Finals Day

Day 359, Lecce, 23.685 km

5:35. I hear voices, people walking around the tent. It’s a bit early to go hiking. At the same time if we take into account the fact that between 9 am and 6 pm it’s more than 30°, it seems to make sense to leave early in the morning… Me who had planned a short day, I’m going to arrive even earlier than planned! It will leave me time to go around the city. The signs were pointing out a nice lake on the side of the road that I didn’t have the courage to go and see the day before, so I’ll have a first small break for the day…

Cava di Bauxite

11:30. I arrive in Lecce. The heat is overwhelming, and apart from the 2-3 pedestrian streets of the historical center, the city is like a ghost town. As if everyone was taking a nap. Or went to the beach. But the Italian flag is everywhere. On the balconies. On the windows. At the souvenir stands for tourists. Today Italy is in the Finals. First Wimbledon, then the Euro Cup. It’s so hot that I shorten my tour in the city, find a shady place to eat and drink…

19:15. After a good shower, a little nap and the writing of most of this article, I leave the hostel. People don’t take a nap anymore apparently, they all decided to walk the streets as the temperatures are getting warmer. The TV screens are out, the Italian jerseys are out, and the first Aperol Spritzs are out. Berrettini did resist but the first final was lost. The tension is building up.

21:00. Kick-off. The Fratelli d’Italia has been heartedly sung by everyone, God Save the Queen has been booed a little, and the ball starts to circulate to the sound of « Forza Azzurra ».

21:02. England scores. Cold snap. The first chants die out. Difficult start.

21:50. Half-time. Italy is dominated, England has the game in hand. I go from a bar in the city center to the one of the hostel, to see if the atmosphere is more joyful. Not really. Italians are nervous…

22:40. Italy equalizes. The explosion of joy is equal to the relief. “One more goal” and it’s done!

23:30. Penalty shootout. Not the best for sensitive hearts. When the Italian goalkeeper stops the last English penalty kick, the glasses are thrown in the air, the flags fly, people jump into each other’s arms, Italy is the European champion!

04:30. The last scooters have gone home, the bars have closed. The rare walkers still up yell « Italiaaaaa » when we pass by them. The party was beautiful, the awakening will be hard but it is the lot of the champions!

Complicated start (for the photographer too…)

Now back to Crotone. I had spotted this stage. Flat. For more than 200 km. And since I had exceeded 200 km from Besançon to Barr, I had in the back of my mind the idea to reach 250 km one day… So I have the ideal playground, from Crotone to Matera. An early start to be able to ride a bit more if the wind doesn’t push me enough, and that should do it! As usual, the best plan in the world does not resist to reality: I go to bed late to finish my article, so I get up late too. When I get out of the B&B, I talk with the workers of the warehouse across the street, in Italian. We have a good laugh. And then, at the café where I have breakfast, I talk again with Roberto, who would like to go on a ride too but who needs a cart to take his dog with him. All this is very nice, but my departure at dawn turns into a quiet departure around 9 am. No problem…

It doesn’t matter, because after the first 40 km where I ride well but not too fast, the wind gets up and pushes me. Between 27 and 30km/h for hours. Kilometers fly by. I find (fresh!) water when I need it, it’s almost too easy. Then the (national) road that I follow turns into a highway. At first I think there must be a service road on the side or something and I can continue. Not even that. I don’t hesitate very long, I have a distance record to beat and no time or legs to go for a detour through the mountains. Moreover, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone, neither the other drivers who don’t honk at me more than usual, nor even the cops who pass me by busloads without even a glance… And in the end, the highway is almost more comfortable than the national road: the asphalt is clean, like a pool table, and on top of that, it’s a two-lane road, so people have twice as much space to pass me. I am almost less stressed out than on the main road. With two exceptions: first, a guy who overtakes me and hits the safety barrier 500 m ahead of me. Except for his mirror, nothing is broken but it was a bit too close for my taste. Then, a truck passing me, while I was passing someone stopped on the hard shoulder and a car was passing him too. Four abreast, even if it’s a two lane road, that’s not a lot of space…

