I imagine this is what Sam Bennett feels like when he goes to ‘work’, especially in Italy.
Today I felt like a lot of things as I drove the 900 kilometres from the delightful French town/city of Annecy to a village in the Dolomites called Arta Terme, 100k north of Venice.
I felt like a ‘real’ truck driver because I have something resembling a beard and a belly as well as a playlist of American rock anthems and a growing pile of fruit peel and plastic wrappers under my feet.
I got big kudos when I told them where I came from and I didn’t get chastised for taking a leak between trucks.
I felt like a ‘real’ bike tour operator too; driving in one day what clients will cycle in seven.
But I felt most like a sprinter in a bike race because as soon as the GPS directed me on the A4 headed east I felt like I was in the leadout for a bunch sprint…one 444 kilometres long.
I’ve only just arrived in Arta Terme (it’s after 9) and in my bleary-eyed, tired and starving state I just feel like lying down, like sprinters sometimes would after a hectic race.
I’m shattered but buzzing too because that was one hell of an adrenaline rush!
I’ve seen Sam argue with a few guys over the years, including Italian Elia Viviani, and if he’s anything like the drivers I’ve encountered over the last eight hours then I’m not surprised.
They’re f*****g crazy and that’s all there is to it. There are three lanes of traffic; one travels at 130 (ish), one at around 120 and another at around 110kph.
Nobody, and I mean NOBODY uses indicators so you’ve gotta be alert to the dangers all the time.
Cars poke out from between vans, vans swerve out between lorries. Lorries lean in on just about everyone, because they’re big and they will win in a 50/50.
As I’m driving a looooong wheel base Renault van with 10 top-of-the-range bikes and enough luggage for 100 my braking distance is limited, as is my patience.
But being in a big vehicle has its advantages too. Hyundais and Seats don’t come near me. Lorries could crush me but they’re too experienced to let rage affect their performance. They are the Greg Hendersons of today’s peloton…
Going in the inside lane you have to follow the wheels in front of you as closely as possible, but my problem is if I get too close and the car ahead of me brakes I risk rear-ending him/her.
I ‘let the wheels go’ once and quick as a flash a car comes up my outside, cuts me up and then slams on the brakes! I was a whisker away from smashing him/her and boy was I furious!
The car tore off up ahead as I retreated to the middle lane, furious at the faceless aggressor but allowing my rage subside for rage is one sure precursor to a crash.
I’ve seen Sam do this in races too – getting caught in the wrong ‘wave’ and losing all his momentum. I vowed to relax and move up when the chance came again.
Driving in this kind of traffic demands the utmost concentration because the dangers are everywhere; there are vans and trucks from Romania, Austria, Croatia and Slovenia and they’re all in a hurry.
I saw one car actually reverse 100 metres after it missed an exit and I didn’t wait to hear/see what happened it because there was a juggernaut indicating for that exit too.
It was genuinely petrifying at times. I didn’t dare touch my phone or even adjust my song choice on the radio. Basically I didn’t take my hands off the bars (wheel) for the entire journey!
My arrival in Arte Terme marks the end of two full days of driving and one hectic adventure.
Yesterday morning I was 1,652 kilometres from here in the French port of St Malo. I’ve seen a good chunk of Europe in that time including a magical sunset and sunrise in Annecy.
I’ve managed to squeeze in two beautiful rides; probably my favourite 40k loop around the lake in Annecy and possibly the best climb I’ve ever summited in Semnoz.
I’ve listened to random radio documentaries on topics such as Slaughtneil, Flamenco, Franco, Terence McSwiney, Jihad Jane, Stephen Roche, Ned Murphy and the last known Irishman to fight in the Spanish civil war.
I’ve had a lot of time to think and reflect about Eat Sleep Cycle and where we’re headed, while I’ve also tasted some exceptional food and coffee!
And with 10 more days left on this trip, there’s plenty more of that to come.
Bring on the Dolomites.