Let's be honest: we all get way too may emails but sometimes one lands in your inbox that you weren't expecting and are delighted to receive.
That was the case for me in March when I got an invite from Santini for their "Giro VIP Experience". This was a chance to meet up with some valuable members of the Santini staff as well as watch the 100th edition of the Giro D'Italia which without doubt is my favourite grand tour of the three.
The long weekend started with an early wake-up from the alarm clock and as it was only me travelling, I opted for a taxi / train / tube / train journey to London Standsted in preference to a car journey with the inevitable delays on the M3, M25, M11.
I'd pre-booked all my tickets but had sensibly built in a fair bit of leeway into the journey time as sometimes travelling by rail at the weekends can be hazardous to your health. On this occassion though it all ran like clockwork - particularly the Stansted Express - which deposits you right into the terminal building.
The Ryanair flight was early afternoon and was on-time but just as the cabin crew got seated for landing the pilot pulled up which resulted in few gasps from some nervous passengers around me. All was well in the end - the pilot siting traffic on the runway - but it did mean we didn't get to hear the annoying on-time landing jingle thanks to arriving 20 minutes late.
After meeting the fabulously happy and helpful Efrem at Orio who drove me to the hotel, I just had to get out and do some exercise. Knowing that we were out eating and quite possibly drinking too much in the evening, it was time well spent. At just under 5 miles, the Lallio - Dalmine - Lallio route was a little out and back, but I did find the Parco dei Gelsi which I've not done before but more importantly I was able to thoroughly enjoy the local delicacies on offer that evening guilt-free.
The location of the evening meal was the Pizzeria San Vigilio which is not only one of the oldest restaurants in Bergamo's old town, it has some truly breathtaking views across the city that diners can enjoy.
At our end of the table was Fergus, David, Paul and I which resulted in some lively conversation with some actual business interspersed with wine and food. We also got to enjoy the delights of Bergamo's two funicular systems during the evening and after a short bus journey back to the hotel it was decided (by half of the group) to continue the evening at the lively Original Bier Fest.
The guys from South Korea took some persuading, but they had a great time sampling German Weissbier and Hoegaarden for the first time. It was also very interesting to hear how very different the cycling industry is in South Korea.
For most of the group, the next morning was a group ride organised for us around Bergamo. The ride was all about discovering the local roads and we were ably guided by Steffano from Santini and ex-Astana professional rider Alessandro Vanotti.
It has to be said, the pair did a grand job on our short ride, which had a big gulf in abilities and fitness (some people had flats and trainers, whereas others had the brand new £900 Mavic shoes). Thankfully everybody enjoyed it and a few of us opted for an extra loop with Alessandro which mean we got to see the previous night's restaurant from the other side of the valley.
After a coffee stop, we rode some of the race route which also happens to include many roads that feature in the closing kilomteres of the Giro di Lombardia - it was pretty clear that the race would end in a break descending into Bergamo.
Alessandro did his very best to get us as close to riding over the finish line but even a home-town, ex-pro couldn't get us through the various security controls so we had to be content with walking over the line in the afternoon.
After a quick shower and change out of our matching Maglia Nera kit, we were taken to Pentole's Agnelli Cooking Lab for lunch which was unusual in as much that you could see your meal being prepared via a series of CCTV cameras setup in the kitchen. I can assure you it was nothing like watching Big Brother.
After five courses (without doubt more calories than we burnt in the morning) we transferred to Bergamo to see the finish of stage 15 of the Giro D'Italia. Thankfully, stood in one of the many VIP enclosures, us uber fans were able to watch the last 42km of the stage on the big screen. Ironically - up until that point - I'd actually watched less of the Giro in Italy than I would have done at home.
As predicated, a small group of riders formed in the closing kilometres with Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) taking the sprint from overall favourite Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) giving him his maiden grand tour stage win! Biggest roar of the day was reserved for Vincenzo Nibali who tried and failed to get away - a partisan crowd if ever you saw them.
Once the stage had finished, we had a couple of hours to kill, so after buying a small Giro Wolfie mascot for my youngest, we dashed across town to the team coach and car parking.
I was lucky to have spotted Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) riding in team kit as opposed to the Ciclamina jersey. A quick sprint and some pigeon Spanish resulted in a great souvenir photograph from the trip.
We then decamped to a local bar which Fergus had scoped out for us. We were joined at this point by Andrew Meo of Rocket Espresso and former pro-turned coffee aficionado Christian Meier who'd just finished a 300km gravel ride - he looked absolutely shattered.
After some fascinating conversation with Andrew and Christian, no doubt helped by a few drinks, we shot across town to our dinner appointment with the rest of the Santini VIP experience at La Taverna Valtellinese where we were met by Monica Santini who had just flew in from the Polar Granfondo La Mussara in Spain. Listed in the Michelin guide, La Taverna with it's wood floors, walls and ceilings, had the look of a ski chalet in the Alps and after a brief mix-up with the food order we all got on with yet another multi-course meal. It's a tough job, etc etc
After yet another late night, I managed to pop out for a brief run pre-breakfast to clear my head before we all met up again at Santini for the factory tour. I do love a factory tour, perhaps something to do with the five and a half years that I spent at the start of my working life at the local Siemens factory where a variety of different products from traffic lights, to radiation detectors to train radios were made. Anyway - I digress....
Although I've previously been to see the Santini factory, it's always good to go for a refresher and this time we were lucky that Fergus was able to explain some of the brand new machines that had recently arrived including a brand new MS JP4 which offers high speed printing of the sublimation transfer papers.
Fergus also showed us some new machinery that will allow Santini to join dissimilar fabrics together without the need for stitching - something which will appear in their 2018 collection - and will allow them to use more high-stretch fabrics.
Next up and the final item on the agenda was the 2018 collection launch. To be honest, I had to be dragged to it as I was enjoying some quality time with a stunning array of archive books that Monica explained to me had been at Santini for years, but were never collated altogether.
My personal favourite were the five volumes of il Pedale d'Oro - a superb series of encyclopedia - naturally the text was in Italian - but who cares when the archive photos contained many of the top riders of yesteryear.
The 2018 collection presentation came and went, followed by a light lunch, after-which I had to creep out a little early to ensure I made my mid-afternoon flight from Orio in good time.
It certainly was a worthwhile trip, further reinforcing a saying that we often use here at Prendas "If you don't go, you won't know..."