One cyclists story of the adventure of a lifetime in Italy. Traveling with Vito Valentini, Michael Lyach, Tom Niccum, Chris Torella, Aleksandra Sydelko, and Jenny Zarzuela to Terracina, Italy to attend the Gran Fondo New York, Italia camp and three-day stage race. Side trip taken to Milan, to visit Cicli DeRosa.
Sincerest gratitude to Lidia and Uli Fluhme, Maciej Narzewski, Nicolangiolo Zoppo, and Mirko DP (Mr. Wolf), the towns of San Felice, Terracina, Fondi, Frosinone, and all of the wonderful @GFNY Italia Volunteers that made the race special.
A special shout out to our great friend Tom Niccum! Thanks for these great memories, especially the memories of that day that you were the “Tomestique” that put our gal, Aleksandra, on the podium!
Gang, I felt like a recap of where we were after the time trial might be nice to provide a little context — so here you go! You’re welcome!
During dinner we discussed the road race strategy for the next day. Mirko filled us in — his teammates in the past had put together a great race plan to work for the rider with the best shot. They would work for that rider, and split the prize. Their plan worked and so Tom declared Mirko our directeur sportif for the road race, so that we had one voice in the huddle on Saturday. We would be working for Aleksandra tomorrow as she was in top form and raring to go. The boost she would get from the lead out could be a real difference maker and get her to the podium.
…and we are back in!
Road Race Saturday, started almost identically to Time Trial Friday. We had a late start as it was a short course. The course was near the beach, flat, with the exception of the aforementioned “bastardo” kicker that led from the beach back to town.
The team Gavia routine was very much the same in the morning, with a new idea raised. “Hey — let’s go into town and do a little shopping”. There would be a top-up stop at the TIM store to buy a little bandwidth to get us to Monday, and browsing for anything to take to the folks back home. A keepsake that said “thanks for being so understanding, while I goofed off in Italy, riding and racing (and buying), my bike, while you stayed home and worked, and whatever”.
The shopping effort quickly became disorganized and chaotic. We were strewn all over the center of Terracina. There was plenty of time, I guess, but I was somewhat nervous about getting back, getting everything ready, and getting to the race on time. We seemed to be ok, but I was beginning to panic. I found Tom, and Chris, and began making stalker caliber phone call repeats to everyone in the group to find out where they were. We could explore my feelings of panic…but let’s get to the race instead.
We got back to Villa Lina in plenty of time. Ate something, and started the pre-race routine. Second verse, same as the first, Michael and I would drive over, and Tom would drive back. We all started over, and got the exact same parking spot as the day before. Things were starting to feel a tad more normal. Maybe I wouldn’t puke before we started.
This was not my first barbecue on this type of thing. But I have always had trouble staying with the pack. While I have made my peace with it in past races, that was always based on being a lone wolf, and not feeling any particular pressure to keep up with anyone I knew. There are three or four particular instances that I can recall being dropped in the neutral start. Falling asleep at the back of the pack, and then asking myself WTF happened as the pack pulled away, and my heart rate was suddenly in the 180’s.
The front of the pack would offer no mercy today. I knew that. But we had a plan. I was looking forward to trying to do some work on the front of our group, and seeing how long I could hold on. Would I? Could I?
We were getting ready to roll. Mirko was giving us our final instructions. Rotate at the front, he would tell us how fast, and when to change. What to do, when to do it. Stay close down the hill to the beach, gather up, find the front, and get rolling. First, “GIRLS, service your bikes!” an equipment check by our Directeur Sportif! In spinning my back wheel, a glaring look and the question “Cinghiale, what the fuxxc (special Mirko spelling — what — that’s how they spell it in Rome — sue me) man! Are you trying to kill me? Your hub, let’s get this tightened before you spin your wheel off and kill us all!” Mirko had things tightened up lickity split and we were ready to go.
We lined up at the start and got ready to roll.
Down and Out
The start was a down and out. Down the hill and out to the beach. My descending skills, suspect and dodgy as they sometimes are, left me in the unenviable position of the back of the group. As things flattened out we started to regroup, and, as we hit the more open beach road, things started to pick up. Being with the team certainly helped me in avoiding the “falling asleep in the neutral start” issue, but it was very clear that this would be a pace like we had never kept as a group.
We had been told that the Europeans take their racing seriously, and this was no exception. I had seen it in Belgium and France, but we seemed to be at a new level here. As you can see the course is pretty flat, except for the kicker back in to town at the end. But at that point, it’s not just a little speed bump of a climb. It’s whatever you have left in the tank against the tilt of the road, which for as short as it was, seemed to go on longer than it did on Monday’s camp ride.
