The air starts to warm up and smell of Mediterranean scrub. This is the moment when I realize that I have almost made it. We arrived in the plain and the Feniglia di Orbetello accompanied us to the finish line of our first Tuscany trail. The usual photos, the usual beer and the desire to come back soon to ride the Tuscany Trail!