STOP THREE: ABERTONE
After just a day at Cimone Bike Park we once again circumnavigated the mountain at breakneck speed, typical Italian driving standards ensuring our almost instantaneous arrival – this is via 20-odd miles of mountain roads – at Abetone. The most famous of ski areas in the region, Abetone brings in many thousands of keen snowplanking enthusiasts during winter. Summer is of course a very different matter, and late in the season we were among the hardcore few to still be riding the gondola–accessed mountain.
Rising high above town, Abetone’s Monte Gomito peaks at 1893 metres, its lift providing nearly 600 metres of altitude gain in a matter of minutes, and in our case much needed protection from the elements. With Rolando in charge as head of the lift system in the area it perhaps should come as no surprise that the lively and wholly able rider wants to promote summer activities on the mountain and his way of doing so being through bicycles of the downhill variety. Rolando races regularly and his experience shows in the five official trails that this hill harbours.
Beginning on the exposed summit, the Abetone trails initially take on a rough and ready guise as they make their way through rocks and shrubbery in order to descend quickly through the most significant area of nature, which as a side–note for later is abundant in bilberries. The three main downhill tracks (marked as separate numbers on the trail map but all essentially being the same line down the mountain) start proper just above the treeline and rapidly pick up momentum. Throttle wide–open and flat–out across the undulating open piste, the track here gets the heart rate rocketing from the get–go before plunging into more of the area’s distinctive dense woodland and entering into a world of technical magnificence. Roots expand from every tree and into the path of the raucous track, rocks litter the way and greasy mud fuses the two: a tech rider’s dream. Aside from being amazed at the nature of the track, we were also pleased to hear of Abetone’s proposal to host a World Cup race in the near future, and with the backing of the town’s partner, the city of Florence (who played host to the 2013 Road World Championship), this seems likely to happen. Fingers crossed as the track would provide a true test to racers.
As with the majority of these trips, our misfit crew was in town for more than just a trail, so once we’d lapped–out the flowing, fast, never ending technical maze of roots, rocks and ruts, we capped our day’s riding and headed into town to the affordable–but–swanky Hotel Regina where we were booked in for a couple of nights. The Regina sits centrally in the small town, a conveniently short shuffle from the main bar, Ciuste, where we headed along with plenty of other folk for a much deserved beer or too (many). I was nursing bruises from a lack–of–rear–brake related near death experience that resulted in dents to my back, wrist and ego, while the wild Scot Richy was doing his job of ‘integrating and entertaining’ – the integration coming from the locals’ acquaintance with his bare arse and the entertainment from his never-ending source of good humour and crafty puns (if you ever meet Richy Taylor ask him about Honour). Well lubricated, we headed to Regina and dined in style once again, this time on a bright purple bilberry risotto – a far cry from the Alpine staple of ham, cheese and potatoes…
A day was spent with this scribe nursing his sore paw while Rowan, Richy, Paul and Andy took on a local DH race on the main track. Due to lack of suitable bikes, the crew cobbled together a collection of poorly fitting steeds and threw caution to the wind with one practice run each (the morning’s practice effort hampered by sore heads once again). Rowan absolutely smashed his way down the course, putting in a time that resulted in a joint first place (the results were somewhat confusing but we’ll forgive them for that), proving boy still got it! and warranting an afternoon of celebration as the heavens opened, lifts closed and the central bar showed the big action – not Rowan’s win but the World Cup racing from Norway with Steve Smith smashing it. We felt like proper sports fans and did our best to emulate them. A pizza fit for an Italian in a classic restaurant called the Garage sobered us up and Rolando ferried us back to the sanctity of our accommodation.THE CIRCULAR ‘ENDURO’ TRAIL
The final day of our trip brought fine weather and with it incredibly bright light that found its way into our room early enough to get us up and out and ready to ride before first lift. Rolando pitched up on his enduro bike – a Trek Remedy with dual semi slick tyre combo – and we made our way up the mountain ready to take on the area’s Big Loop. Beginning once again from the high point at Rifugio Zeno Colo at the top of Abetone’s lift, the area’s ‘enduro trail’ is marked in a circular route that descends one of the best trails on Monte Gomito before crossing town and diving down into the Wild Woods and heading for the other towns described in this feature. There is a network of trails connecting villages with singletracks left, right and centre, all of which provide an incredible ride taking in copious gorges and rickety old wooden bridges and remnants of previous habitations. Very cultural.
While the British gaggle slid down the rocky, muddy and occasionally treacherous trail, Rolando kept it composed up–front with little concern for the lack of tread on his tyres. Twice the age of some of our group’s members yet half as phased. We battled on and had to cut the ride short as our dithering forced us out of daytime, but having sampled the amazing terrain here and in the area as a whole we made a vow to be back as soon as the 2014 season opens.
Abetone: Inspiring landscapes, meals of epic proportions and bike riding to absolutely die for. Flights to Pisa are cheap and frequent, the weather is favourable and the lift system is open from early June until late September. Get yourself there.