Cycling is my first love, before even hospitality, so the sight of 45 bartenders plus associated Bacardi Martini representatives and a handful of pro’s and ex-pro’s riding 230km across the spectacular scenery of Italy was something to stir my soul last week. It’s hard to put into words what Martini’s La Classica means to me, but I’ll give it a go. This might be a very long and self-indulgent post, so my apologies from the outset.
The trip began, as so many do, with a delayed flight from London Gatwick, and our ragtag group of Brits, Italians and Australians desperate to get to Milan and get on our bikes. For us, the journey to La Classica had become over 4 months before with a series of spin classes at the rather luxurious Digme Studio in Moorgate to get our legs spinning and build our fitness, so the 3-hour delay just heightened our anticipation.
Once we got to Milan, it was a short ride to the hotel where, due to our delay, it was a quick sharp turnaround of check-in, bike fit, change and out again for welcome aperitivo, dinner and briefing on the spectacular rooftop of Terrazza Martini in Milano and the unveiling of a very, very special bicycle.
I’m a self-confessed bike nerd, and this is bike porn of the highest order. A hand-built titanium Passoni with carbon downtube, custom paint job including Martini strip Campagnolo cranks and handlebars and those crazy wheels, along with some of the most beautiful detailing I’ve ever seen on a bike? And it wasn’t just me that fawned over this ultra-exotic machine, it was the centre of attention for the whole night, well until the food turned up at least.
The next day began early, so early, that when I came down for breakfast there was a small gathering of ravenous bartenders banging on the door of the hotel’s restaurant, keen to load up on fuel for the day’s ride. First coffee of the trip, truly awful, but the worst was yet to come.
Gathering in a small village of Zelata, there was a nervous excitement as the riders began preparations for the 130km that lay ahead on day 1. Final adjustments to bikes, coffee #2 (a considerable improvement), a last piece of cake and we were ready to roll. There were 45 bartenders, assorted Bacardi Martini personnel and 9 guides. With this many riders, we were split into 4 groups of varying abilities and fitness levels. Group 1, my group, were the whippets leading the pack, clearing the dangers up ahead for the rest behind.
The first half of the day was blissful. Perfect weather, flat roads, good chat with friends old and new, a quick stop for bananas and some filming duties and before long it was time for lunch. Arriving first at the luxurious venue for lunch allowed a few of us to make use of the pool and cool off. Being from the UK, swimming pools aren’t common, so any opportunity to jump in and splash about like an idiot is very welcome. Coffees #3 & 4: Getting better and very much appreciated
Back on the bike, shorts still damp from the dip in the pool and it was time to finally stretch the legs and find some hills. When they arrived, it all got a little competitive, and boys being boys, a race to the top ensued. I had jokingly stated that my one goal during training for La Classica was not to get embarrassed by the Belgians on the ride, and thankfully, at the top of the first climb, all that training had paid off as I desperately tried to hang onto the wheels of our group leader, former Team Cannondale rider Daniele Ratto and current Team Wiggins rider Jesse Yates. Whilst I was huffing and puffing for all I could, muscles screaming for mercy, they were barely out of breath. I’m pretty sure that Jesse pulled out his phone, probably to check Facebook, halfway up. There’s a canyon-sized gap between pros and regular joes.
Hill 2 was a bitch. Long, draggy, inconsistent in gradient and just plain annoying. One of those climbs that just fucks with you for its own amusement and just when you think you’ve got it done, adds in a ramp at 12%. Although later on in the week, 12% would be the recovery section of the climb I was on.
What goes up, must come down, and the reward for the pain and sweat was a fun, twisty downhill where I could let it hang out a little. Given my love of mountain biking, going downhill is where I have the most fun and I can’t help acting like an 11yo who’s just learnt how to ride properly fast. I make no apologies for the enjoyment I get when riding a bike.
130km after we started, we arrived at the hotel, and just to finish off the legs, a windy 10% ramp up to the hotel was all that stood between us a well-deserved Martini Fiero & Tonic, or 2.
It’s not often, for me at least, that you get to stay in a rural, old school, Italian hotel, that feels like it hasn’t even had a fresh coat of paint since 1976 when it was built. What it lacked in cold beer and good coffee, it made up for in romantic charm. Big, clunky, hard to open shutters, a balcony with a hell of a view and a surprisingly comfy bed.
Anyone who knows Dean Callan knows that he’s not the shy, quiet type and he makes a surprisingly effective alarm clock when he’s staying in the room next to you in a hotel with paper thin walls. Not such an early rise and a gorgeous morning and an excitement for day 2 on the bike.
Coffee #5, the worst, absolute worst. Closer, I imagine, to the water you find in the middle of a busy road after a particularly heavy rainstorm, a mix of water, dust, dirt, diesel, shredded tyre and a dead insect or two. Not sure this actually qualifies as coffee.
Back on the bike and there were stiff legs and a few sore bums for those who haven’t had their asses hardened by years perched atop the tiniest of seats. The climbs started early on day 2, with the first one leading to the highest point on the whole ride, but boy were the views through the ripe vineyards of Asti country worth it. As was coffee #6, the best of the whole trip, expertly crafted by a master barista and with views to match.
The end was in sight, with just some small rolling hills, a little excitement when the van carrying the bags for 60+ people came round the corner in front of us and the back door flung open potentially turning our ride into a real-life game of trying to dodge bouncing bags in the road. Thankfully our bags were spared.
All 4 groups came together just before our final stop at Casa Martini in Pessione and there was a magical moment as we rode together as one big group through the gates and into the courtyard of the home of Martini Rosso. Lots of hugs, high fives, smiles and faces stuffed with sandwiches and a well-deserved negroni.
La Classica was an incredible event that perfectly encapsulated my mission to build a healthier, happier hospitality industry. It’s fundamentally changing peoples health for the better by inspiring them to get on the bike, focus on their training, eat better and drop weight and commit to a better, fitter, faster version of themselves. And for that, it has a very important place in our industry.
Huge thanks go out to the Martini team including my cycling brother in arms Davide Zanardo, Global Ambassador Roberta Mariani, big chief Marc Plumridge, and my absolute hero for the ride Ian McLaren, the Italy Bike Tours team, our superstar guides Daniele Ratto and Jesse Yates and Michelle and the Cocktails for You guys for giving so many amazing photos to remember the trip and lots of laughs along the way
Tim Etherington-Judge is the founder of Healthy Hospo, a former bartender and brand ambassador and lifelong cyclist.