It was, if you will forgive the expression, fast and furious. The pros were off the front, and the money was up the road, as they say, with shouts from Mirko, right out on the open road “Faster, faster, we are getting dropped, now, faster, faster!”
We were going roughly 25 mph while we were getting “dropped” but we kept it going. As we closed in on the expanse of the beach road, ont owhat would be a five lap effort, I saw Torella and Montoni falling off the back. Our first casualties. Would I be next? Tom was up front and he was DRIVING. With Mirko along side him, the urgency was being stressed.
I decided to try and take a pull at the front. So I accelerated and pulled left trying to pass Gillaume, Ken, Aleksandra, and all the way through to Tom. I pulled even with Tom for about 15 seconds and immediately felt the great magnet pulling me back. Now I was precariously along side the group, and out in the wind. Dropping to even with Ken he yelled “Chris, what the fuck are you doing?”
“I am trying to help out”, I thought.
“Either get up front, and pull, or get on the back, you are killing yourself out there!” — He was right! I was now alone, and had to drop to the back of the line to survive. Baggage! We made the first turn, and the group accelerated as we went down hill. I stood up to hold the wheel in front of me and managed to hold on through the back road. We made the second to last turn of the first lap and crossed the timing mat for the first time. We started up the very small incline, and I felt it slipping away. I was standing to hold it.
Mirko drifted to the back, “Chris — do you have a gel?”
“Yes!” I screamed back.
“NOW IS THE TIME!” he could see me slipping away. But he could no longer worry about it. So even as the group got smaller and smaller as they pulled away, I decided to hammer as hard as I could and use everything I had left.
Tom was now leading the group, and hopefully leading Aleksandra to the promised land in her category. Having amazing capabilities herself, having someone to work for her could be the difference. Mirko drove Tom hard to keep the pace. They never let up. To this day, Tom will recall this race by getting a huge grin on his face and saying “that was the hardest, and best 90 minutes on a bicycle I have ever had. At times, others from the group would pull through, Ken, Gillaume, but then Tom would return to the front and drive the pace with Mirko. They were protecting Aleksandra, and doing a fantastic job.
They kept the pressure on, and as they got to the foot of the bastardo, Tom was spent. Aleksandra was up. Climb, Bomba, climb! This is your time!
Meanwhile, back a few meters
I was now time trialing to the finish line. Not letting up, I went as hard as I had left. As I approached my second to last turn over the mat, I heard some noise behind me. SHIT it’s the break. The head of the race vehicles were there, and the peloton would not be far behind. As I was crossing the mat, the breakaway overtook me. And for as much as 3 quasi professional, fit bike racers looked different from me, somehow the police thought I was part of the peloton, falling off the break as it were, and so tried to direct me to the left. To the finish line. This would have been a DQ for me and so as I did obey for a second, as soon as I realized what was happening, I bolted back the other way. I stood up and rode toward the next turn as fast as I could. As I approached the downhill turn into my last loop, the SAG wagon was also making the turn. I made a breakaway move to get around it and hit the back road. I soon passed Jenny and one of the Brazilian friends we made, working together as they approached the turn, then another SAG vehicle to get around. They saw me in their mirror, and waved me around them.
I crossed the mat just before they picked it up (this was a recurring pattern for the weekend), and made the left. It was time to take the beach exit road and hit the bastardo as hard as I could. I passed another of the Brazilian’s on the climb, and made my way to the finish. The whole group was there. I was thrilled to hear how well they did.
Tom, Mirko, and the team’s hard work had paid off immensely. Aleksandra was on the podium for her age category. To come to Italy, do the camp, two stages of the race, and see the podium! HUGE!
Later that Day
It was an honor and a privilege to ride back to Terracina with Aleksandra, and she was thrilled. We had a nice ride, and a nice chat on the way home. That night I sat on the couch in the dining room at Villa Lina next to Tom as he put his legs up. I had never seen him this spent. He left it all out there. We didn’t have our usual data dissection session, but I had one of my own as Tom napped. My best 40k. I had set a mark for myself time trialing last November, but this was 5 minutes better. I will chalk some of it up to the draft I caught in the first lap, but in looking back, a lot of it was me. I have not beaten it in a time trial since in a couple of tries. It’s high on the list for 2018.
The Gran Fondo Stage
Stage 3 was the Gran Fondo. It was an early start, 85 miles, and 6k feet of climbing. It would be a long day. But we were ready. We just needed some rest. We had a reasonable dinner, some gelato, got bikes ready, and got to bed. The anti climax of the Gran Fondo would be the packing for our Monday exit that seemed to be coming all too soon.
Coming up next — Ascension into the clouds, revisiting the Panoramica, lost en route, Massimo and me in the last 10 miles.