It was either that or the highway
So highway

Once arrived in Metaponte, I leave the highway and go inland towards Matera. The wind is still pushing me but my legs are starting to pull a bit. I stop in a farm to ask for water, there is a guy working in a tomato field. He yells to his colleague to bring me a bottle, then turns to me and asks if I want to taste his tomatoes. Let’s go ! I take one, it’s a bit warm but juicy, very good. He looks at me and says « More, more ». So I take 5 of them and I eat my fill. My beard, my hands and my shirt are full of it and he signals me to eat more! If I had wanted to, I could have left with a whole crate! The bottle arrives, quite fresh, and I end up taking my leave, even if I was close to ask if I could stay… But with only 15 km to go it would have been too stupid… A nice lake later, my watch vibrates : 250 ! I hesitate to stop on the spot and sleep on the ground but I ride another 700 m before finding a field a bit hidden, I eat and sleep!

The sun is setting, it feels like the end
The lake of San Giuliano

The next day, I ride the 20 km (uphill) that separate me from Matera, I leave my bike under the surveillance of the employee of the tourist office and I go for a walk in town. I mean, I walk for 45 minutes, then I have a coffee for an hour and lunch for another hour. But I still have time to admire Matera, a very ancient city where the inhabitants used to live in unsanitary caves, caves that have since been renovated, transformed into museums, hotels and restaurants, and are now part of the Unesco world heritage.

Leaving Matera, I am overtaken by Pascuale, with whom I start a conversation. He goes to Castellaneta, and proposes me to go there for a beer. I even get a little history lesson: Castellaneta, the city of myth. Rodolfo Valentino (if you don’t know him, don’t worry, I didn’t know him either, and I don’t think many people outside of Castellaneta, let alone outside of Italy, know who Rodolfo Valentino is). An Italian actor from the 20s. If you ever don’t know what to watch on your next movie night, « The Sheik » looks like one of his classics…

Pascuale and Rodolfo

I go through Taranto, do 2-3 errands and start looking for a beach to cool off. I’m a bit picky at the beginning, I would like a sandy beach with few people, a bit of shade and a shower if possible. In the end I have to face the facts: these beaches do not exist, there are people everywhere, except on the rocks. I find a small access near the road, jump in the water and stop for the day.

The sun sets…

I put myself a little bit close to the road: there is a lot of traffic until late in the night, and moreover I am right under the light of the street lamps. Anyway, I’m good for an agitated night and I leave early the next day. I follow the coast, it’s even easier than following the GPS! Everything flat, beaches full of people as soon as 8:30 am, not a square centimeter available at 11:00 am, the ride is pleasant. A little stress when I see a bike path along the beach, I have a bad memory of an arrival in Almeria that comes back. I tell myself that if I see the slightest trace of sand I will turn back. In the end the road is clear, everything is fine…

Beautiful towns come and go, Nardo and its turquoise lagoon, Gallipoli and its jet-ski races, or Santa Maria di Leuca and its basilica. I begin to think that I will stop soon, as soon as I find a beach without too many people I go for a swim and if possible I stop for the night. As the day before, I am daydreaming! I start by going up, a superb road which winds on the side of a cliff, but it is more complicated for the beaches… Very nice on the other hand…

I find the perfect place, in a pine forest, with a path going down to the sea, I’m looking forward to this good evening I’ll have. Unfortunately, I’m on a private property and I’m quickly informed about it. And followed until I am on the road again. Then comes the most eastern point of Italy. I tell myself that it could be nice for the night too. The parking is full, the descent full of rocks and I don’t want to go back up if I can’t stay down there for the night. Too bad, let’s go on… By the way, this most Eastern point of Italy is probably also the most Eastern point of my trip, unless I manage to go to Albania…

The far East

Finally I find a rocky beach, on a hiking path that I hope is not too busy (haha) and I collapse once I have eaten my dinner… Tomorrow is Finals day…

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