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Updated: 2 days ago

We unloaded our bikes on a ridge line high above Finale Ligure. A couple of wind turbines moaned across the narrow strip of open pasture where we had parked. The backdrop was a series of more hazy-blue ridges stretching both towards snow-capped mountains in the north and the flat, white-blue sea to the south. The warmth of the spring sunshine was no match for the laser-fresh breeze. But we were careful not to over dress because we would soon be dropping 1000m back to the coastline.

We each found our place in the line of riders heading into the beech trees with a “tunk, tunk, tunk” of shifting gears. At first there were wide, flat, introductory turns, as if the master trail builders had been getting their eye in. Then the trail took a clear course into a wide ravine. The trail surface was a hard packed narrow line sweeping through the

undulating hillside. I tried not to rush; I tried to find a rhythm in the drop and the turn.  A rise soaked up our speed, so we bunched together, then a drop threw the leader forward and away and then the next followed. On the tight hairpins we passed the rider in front on the way in, the rider behind on the way out. We all shared a whoop as we saw each other in our peripheral vision. The trail features gradually progressed in complexity; another loop of trail, this time with roots, now steeper but straight on. I tried not to grab at it, flow with the speed. Each in turn, the riders in front hung in the air on a crest in the trail, like a camera’s shutter click, then back to the endless flow. But, with regret, it does end, and we free wheeled to a stop and took a moment in silence.

The Land Rover was approaching to burst the moment. It didn’t have rhythm. It lurched and swayed violently, like a small boat at anchor. It’s brakes shrieked and tinny music from the radio added to the discordance. We loaded our bikes again in the strict order that was established on the very first load-up in the bustling uplift hub. The bikes were held gently but firmly. This was not the case for their riders. We were treated to the nodding, slamming, jarring journey to the next trail head. Our guide slipped his helmet on and deftly fondled a roll-up cigarette, despite the pitching of the landrover,  a couple of minutes before each stop. This was our sign to brace for a stop, but our knees still painfully concertina-ed together as we came to a sudden stop.

The terrain was steeper here, there’s only a narrow strip of flat ground on each side of the trailer. We could see the trail vertically below our feet, running at an acute angle back the way we had just driven. It crossed the roots of spindly beech trees below as we looked down from the level of their canopy above. We dropped-in to a second and then a third steep turn to escape the switchbacks of the fire road. Then the trail fired-off in a diving traverse. It was like a notch into the steep hillside, that wound left to right, bucking and heaving. The finely laminated rock exposed here, forms ramps and rollers, just off the plane of the hillside. It felt to me as if the horizontal had been tilted steeply right to left, and I had to ride accurately so as not to career downwards. There was a  loud maraca-shake of tyre noise on the ribbed rock, then a flash of silence, as the tyres left the ground.

I gained confidence from the knowledge the trails were all well ridden, and well maintained. There were no wheel-swallowing holes, or boulders jutting out at pedal height. This did not reduce the jeopardy. If I mistimed the skip, skip, glide over the natural rollers and doubles, I would  have slammed back in to the true horizontal all too quickly, crashing through coarse brush and dry leaves. Suddenly, the trail switched to the right and flattened out, and our line of riders sped, swept out on a narrow tarmac road. There was more excitement, and fist bumping, at this stop.

From here we had a clear view of the motorway on stilts below us, and the coastal towns beyond. There were a few houses and cafes on the hairpins of the road above and below us. We stopped for a mid-morning coffee. We rarely saw other groups of riders on the trail, but here you might have seen one or two other groups.  At this level the air was

warmer and drier. The trails that dropped steeply from the road, were worn down through red earth on to chunky red-cream limestone. In parts, the trail sides were well above head height. The line of riders ahead stirred up a fine red dust that put a sheen on my goggles and clogged my nose.  We all found riding here more committing and physical. The trail hammered over corrugated limestone ramps and funnelled through steep, stepped turns. I hung on like a Texan rodeo rider mastering that dusty, rusty beast. The noise was furious too. My bike is slammed into cobbly limestone. I did my best to unweight, strangely curling my toes as I got tired, letting my forks and shock do their best, but still there was the occasional ping of a rim. Just when my forearms locked solid, and my vision lost gimbal, I pinballed into a final test of super steep turns and lumpy chutes on exposed rock. The other survivors were waiting as the dust settled, flexing their fingers and rubbing their forearms at the Land Rover in the shadow of the motorway flyover.

In the week we were riding the Finale Outdoor Area we covered more than 115 miles of descent, spread over almost 50 trails, and we only repeated a few favourite trails. Most of the trails were several kilometres long, and up to 15 minutes of riding.  Ride on Noli , our guides, put together a carefully thought through itinerary each day. Linking up the types of riding and maximising trail time. It was well worth having the off-road capability of their Land Rover, despite the shaking-up, because it gave us access to trails minibuses couldn’t reach. Highlight trails for our group were Gandalf, Tobogazzo and Green River in the beech forests, Hell Boy 2 and Hiroshima on the middle section and Ca Bianca and Little Champery on the “classic” limestone.

Finale has a reputation for ice cream and aperitifs by the sea but it’s the standard of the infrastructure and trails that make it so great. I loved the rhythm of the riding there.  We got up at the same time each day to ride our bikes. We had breakfast at the same café on the way to the same load-up. We efficiently loaded and unloaded in designated order, had coffee then lunch. Riding the trails was our only purpose,  and I found that strangely hypnotic. I could not resist the sweep and drop, the rattle and the hum, the scuff then release of tyres, the weight and unweight of hips and ankles. For hour after hour, day after day, kilometre after kilometre of descent from the mountain to the sea. That is the beauty of Finale.

Thank you to 20twentystore for the invite and great support, the brake pads alone were much appreciated!

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