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GeoGravel Tuscany 2023 - Arcipelago Pomarance
Words by Fabio | Photography by Miriam | Styling by Beatrice
25 Settembre 2023
Pomarance is not just a town, it is an archipelago.
Like the navigators of the 16th century, you have to be patient and try not to get carsick (or seasick) to get there, but once you land, you will discover a new world. Mysterious and fascinating, like all new worlds. This is probably why Paolo (Bettini, double world champion, Olympic champion and so on) chose Pomarance as the base for GeoGravel Tuscany.
As soon as we landed, we immediately got in touch with the locals, Cesare from Ganesh, who was in charge of the food and wine part of the expedition, and Stefano from Velo Etruria Pomarance, a great connoisseur of the area, who handled the logistical aspects. Between Thursday and Friday we organised the base camp.
It was set up in the ‘Piazzone’, a large grassy area near the city centre.
We coordinated the arrival of the stands, prepared the GeoBags for all the registered participants and managed the logistics of the local hotels.
So it was the morning of the third day. Saturday was the official start of the event.
In the morning, we set off on our bikes to explore the surrounding area. About fifty of us left the square for Larderello, another of the islands that make up the Pomarance archipelago.
A guide gave us a run down of the history of these sulphurous places, where the centre of the earth sometimes rises to the surface in the form of geysers and fumaroles, and we also learnt about how those before us have left their mark on these parts, such as the industrialist François Jacques Larderel, after whom the town is named.
We learn that Larderel was the first, almost two hundred years ago, to exploit the special characteristics of the land, first to extract minerals and then directly to extract energy, starting a process that has made Larderello the geothermal capital not only of Italy but of the world.
Wherever you look in this wooded valley, you will see cooling towers, power stations and above all pipes of all shapes and lengths, chrome serpentines sprouting directly from the ground in the middle of a meadow and then disappearing to reappear perhaps two kilometres further on.
It is the warm heart of Tuscany, but it also looks like a gigantic environmental art installation and the setting for a steampunk novel.
We returned to the base camp, just in time to say goodbye to the daredevils who were about to embark on the Ultra route, 250 km and a 5000- metre-ascension in 24 hours, including at night. They are our Argonauts, the bravest among us, the spearhead of our expedition, may the god of geothermal energy send them well, we think as we bid them farewell.
On Saturday evening, the square comes alive with a big party, where foreigners and locals renew their friendship, aided by the right amount of Dolomite beer and accompanied by the music of the master DJ Federico Scavo.
The next morning is the big day, the climax of our adventure: one hundred and fifty cyclists set off on three different routes to discover the Strade Grigie.
We leave the base camp again, this time towards Libbiano, which appears shortly after, at the end of a seven-kilometre climb.
Once at the top, you can admire the view and the Pomarance Archipelago appears in all its mysterious splendour: a sea of wooded hills everywhere, and in the middle of this sea, atolls of houses, Micciano, Querceto, Canneto, Serrazzano, rise up.
We set off again and entered the first section of dirt road, about ten kilometres through the forest, small rips and ups and downs, then a long flat stretch. We could mistake this place for being in Yellowstone for how out of this world we are, except that here the rocks that form the gravel on which our wheels run are not yellow, but grey, almost volcanic.
At a crossroads we split up, some taking the short route, others the medium. I chose the middle one. There are two ways of doing this, cycling in a group or alone.
It is always nice to have company when discovering new places, to exchange jokes and opinions, to share tiredness and fun. But sometimes it is also nice to plunge into an unknown world alone, to find your own rhythm, to listen only to your heart and the sounds that this new world has to offer.
So I galloped to the first checkpoint at Querceto, another crystalline atoll, stamped my passport and set off again. A long flat stretch awaited me, where I caught my breath before the dirt road that takes me to Canneto and then to Serrazzano, the second and final checkpoint of the medium route. There I met up with other explorers and together we approached Larderello, with its environmental art installations, its sulphurous smell, and the impression of cycling through a steampunk novel. Beyond the town founded by François Jacques de Larderel, Pomarance appears on its hill, the centre of this strange archipelago of forests and villages, the base camp of our adventure in this mysterious and fascinating world. We had a short distance left and almost unconsciously we slowed down. Soon we reached the square where the others were waiting for us, Cesare with the pasta party, the ultra daredevils who arrived before us anyway, Stefano asked us if we had found all the checkpoints, Paolo (Bettini, double world champion and Olympic champion) asked us how his Strade Grigie were.
But not yet, in a little while. At that moment, all we could think about was enjoying the final stages of this extraordinary journey through the Pomarance archipelago.