Happy New Year or Buon Anno, as the Italians say.
As each new year rolls around, it’s a time to recharge and reflect, for working out what’s in store with our Italian cycling tours, and also planning some key personal goals and activities to help us achieve them.
A lot of our discussions and reflections this year have been about how important travel is for us, and how being able to discover new places to ride, hike, swim and explore is at the heart of why we do, what we do. With that, we each decided to reflect on our goals for the year and how we’ll prepare for the season ahead, and share them with you here.
We hope they inspire you to plan and achieve your goals for the year ahead also.
Q&A with Damian
What is your personal riding goal for this year?
The 209 long course of L’Eroica is shaping up to be my primary personal goal for this year. This will be my 10th edition of L’Eroica and it seems like a fitting thing to do the ‘percorso lungo’.
With 3891m of elevation and 100km on the white gravel roads, this will be a fitting and beautiful challenge, also on my birthday.
Which destination in Italy are you most looking forward to riding?
Our home region of Chianti is very close to my heart. It is literally our home away from home. But more than this, it is a sub region of Tuscany that has a plethora of small roads, both tarmac and Strade Bianche, that seem deserted when riding them. They’re full of hills, beautiful climbs to challenge yourself and descents to lean into.
There is also an endless number of stunning small stone, hilltop villages and hamlets to roll though or stop for a quick mid ride coffee, panino or pasta.
It is just riding heaven for me.
If there was a new location to explore, where would it be?
Abruzzo is definitely on the agenda for us this year. Called the ‘Green Heart of Italy” it is located to the east of Rome in central Italy, and is renowned for its natural beauty, with a diverse landscape that ranges from the stunning Gran Sasso national park, which is part of the Apennine Mountains, to the Adriatic Sea with its charming seaside villages and ‘trabocchi’, the unique wooden fishing piers that dot the coast south of Pescara.
But it’s not only the new roads that excite me, it’s also exploring another region that is rich in history with influences from the ancient Romans, Byzantines and Lombards, and a cuisine that is known for its simplicity and use of local lamb, seafood, saffron and the famous pasta, maccheroni alla chitarra.
How do you approach the season from a training perspective?
My approach to training is to try and hold a base level of fitness for the last weeks/months of the year, before starting again in early January to build back up to the level I was at the end of the season. For me it’s also about having a different mix of activity in addition to riding, and this mostly includes swimming and SUP.
However, as we get closer to our departure date for Italy, I spend more time on the indoor trainer selecting rides with a shorter distance, but with plenty of elevation. It seems to do the trick for me.
If you had to share some training tips for riders joining you on tour, what would they be?
Don’t leave any stone unturned with your pre tour preparation…… To get the most out of your Italian cycling tour experience, you need to be used to riding day after day, and especially if you’re doing a tour in the mountains with plenty of elevation, including our Giro, Como, Stelvio and Dolomites tour or Piemonte cycling tour, and also on our cycling tours of Tuscany and Sicily where there’s plenty of climbing. We regularly see guests arrive on tour, who for whatever reason have had an inadequate preparation, and consequently they are more prone to fatigue and tiredness as the days roll on.
We say, that at some point you will most likely experience some discomfort on the bike and it can either be gradually as you build up at home in your training phase or in the middle of the tour. The choice is yours. I know which I prefer.
My top tip is to pre-tour, ride in the hills and get as much elevation into your legs as you can. If you live in an area without hills, an indoor trainer is a superb training tool to get you up to speed.
Q&A with Nancy
What is your no. 1 personal travel goal for this year?
I read a quote the other day which spoke to my heart and to my goals for this year. It said ‘To move, to breathe, to fly, to float. To gain all while you give. To roam the roads of lands remote. To travel is to live.’
For me, the year ahead is about travelling consciously – to be active and in nature wherever we go and to have the space to move, breathe and float and most importantly, give back to the people and communities whom we touch in our travels.
As I reflect on the places and activities these might be and the people/communities we may touch when we’re off tour, I’d like to ‘move’ by doing a multi-day hike (I’ve been looking at one I’d like to do in Calabria), ‘breathe’ by doing yoga regularly and join some classes/mini-retreats in Tuscany and Puglia, and ‘float’ on the crystal clear waters of the Amalfi Coast with Damian at sunrise on our SUP – pure magic!
Which destination in Italy are you most looking forward to sharing with non-riding partners?
It’s a challenging one as each tour offers so much and they are all so different, but if I have to choose, I would say Sicily. It is a place that has so much depth, is so layered in its distinct history and culture, is so diverse in its lifestyle and food, and presents so many incredible opportunities to explore – it still always feels like a big adventure for us.
From exploring the natural wonders of the west coast, to visiting the ancient Greek temples in Agrigento and navigating our way through the magnificent baroque towns of the Noto Valley, before setting foot on magical Etna and ending in Taormina – there is so much to look forward to and share with our five non-riding partners who are joining us.
If there was a new location to explore, where would it be?
There’s many!…but for this year, it’s the coast of Calabria. It’s an area that is still relatively undiscovered from an international tourism perspective, but I think is on the verge of exploding. I am looking forward to exploring its stunning coastline, towns, villas and sensational cuisine, and another thing that has really piqued my interest, is that I want to learn more about the very unique variety of bergamot that is grown here and patented in the US for its heart health benefits. I am really intrigued to discover more about the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, and some of the factors that underpin it.
How do you prepare for the season ahead?
Rest, take time out for myself and focus on my health and fitness – mainly with walking, swimming, yoga and pilates. I find that if I can go into the season feeling like I’ve had a good break and I’m feeling fit and healthy, then the season is more easeful and a joy to share with guests.
The seasonal nature of our work of being on and off tours for 6 months which is intense, and then having an off-season for 6 months, means that we need to be focused on balancing our energy across the year.
If you had to share some tips for non-riders joining you on tour, what would they be?
The goal of the non-riding partner program is to be active and engaged daily in a range of activities that leave you feeling immersed in not only the cultural elements of a region, but also in the natural elements. This is why walking is a key part of every program, ranging in intensity, based on the region and terrain which we are in. So my no. 1 tip is to make sure you get some good walking km’s into your legs before you arrive to Italy as you’ll enjoy the hikes we do in nature so much more, and also the walking tours.
Another top tip is to also arrive on tour with an open heart and mind – it is a small group program that involves some activities that you’ll naturally love and some which may challenge you – so it’s important to embrace it all and make the most of the program, while also feeling free to take time out for yourself. Afterall, it’s your holiday.
Saluti and enjoy the year ahead!